Sleepless in Denver:
Insomnia, Sleep Issues, and Anxiety… Oh My!

Unlike the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle with its perfect happily ever after, more of us feel like we live in an episode of The Walking Dead…as in we’re the zombie and not the super-cool character using the wicked-looking sword.

Tonight is the night. You’re sure of it. There’s an element of excitement as you crawl between the cool sheets and nestle down for hours of blissful sleep.

And then…

Three hours later, you know exactly how many rotations the fan will turn in a minute. It’s information sure to be significant to some innocuous university study in the future, but has zero to do with sleep. Toss. Turn. Repeat. Kick off the covers. Put the covers back on. You solve a few world problems.

The fantasy of waking in the morning like a Sleep Number commercial is now officially over when you look at the clock and realize it’s three a.m.

Six a.m. The alarm goes off, sounding more like an air-raid siren than Sixx: A.M.’s “Life is Beautiful”.

Fine. Okay. You know you can do this. Why? Because sleepless nights have become your life and you haven’t passed out yet. Now it’s time to drag through the house, getting yourself, the kids, your spouse, and the dog all organized for the day. You can’t find the milk…until you open the cereal cabinet. Oh yeah. There it is—along with a banana peel from yesterday’s breakfast. Mental note: buy milk and bananas.

All the energy in your body is focused on getting everyone out of the house (No, the dog can’t go on the school bus…the principal frowns on that.) so you can hit the corner Starbucks for that precious double-shot espresso. Arriving at the office, knowing you’ll be sitting there for the next eight-to-nine hours, you’ve not one clue how you’ll manage it without doing a face-plant on your keyboard. All you know is, “Must woorrrrk…woooooorrk.”

You are now in full zombie mode.

Sleep Issues

THE FACTS ON SLEEP ISSUES

Insomnia — Yup, I said it. Insomnia affects 20-40% of adults at some course of the year (http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/).

Insomnia falls under one of these sleep complaint categories:

  • Difficulty initiating sleep.
  • Difficulty maintaining sleep.
  • Early-morning waking with inability to return to sleep.

These sleep issues start to have an impact on life, cause significant distress, occur at least three nights per week for at least three months, despite opportunities to sleep, and is not explained by other medical or mental health issues.

Simply put, the brain needs sleep. Sleep is the way the brain reaches rest, and processes the day, events, and other information into stored memory (event, short, and long term). With a lack of sleep, the brain and body has to redistribute energy and use vital resources to keep the machine running. Notice how the idea of exercising when in the grip of insomnia becomes a horrifying thought?

Impact of sleep on your body — A lack of sleep produces unpleasant symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Risky decisions
  • Hallucinations
  • Slurred speech
  • General lack of concentration
  • False memories
  • Shrinkage in areas of the brain
  • And then a natural part of human behavior—overcorrection.

I didn’t think I’d ever sleep again

I am no stranger to sleep issues. In fact, I spent my twenties on very little sleep. Frustration was the essence of what my life had become. What should have been a time to explore (have fun!) and discover who I would ultimately be as an adult, I was living life as a zombie.

A part of me believed this was who I was. And, honestly, I’m not sure I liked that person.

I was studying psychology, so I understood the theories on sleep issues, but understanding theory and actual application can be two very different arenas.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sleep issues. However, we all have the same first step—figuring out our own individual system.

We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results. The brain is routine oriented. Kicking insomnia in the butt requires breaking the old routine cycle and creating a new one.

Kicking insomnia in the butt, requires breaking the old routine cycle and creating a new one. Click To Tweet

“Kicking insomnia in the butt, requires breaking the old routine cycle and creating a new one.”

The pleasure in rediscovering sleep and myself

It didn’t happen overnight, but I did manage to retrain my brain to accept a new sleep routine and in the process rediscover my relationship with myself.

Journaling was a big one for me. Why? I was so tired all the time my brain was having a difficult time connecting the dots. Journaling gave me the opportunity to write little bits and pieces down that I could later go back and review. I know, many of you are thinking, “I don’t have time or energy to journal…next!” But trust me on this one. Use the Notes aspect of your phone, a cute little notebook, whatever. In the amount of time it takes to send a text or Tweet, you can write a journal entry. Depending upon your use of Twitter, it could be a useful tool in connecting with others who are experiencing the same sleep issues.

For me, sleep came with a lot of effort and a change of routine. Through journaling, I discovered that if I could take my brain “offline” in the evening, a full night’s sleep was more likely to occur. Offline does not mean watching TV or perusing the internet, both of which stimulates the brain.

Taking the brain offline requires a deeper distraction. We may tease those adults who play video games, but doing so removes the brain from the day and into a new world of adventure. A good recommendation…and one that stays in this post’s zombie theme is Call of Duty. The zombies are WWII Nazis and the heroes are entertaining characters. Now if only I could get past level two.

If ousting zombies is not your thing, try crocheting. I found several good beginner You Tube videos. I personally enjoy Melanie Ham’s video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yB83IQYGeI) for creating a simple infinity scarf. Crocheting has found a resurgence across all age groups. It not only takes the brain offline, it creates relaxation within the body (which is good for encouraging sleep), and provides a creative outlet. For ideas on easy crocheting, see my Pinterest board here and here.

I have also included limiting caffeine and alcohol, increasing relaxation, yoga, and chiropractic care as part my health routine to enhance and encourage healthy sleep habits.

CREATIVE SLEEP TIPS TO MANAGE SLEEP ISSUES

I am sure you’ve tried some of these suggestions. Keep in mind each body responds to change and sensory stimuli differently. The below has been modified based on my work with clients, my own sleep issues, and sleep tips from the CDC (https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips).

  1. Boundaries — As with everything we need in life, boundaries are important. Give your mind time to unwind from the day.
  1. Use your imagination — Doze off into your subconscious. Creating mental imagery is the method behind counting sheep. Counting sheep does work for some. If it’s not for you, create a safe or creative place you look forward to visiting. Allow yourself to fall into this subconscious world, which in turn, washes away worries and concerns, encouraging sleep.
  1. A sleep routine — The brain loves routine. Not necessarily when first starting a new task but once something becomes habitual, the brain sinks into that “comfort”.
  • Routine can help signal the body to begin the sleep process. Try:
    • showering
    • face washing and tooth brushing
    • reading
    • prepping for the next day
    • having a nightly cup of tea such as chamomile.
  1. Diet — Yup! I said it. The dreaded, “What are you eating?” question. This is one of the hardest parts of life—a balanced diet. But, if sleep is being evasive, my first question is: What are you eating and when? No diet overhaul needed. Try limiting food two hours before bed along with eating foods and warm drinks that encourage sleep. Dietary supplements or spices may help with sleep. For further information on these, see my Pinterest board here.
  1. Attune to your senses — Using essential oils, diffusers, sensory input around your room, candles, temperature changes, pillows, ambient noise, lack of noise, fluffy blankets and comfortable sheets. Create a space for your sleeping cave.
  1. Limit substances — alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and caffeine — Even when alcohol may help initiate asleep, it does not allow for deep sleep. The sleep the body needs most. Instead, the body is in work mode, detoxing.
  1. Exercise — Yoga stretching before bed and making sure you get a workout routine in, even simply going for a walk around the block.
  1. Limit time lying in bed — If you get up in the middle of the night, do something anti-brain stimulating—as in, no TV, radio, Phone, electronics. Grab a book, journal, use adult coloring books.
  1. Have a bedtime — It’s important to hold bedtime boundaries and keep your schedule on the weekends.
  1. Keep your own blanket — If you sleep with a partner or a pet companion, you are the victim of a blanket thief or you might actually be the thief. No judgment here! Just get your own blanket. Squirming around, fighting for your share, creates uncomfortable sleeping and is likely to be a distraction.

There is no one quick way you can fall asleep. Routine and new habits are essential. Practice patience with yourself. Realize when you’ve tried everything and now it’s time for the next step by seeking professional consultation.

Are you Sleepless in Denver? Would you like to address sleeping patterns or underlying thoughts that keep you awake? If so, please call for an appointment for a phone consultation (720) 295-9522.

No one person has all the answers, but through being a community, we generate ideas and support. If you’d like to see more of my posts and Pinterest projects, I invite you to sign up to receive my monthly blog here.

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