The 4 Real Reasons You Can’t Sleep and What to Do About Them

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For something that most people do with their eyes closed, sleeping can be awfully difficult.  I struggled with sleeplessness for years and am blown away by how many people I meet who tell me that they have trouble sleeping as well.  It’s not that we don’t know enough, aren’t trying hard enough, or are somehow less capable than others of resting and relaxing.  Rather, we struggle to sleep because the factors that interfere with sleep are so complex, knowledge alone is not enough, and in a frustrating Catch-22, the harder we try to sleep the less likely we are to do so.sleep

 

So what can you do when sleep is elusive, your brain is running in circles, and you’re pretty sure you’re going to humiliate yourself when you collapse out of sheer exhaustion during warm up stretches at Bootcamp tomorrow?  Following are the 4 keys to sleeping well that I’ve discovered through extensive research, work with clients who have trouble sleeping, and my own efforts to overcome insomnia.

 

Key Number 1: Sleep Hygiene

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you getting enough exercise?

  • Could too much caffeine or caffeine too late in the day be keeping you awake?

  • Do you do anything other than sleep or sex in your bedroom?  (You want to associate your bed with sleep and rest, so anything you do in it should be relaxing.)

  • Does the idea of going to bed make you anxious?  (If so, try getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and do something enjoyable—read, do yoga, take a bath, work on a puzzle, play a game, call a friend, listen to music, etc.—until you feel more relaxed.  Don’t lay in bed frustrated or you’ll start to associate your bed with that feeling.)

 

Key Number 2: Quieting the Mind

It seems that some people’s brains didn’t come with an “off” switch like everybody else’s.  But even if you know that running over your to do list at 2 in the morning isn’t a good idea, that doesn’t mean you know how to stop.  Here’s how you can learn the skill of letting go:

 

  • Meditate.  This is a great way to practice noticing your thinking, worrying, and planning without getting caught up in it.  To learn how to meditate, take a class at a yoga studio or meditation center or find some guidance online (http://www.getsomeheadspace.com/).

  • Schedule your worry time (http://www.helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_self_help.htm).  Worry hard during worry time!  But when it’s over, let your worries go.

  • Address the root cause of your worry.  Sometimes worries are based on outdated or limiting beliefs.  Sometimes they point to action you still need to take.  Other times they’re ways of avoiding feelings like fear or vulnerability.  Address the root cause of your worry and it goes away on its own.

 

Key #3: Positive Beliefs About Sleep

For many of us, our sleeping trouble begins only when we start to think we can’t sleep.  I used to think there was something wrong with my sleeping ability until my boyfriend told me I was asleep most of the time I thought I was awake, and he was pretty sure because I was snoring.  Relieved and slightly embarrassed, I realized that falling asleep was easier than I’d thought.

 

Instead of increasing your anxiety by telling yourself how bad you are at sleeping and how terrible you’ll feel if you don’t sleep right now, remind yourself of the following truths:

 

Key #4: Self Compassion

This was the hardest key for me to discover, but it’s really relatively simple.  I found that when I was pushing myself hard during the day, not listening to my needs, or beating myself up about something I should have done better, sleep didn’t come.  When, on the other hand, I worked diligently but still listened to my needs and took my time, took breaks, and made time to have some fun, then I slept fine.  When I let myself feel good about my efforts and let go of my shortcomings, I slept even better.  Self compassion isn’t an easy thing to develop, but you can learn to take care of yourself while you work (http://www.theenergyproject.com/) and be kinder to yourself when things are difficult (http://www.self-compassion.org/).

 

Not being able to sleep can feel like the worst luck in the world. It seems like you’ve been singled out for some cruel and unusual—not to mention undeserved—punishment.  But sleeplessness can actually be quite useful. It forces us to pay attention to some things that are vitally important to our happiness that we might otherwise happily ignore.  So instead of trying to force sleep or do without it, open up to what it might have to teach you.  Doing so could help you not only sleep better, but be happier too.

Meredith Walters is an ICF-certified professional development coach with over thirteen years of experience helping people and organizations grow.  She has an MBA from the University of San Francisco and has served as adjunct faculty at New Ventures West coaching school.  She loves helping entrepreneurs, small business owners, and creative professionals who want to change the world do so with greater joy, ease, and effectiveness.  You can find more about her background and her work at http://meredithwalters.com.

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