My daughter loves grocery shopping with me, which works out well because she’s actually a fun shopping buddy. She’s a foodie too, so we enjoy choosing which foods we will eat the coming week. Like most three year olds, Violet has many many “wants” and shopping can easily become a nightmare with this age demographic and their demands. Thankfully for me, right now, Violet is satisfied with merely adding her desires to her “wish list”, an invisible list I keep in my head. We stroll around Target and she points at things and says “ooh I want the princess sandwich bags on my list! And the pink straws on my list” and I will say “I’ve added it” and she will squeal with delight and exclaim “I have the longest list in the world!” Yes my darling, you do.
I also have a pretty long list of wants, though now at the stage of life where I feel restricted by square footage and interest rates, my wants are less tangible. I want long-term health. I want a close relationship with my husband and my children. I want time. I want to be inspired. I want a friend to run errands with.
And unlike my daughter, who is still innocent of the responsibilities life throws at us, I have a list of “shoulds”. I should drink more water. I should make smoothies. I should take my kids to the beach. I should clean the toilets. And the big one for me these days…I should get more sleep.
I also want to get more sleep. My entire wish list could just be “I want sleep” and I’d be satisfied.
Good sleep is critical to our health, and yet it is not spoken about very often. Growing up attending public school we took a health class that touched on nutrition, sex education, the harms of drugs, and drunk driving – but I don’t think we ever learned about the importance and benefits of sleep. Perhaps if we did learn about the science of sleep in high school, we would have learned that the science points to a change in the natural circadian rhythm (the hours in a 24 hour day in which you feel tired) of teenaged-brains the world over. Teenagers naturally shift to staying awake later at night and sleeping in until late morning. If you have a hard time waking your teen up in time to make their 8 am class, there is brain science to explain it – it’s like waking you up at 3 am.
According to Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Why We Sleep, sleep helps our bodies heal and reset from a day of living. A good night’s sleep before a day of learning helps us retain information, and a good night’s sleep after a day of learning helps secure what we’ve learned in our memory. Sleep helps our bodies fight off infection and recover from injury. Sleep even helps control our hunger – when we get too little sleep, hormones that signal hunger are more elevated, driving us to eat more than we need. When I complain to my husband about life or health or just anything really, the solution I should prescribe to myself is SLEEP. I know it. Professor Walker’s book confirmed it. And yet, it is evasive.
It seems I have been on a quest for better sleep for years – searching for the perfect pillow, creating a bedtime routine, actually following the bedtime routine, eliminating alcohol from my life, cutting down on screen time after 8 pm, cutting back on any caffeine after 12 pm – all of these things have helped me get better sleep, even though I do most of them imperfectly. Despite my honest efforts, I wake up almost every single night between 3 and 4 am and lay awake for an hour or more. Sometimes I never fall back to sleep before my alarm goes off at 6 am. Some nights I work myself into a perfect storm of sleeplessness, putting threats and coercion into the mix in my brain. If I don’t fall asleep right now, I’ll be too tired and grumpy to do all the things I want to do. Of course, putting ultimatums on myself has never worked to bring back the sleep fairy.
And then one day, I read a passage that released something in me and helped a lot.
“Night after sleepless night, I tossed and turned and worried. Why couldn’t I sleep? What was the matter with me? My life was stressful, but no more so than usual. I’d tried hot milk, reading in bed, soft music, even a visit to the doctor, but still I couldn’t get more than a few hours sleep. I was in a panic!
I spoke about my concerns [with a friend]. What had helped him was to accept the situation fully and admit that he was powerless to make himself sleep. In retrospect, he said, his sleeplessness had been a blessing; it had kept him too tired to get into trouble.
I realized that the same was true for me. Instead of worrying compulsively. […] lately I’ve been too tired to be overly involved in anything that wasn’t my concern. I had often prayed to be released from my obsessive worry,and now, in an unexpected way, my prayers seem to have been answered.”Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups
I am learning to trust that when I do my best to sleep, my body will respond with the amount of sleep it needs to do the tasks it needs to do.
Not every task needs to be done. I am a body with limits and to everything there is a season.
In this dark corner of physical and emotional exhaustion, I found a freedom that no one but me has ever expected me to do it all. I can rest when I need rest. And my body gave me just enough sleep to get through the biggest emotional priorities and nothing else. And that’s okay.
I am happy to report that I now sleep through the night probably 6 nights a week. Letting go has been a gift.
How is your sleep? How could you improve your sleep? Could you let go of trying to control your sleep and just let it be?
Ps: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. If you’re interested in reading Dr. Walker’s book and you click on the hyperlink above I’ll get a small commission. It’s just one small way you can support me in my blog and I’m so grateful!