Sleep. Everyone’s talking about it. There are new apps, books and blogs on this topic popping up every week.
Some people say they don’t need sleep. They’re too busy getting #$&@ done! Other people say it’s an ultra-critical part of self care.
This year, I’ve been focused on my ACOA journey and creating a better grownup life. Reluctantly, I’ve realized my relationship with sleep fits into this effort.
In my 34 years, sleep has been a loathed obligation that holds power over my well being.
First, let’s just acknowledge that sleep is weird! Think about it. Our bodies require that we lay motionless with our minds basically in another realm for nearly a third of our daily 24 hours. What the heck. This is enough to make me dislike it.
But my strained relationship with sleep was shaped by my experience growing up with an alcoholic mother. She put a little blue TV in my bedroom and sent me to bed early. My cat and I watched Nick At Nite’s old sitcoms and the local news. I have vivid memories (as young as age five) of Saturday Night Live. It was lonely in my room all those hours but TV helped me block out the drunken chaos that swirled down the hall in the living room and kitchen.
As Mom’s alcoholism worsened over the years, I had no escape in TV. During Mom’s drunk fests, I’d sit in my bedroom, nauseous from the worry and desperately trying to distract my sister and block out the sound. Mom would scream about things that made no sense – usually directed at Dad but often me, too. She’d throw things. She’d weep. She’d say completely insane and hurtful things. For hours. I had to protect my sister from the traumatizing experience as much as possible and make sure Mom didn’t burn the house down or drink and drive. On those thousands of bad nights, I wouldn’t sleep until Mom had passed out in the wee hours of the morn. Some nights, sleep never came, as it was blocked by anxiety’s gorilla grip.
But I was tough. I could power through the tiredness. I didn’t need sleep.
High school. Oh Lordy. I don’t know how I survived without something terrible happening because of my sleep deprivation. I simply did not sleep. I remember at least a few times, I arrived at school with no memory of driving there. I’d try to catch up on sleep on the weekends but that rarely happened because of Mom’s drinking, need to take care of my sister and being involved in sports and school stuff.
Flash forward to my 20s. Working late into the night. Spending free time at my sister’s school events and driving her around. Five hours of sleep on a given weekday night would have been a good night’s sleep. I had no time to waste on sleep. Even if I got into bed early, I’d lay there for hours in the controlling arms of anxiety. Sometimes I’d take an over-the-counter sleep aid, but that made me foggy at work the next day. I resented sleep.
But I was tough. So tough. And I really didn’t need sleep.
Stressed I was, constantly, even if I didn’t realize the extent of it at the time.
Earlier this year, I began paying attention to self-care and my ability to manage stress. I realized that being a professional communicator with unpredictable days, I cannot do my job effectively unless I change my relationship with sleep and respect it.
Recently, I read several books about sleep, including “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time” by Arianna Huffington, She shares the data that proves how critical sleep is to good health. Highly recommended that one. She convinced me when I didn’t want to be convinced that sleep may be the single most important self-care activity for me (and probably most ACoAs).
I began paying attention to the effects of sleep (or lack of) and how my days went. By math, there isn’t much difference between seven and six hours of sleep and yet, my body says otherwise. I noticed a huge difference in my life experience when I slept seven hours or longer. I am calmer, sharper, more creative and an all-around better person. When I get six hours or fewer of sleep, I feel crappy, which makes me crappy in every way. I feel more frustrated with myself and further away from satisfaction. I am more likely to project these feelings onto other people.
Sleep is not something I want to do. When I’m sleeping, I am not productive and I hate that. This is because I have all the textbook attributes of the eldest adult child of an alcoholic. I fear not being good enough. I crave reassurance because when I was a girl, I was always confused by Mom’s fluctuating acceptance and expression of affection. So today, I put 150% into my work because I’m afraid of disappointing everyone around me – especially myself (and not achieving my totally unrealistic self-created expectations). I listen to all the entrepreneurial gurus who talk about maximizing time and being busy for every hour. I eat up their words – comforted by their shared view of sleep being an obligation.
But I accept now that giving sleep a greater chunk of my 24 hours is a sacrifice for the good of my well being. Scratch that. It’s an investment in me and a gesture of respect for the natural phenomenon.
Here’s what I’ve done to improve my relationship with sleep and get more quality hours of it:
- Set a strict time to be in bed every night.
It’s 9:30. How many nights does this happen per week? Probably three. But I’m trying.
- Got realistic about my wake-up time.
I am not a morning person. I need a good 45 minutes of relaxation with a cup of hazelnut coffee in hand and snuggles with my dog and cat before I shower and get into work mode.
Also, a morning walk with Rocco as much for his well being as it is mine. This means I generally arrive at the office about an hour later than I feel I should. But if I skip these morning steps, I feel it and so, I make this time at home a priority.
- Picked the right pajamas.
Seriously, it makes a difference. I personally don’t like the feeling of my bar legs against each other (I know, I’m weird) so lightweight pants are my favorite.
- Disconnected from electronics.
I relocated the nightlight from my bedroom to the bathroom for darkness (lights confuse the brain about if it’s time to sleep or not). I made a home for my phone across the room, instead of my nightstand. In lieu of emailing and social media scrolling in the last 45 minutes before bed, I read or write in my journal. This minimizes anxiety.
For me, sleep is a fundamental part of my self-care. I never thought I’d key those words. These little discoveries are building a foundation.
I hope you’re well.