Keep Calm and Go to Sleep

8 comments

I have been through a few insomniac phases in my life, but the worst by far was one that lasted about 12 months following the birth of my first daughter. I have touched on it in another post about my transition to motherhood but thought it deserved some space by itself – especially considering I am about to have another baby in two months and there is the possibility that the experience will be repeated all over again!

Essentially my problem was this: I had a baby that slept pretty darn brilliantly compared to many babies (she only woke once in the night from 3-8 months and not at all after that) but I couldn’t make the most of it because I was too anxious to sleep myself. I would go to bed and lie awake for hours, finally manage to get to sleep and then be woken up for my daughter’s feed and have to repeat the process all over again. The longer I stayed awake, the more anxious I would become and the less sleepy I felt (ironically). It was extremely frustrating and there were more than a few times when I woke my husband up in the early hours of the morning in tears (fortunately he is better at going back to sleep than me!).

MAYBE IT’S HORMONES, MAYBE IT’S MAYBELLINE

To this day I’m still not sure what caused the problem exactly. I suspect there was a hormonal component to it related to breastfeeding – at times I actually felt like I was going through menopause, as I would have hot flushes and sweats in the middle of the night as well as this feeling of impending doom that didn’t seem to be based on anything concrete (both symptoms that my mother who IS going through menopause has described to me). Breastfeeding can apparently mimic menopause in the sense that oestrogen levels are quite low in the breastfeeding mother like they are in the menopausal woman (read a short article about that here). I also noticed that my insomnia gradually improved as I breastfed less and less over the months.

But maybe there were other factors at play too. I was never officially diagnosed with post-natal depression (though not due to negligence of a few health professionals that tried to speak with me about it) but looking back, I do think I displayed many of the symptoms of it. Sleep problems often go along with depression so maybe that was it. Or maybe it was Maybelline – who knows.

DEALING WITH IT

I didn’t want to use medication during this time – I was worried about side effects as well as the impact on my nursing daughter – so I had to come up with other ways to help me sleep. I managed to discover quite a few strategies and although they didn’t fix all my sleep problems instantly, they certainly did help. They were mainly aimed at relaxing me enough that sleep could come, as I was so uptight and tense at bedtime.

ENID BLYTON BOOKS

Enid Blyton was a children’s author in the mid-20th century and she is probably most famous for her Famous Five and Faraway Tree series. It probably seems strange that I would list her books as a strategy I used to cope with anxiety and sleeplessness, but hear me out. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s books and accumulated quite a collection of them which I still have to this day. During this insomniac patch I started reading them again as a way to slow my mind down before bed. Why these particular books you ask? Well, a few reasons. Firstly, they are sentimental to me and make me think of my childhood (a peaceful, carefree and happy time of my life) which in itself is relaxing. Secondly, the plots in these books are not complicated (they are aimed at children after all) so they don’t require much thinking and have nothing in them to get me distressed or overly excited/engaged. And lastly, they are good, clean stories with no sex, violence, bad language or worldliness in them (like so many novels for adults have) and good always triumphs over evil. Thus I used to (and sometimes still do) read them for half an hour or so before I went to bed as part of my wind-down.

RELAXATION TAPE

The second part of my wind-down was listening to a progressive muscle relaxation tape in bed. Progressive muscle relaxation “involves tensing and relaxing all the major muscle groups in your body in order from your head to your feet” (to read more about it, click here). My mum gave this tape to me as it was something she had used and found helpful when she had gone through sleepless phases in her life. In fact, she had actually read the script aloud and recorded it herself so it had the additional soothing quality of being my mother’s voice that talked me through the muscle relaxation process. I found it surprising how relaxing just focusing on my breathing and tensing and relaxing each of my muscle groups was. Sometimes I even found myself drifting off to sleep before the tape ended. It really was a godsend and something that I plan on using again if I do experience sleep difficulties after this bub comes.

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

My mum had also recorded a number of Psalms after the progressive muscle relaxation ended and I found these very soothing and comforting to listen to. They helped me to meditate on God, his sovereignty over all things, his everlasting love for me and the fact that he would always be with me and help me through every trial I experienced. Being reminded of these things helped me to relax and trust Him, letting go of my anxiety (some times more successfully than others).

As well as listening to Psalms in my wind-down, I also had a few Bible verses memorised to repeat to myself in the (likely) event that I woke up during the night and had trouble going back to sleep. My favourite was Psalm 23 – those words just had such a calming effect on me. I would try to remind myself that God had all things in his hand and that he was looking after me and I would pray to him and ask him to help me to relax and trust when I felt anxiety.


PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

The other thing I found helpful in reducing anxiety and promoting sleep was getting enough physical activity during the day. I tried to go for at least a half hour walk on a daily basis and found it quite therapeutic and refreshing, especially if the weather was nice and the sun was out. My passion for gardening was also reignited as I tried to spend some time each day doing something physical in the garden. I found that being physically tired at the end of the day helped me to feel productive and satisfied which reduced my anxiety and made it easier to get to sleep.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

These four strategies were primarily what enabled me to get through a very difficult time of insomnia without resorting to medication. I do sometimes wonder whether it would have been better/easier just to take some pills but then I guess I wouldn’t have learnt what I did and I think that would’ve been a shame. How about you though? Have you ever experienced anxiety or had trouble sleeping? What strategies did you use to cope with it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.



References:

https://www.verywellmind.com/reduce-tension-with-progressive-muscle-relaxation-3144608



8 comments

  1. I've also had periods of sleep struggles at different times over the years. But I do remember those days of sleep deprivation after having my babies. The more I worried about getting enough sleep, the less likely I was to actually get enough sleep! It became a vicious cycle for a while, as I found myself counting hours, trying to note what time I got to sleep, what time I was woken, how long I was awake, when I thought I may have finally gotten back to sleep, therefore adding up how many hours of sleep I had possibly gotten overall ............. it was so stressful!!!
    I'm still not a great sleeper (and may never be) but these days I find a variety of strategies helpful. I try to get some exercise and make sure I get outside in the daylight in the middle of the day to help my circadian rhythms, I avoid bright lighting and computer/phone screens as much as possible in the evenings (and use blue light filters on these), make sure I eat a good amount of carbs at dinner time, and take a magnesium supplement in the evening. If I wake and can't get back to sleep, I pray and remind myself it's not the end of the world, put on a sermon or other podcast at low volume and then relax and tell myself that at least I'm resting, which is still valuable. I know I will eventually get back to sleep, and from all my years of sleep-deprived young motherhood I can reassure myself that I know I will survive the day to come.
    Praying for you that this won't be a problem with baby number 2 and that you can relax and leave it in your heavenly Father's loving hands xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All you've said sounds all too familiar! Sounds like you have also come up with some useful strategies - I forgot to mention having no screen time leading up to bed, but that has helped me too. I have also listened to sermons in the middle of the night and told myself not to worry because at least I'm resting - it's nice to know I'm not alone (though I wouldn't wish sleep problems on anyone). xox

      Delete
  2. Lack of sleep sucks you dry doesn't it? And the more your ability to fall asleep naturally fails, the more you worry that it's going to be permanent. I wonder how many of these type of issues are genetic (you said your mum had sleep issues at times during her life) and then hormones and baby feeding and so on all play a part. Anxiety can be crippling and draining - I'm so glad you managed to get on top of things and hopefully this next lot of baby rearing won't bring it on again - at least you know that it will pass and you have some coping mechanisms in place. (If worse comes to worse you can always come down for a visit and borrow a couple of my magic pills xx)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have also wondered whether sleep issues can be genetic - I think I am wired very similarly to my mother in a lot of ways, including this one unfortunately. Each has their own struggles don't they, and I'm sure if you escape this particular one there will be something else to try you! So I've concluded to just try to make the best of it if it happens to me again - but yes, those magic pills are definitely in the back of my mind! xox

      Delete
  3. All of your strategies are helpful for those of us who struggle to get a good sleep. I am hoping for you that after baby No.2 you will be ready to practice all those good sleeping tips so that you can enjoy your little family.
    These sleeping tips will be of help to other readers, so we will feature your post on the next Blogger's Pit Stop.
    Kathleen
    Blogger's Pit Stop

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Kathleen, I did find them to be helpful to me so maybe others will benefit from them too :-). Hoping it won't be such a struggle this time, but if it is, at least I have some tools in my kit from the outset.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Difficult to fall asleep, can be torturous. Nothing like tossing this way and that way on the bed, with eyes closed, and not falling asleep. Happens to me when I am too excited, or too tired, or not tired at all. If I think about anything even remotely connected to insomnia, then I am sure it will get worse. So, I do not bother about it. It has helped me so far.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes thinking about sleeping is the surest way of preventing it I have found too!! Isn't it ironic!

      Delete

Please tick the "notify me" box if you'd like to receive an email when I reply to your comment.