Almost nine years ago I stepped into the GP’s consulting room to ask for sleeping tablets. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly. In fact, it had taken me weeks to work up the courage to even make the appointment, and up until the words left my mouth I wasn’t sure I would even go through with it. I found seeking help so very difficult. I felt like such a failure for even being there, feeling dreadful rather than at home enjoying my new baby and his sister. But the truth was that I was in a state, and I needed help. Reaching out was so hard to do, but I had no other option. I needed to sleep. I was tired- SO tired- of spending all night being either forcefully woken with the demands of a new baby I had yet to bond with, or lying and wrestling with my own relentless brain. Was it worth going to sleep? Would I get enough sleep if I closed my eyes now, or should I lie awake until the baby wakes again? Should I just stay a little longer outside his room making sure he’s breathing at least, or should I do something to quieten my obsessive fears? Sleep had become everything. My son’s birth left a huge hole in my life that is only now starting to fill with good things once more… back then, the gaping vastness of black was swallowing me whole and all I wanted to do was sleep.
Over the years since the day I attempted to seek help, I’ve come to realise that lack of sleep is a huge trigger for me when it comes to anxiety, stress and low mood. I know I need to keep a handle on it, watch how many late nights I get (or how many early mornings, for that matter!) and take action before my mental health deteriorates. I know only too well how quickly sleep deprivation can envelop me, change my way of thinking. How it can take over my rational thoughts, my physical wellness and my ability to handle the slightest amount of stress. The importance of sleep really cannot be understated, but can you really change your sleep habits?
The thing is, although I know how important it is to get good quality sleep, there are often many things beyond my control that hinder it. Children, for one. Vitamin deficiencies for another. The right mattress and pillow combination. The whole package needs to work right for the sleep to be classed as good, and sadly it’s not always the case for me. I was recently contacted by Tempur, following a recent campaign to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. For every mattress purchased in May, Tempur made a donation to the charity, to aid valuable research into the links between sleep and mental health. According to the charity, there’s a really close relationship between sleep and mental health- dealing with emotional stresses can have a direct impact on how well you sleep, which in turn then has an effect on your mental health. I recognise this spiral of almost unstoppable ripples- I’ve gone from believing I needed sleeping tablets to block out the trauma of my son’s birth, to eventually admitting that I would not improve my sleep until I dealt with the whole mess of it all. And there are still days where I feel so physically and emotionally exhausted that all I want to do is curl up and cry, and sleep, and sleep some more.
Poor sleep leads to worrying. Worrying leads to poor sleep. Worrying about sleep is like your mind trying to fight itself. That’s a horrible place to be.
So what have I done? What I am now doing to change my sleep habits? Can you even really change your sleep habits? For me, it’s a lifelong commitment. I’ve worked really hard in the last two years to make sleep a priority for me. I need those around me to realise that I cannot function on little sleep, and that sometimes I may need to bow out for a while so that I can re-charge and regenerate. That means early nights, and fewer early mornings. That means recognising the signs that I am doing too much and need to slow down. That means putting myself and my own needs first sometimes. It’s a work in progress, but that’s ok. Sometimes I might cancel plans, or I might turn down invitations for nights out but I’m ok with that. I’m fine with more early nights and I’m happy to forgo that glass of wine and that chocolate bar because I know my body. I know my mind. And for me, eating well, sleeping well and feeling well means I will sleep well- and a good night these days is priceless.
This post is in conjunction with Tempur but all thoughts are my own