The Night Shift

How often do you come home at the end of the day with work circling around in your head? You feel totally exhausted, yet you can’t sleep because you’re going over your to-do list, stressing over the things you didn’t get done during the day, or re-living the things you wish you’d done differently… the list is endless (as you well know).

So how can we leave work AT work?

Depending on what’s consuming you, there are some helpful steps for catching up on your zzz’s. Some steps are easy, others more complicated. Let’s start with the basics.

Sleep 101: Basic Sleep Hygiene.

Here are some easy tips to help you get your forty winks.

1. The number one rule of thumb is to be consistent and get into a good routine.

>> Bedtime routine. When we have a routine before bed, the activities we engage in before heading off to sleep, send signals to our brains that we’re winding down. Make your routine as pleasant as you like, perhaps you like having a cup of chamomile tea, taking a hot shower, brushing your teeth, putting some lavender drops on your temples or reading for 10 minutes before sleep. Whatever you do, do it in the same order each night.

>> Don’t sleep in. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. If you don’t get much sleep one night, try to get up at your usual time the next morning, as sleeping in for hours will throw your sleep cycle out of whack. When you’re sleep deprived, your body compensates by making your next night’s sleep deeper. This means that you don’t need to worry about getting a longer sleep, as your body will sort that out itself (thanks clever body!).

>> Regulate your energy. Avoid over-caffeinating yourself during the day, as it will impact your sleep. The general rule is no caffeine after 4 pm. Getting regular exercise helps us to expend excess energy that can keep us up at night, but avoid exercising right before bed as it takes a while for our bodies to calm down again. Having a well-balanced dinner and getting plenty of sunshine will also help you get the zzz’s you need. 

>> Get comfy. Your bed should be your sleep sanctuary. Make it comfortable, inviting and dark. Research shows that “good sleepers” get into bed and think about how comfortable and pleased they are to be in bed.

>> Turn off technology. The absence of light makes your brain produce melatonin, which is responsible for making you sleepy. This is why devices with bright screens (phones, laptops, TVs) are problematic, as they interfere with our melatonin production. Try to avoid looking at screens at least 20 minutes before bed.

2. Bed is only for sleeping and sex (by all means have sex elsewhere, but not vice versa!).

>> Take your business outside. When we eat, study, work or watch tv in bed our brains start to associate ‘wakefulness’ with being in bed. This makes it harder and harder to relax when we’re ready to nod off. So if you simply have to get up to write a work email, do it outside your bedroom.

>> Write down your worries. If you’re worrying about things, keep a notepad and pen next to your bed and write them down. That way you know you won’t forget them tomorrow and you can rest easy.

>> 20-minute rule. If you’re tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes, get up and do a gentle or mind-numbing activity. Good examples are ironing or reading in dim light while you wait for your next sleep cycle to kick in. You can also try listening to a relaxation track on one of the sleep apps. I like Sleep Smart or Sleep Genius. This is important because when we stay in bed too long tossing and turning, our minds start to associate our beds with feelings of frustration and anxiety.

So, let’s get to the more complicated stuff.

>> Put your mind to bed. Usually, the reason you can’t sleep is because you’re worrying. If you’ve already tried the basics, you may well benefit from practicing some mindfulness. When our minds are churning we’re usually stressing about things that have happened during the day, or worrying about what might happen tomorrow. This means that we’re out of touch with the present moment. The present moment is being in our warm, relaxing beds. Every time your mind wanders off, bring your awareness back to you lying in your bed, notice your body feeling heavy and warm, notice your breath, or notice your partner’s breath. When you drift off again into worry, bring yourself back again and again.

>> Neutral thoughts. You can also try distracting yourself with other thoughts, so try to count backwards from 100 in 7s. Every time you wander off, start again from 100. This helps because your mind is focusing on something neutral, rather than worries and concerns that trigger big emotions.

>> Allow them to pass. Visualise your thoughts as clouds passing in the sky. As each thought comes along, gently allow it to drift out of your awareness. You can google a range of meditations ‘leaves on a stream’ or ‘clouds in the sky’ to help guide you.

If you’re still having trouble with your sleep, consult a psychologist or your GP, as sleep is fundamental to wellness!

May you keep happiness insight xx