And, that's OK.
***[content warning: death; dying]***
There could be a lot of factors impacting sleep in this moment. The world seems to be more chaotic, and we have a lot on our minds.
For one, financial worries can feel particularly overwhelming, intense, and traumatizing right now. We might be wondering about what may happen now that we've lost our jobs. If we're lucky enough to still have jobs, seeing others struggle is painful. And, we may experience many what ifs. What if I lose my job? What if I start getting paid less? What if other emergencies come up, and I just can't afford those emergencies? What if my friends and family struggle, and I can't help them? These thoughts can make us feel helpless and scared.
Two, we are getting so much information about what we should be doing during this pandemic, and our brains are so overwhelmed. In five minutes of scrolling through social media or the news app, we may see headlines or posts about how to wash our shoes so that we don't bring the COVID-19 virus into your home. Or, how to wash our groceries and the packages we receive properly. New tips on how to clean our homes. How to wash our hands. How to take a shower. Where the hell to find toilet paper. How many of us are sick. How many of us have died. How many of us will die.
It's just all so much.
And maybe we wonder -- what if I don't do all the things that scientists are recommending. What if I don't adhere to the social distancing rules. What if I don't clean my shoes well enough. WHAT IF I TAKE ALL THE PRECAUTIONS AND I STILL GET SICK. And, I get my loved ones sick.
It's a lot to think about.
Three, we may be experiencing a significant amount of existential crises. Not only do we have to make sure all aspects of our beings are "clean" and "disinfected." But, we also have to contend with the fact that we might get sick and die. That our loved ones might also get sick and die. That everyone in the world is grieving and traumatized by this pandemic. That we can't celebrate our birthdays the way we want to. That we can't celebrate graduations the way we want to. That we may die alone, particularly if we live alone and don't have a lot of folks we interact with on a daily basis. That we might not get all the things we wanted in life, like a partner or kids or a successful career or the ability to travel, as there are many restrictions in our lives right now.
We can't even touch each other, and many of us need touch to feel comforted, stable, secure, loved, and cared for.
I'm thinking of Jim Gaffigan's joke about our loved ones not touching us, and so we end up having to pay massage therapists to touch us: we get massages from strangers because we can't count on the people who love us to touch us. That's funny, and sad and true. And now, we can't even get massages from those strangers during the apocalypse! Or, from anyone. Ahhh! :D
So, what do we do? Absolutely nothing.
Well, we know what science says. We've probably read all the articles about sleep hygiene. If you don't know about the things we're supposed to do to get better sleep, I'll paint a picture for you.
Imagine, come 9pm, you turn off the TV, you close your laptop, and you put your phone away. Maybe you're sitting on the couch in some fancy cabin in Upstate NY, in front of a fancy fireplace. And, you close your eyes, you hug yourself, and you take 5 slow deep breaths -- inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds. You rock a bit from side to side.
You open your eyes. You go upstairs to the master bathroom. You have thoughts like "I'm so proud of you. You survived the day. You were so effective and competent during this meeting and that other interaction. I love that you called your best friend and had some laughs with him." You look yourself in the mirror as you're brushing your teeth and you think "I love you. I care about you."
After you take a slow, relaxing, mindful shower, you walk into your bedroom. You've got your oil diffuser going. Maybe you smell the lavender. You start to read an enjoyable, and not too exciting book. You start to feel tired a bit by 1130pm. You turn off the light. You focus on taking d e e p, s l o w breaths as you focus on what your pillow feels like. Or, what your body feels like as you lay on the bed. You focus on the sounds outside. Maybe it's raining and windy. Maybe you practice gratitude: "thank you universe, for allowing me to have a bed to sleep in, for allowing me to have shelter, for allowing me to be able to smell the soothing scent of lavender."
D e e p
S l o w
B r e a t h i n g.
As you're drifting off, maybe you visualize your favorite calming place. It might be a quiet beach in Kauai. You feel the sun on your face. You hear the calming waves. You smile, and you feel what it's like to focus on your breath, and engage in this relaxing visualization.
You fall asleep. You wake up at 7am naturally. And, you immediately jump out of bed and go out for your morning run before you start the day.
Doesn't that sound beautiful. You follow that routine filled with mindfulness and self-kindness and self-soothing everyday.
Can you imagine?
But, in a not so perfect world, maybe we can't follow that perfect sleep routine. Maybe we do need to have the TV on as we fall asleep. Maybe we do find screens soothing as we listen to a Seinfeld or Frasier or Friends episode for the millionth time, because that comforts us and soothes us.
Maybe we do all the "right" things (e.g., not drinking caffeinated beverages past 12pm, staying away from substances, not eating a big meal right before bed, doing a sleep meditation before bed, setting a worry/plan time from 6-7pm everyday so that we can practice more mindfulness outside of that worry time), and we still wake up throughout the night or we still can only get 3 hours of sleep. There may also be too much serotonin and dopamine swimming around our brains. Or, hormonal shifts that contribute to those sleep difficulties.
Earlier I wrote that if we're experiencing sleep concerns, we should do nothing, in a kind of facetious way. Doing nothing is OK. I think as the world seems like it's burning, we need to have some grace with ourselves, and practice acceptance with whatever we're feeling and experiencing. We don't necessarily have to keep trying to fix or change.
Sometimes we get frustrated with ourselves when we don't get the things we want. Self-kindness/self-compassion goes out the window and self-blame, self-shaming, and self-judgments come up.
Right now, if we're doing all the right things or we're not doing the things that doctors recommend when it comes to sleep hygiene, it's OK. It's all OK.
If we do wake up at night and can't seem to fall back asleep, I am encouraging us to do a tad more than nothing. Just a tad more. And, that is to -- breathe.
Think of your brain as if it's a child. What would you tell that child if they came up to you at 3AM and woke you up? Maybe you'd be frustrated, and that's fair. But, I hope that you would also say some supportive things to them: "You can't sleep? Aww. Come here. *hugs* let me read you a bed time story."
If we think of the brain as a child, we might also say: "Wow. You really don't want to sleep this week. OK. Well, I respect that." And, if you know me, you know I love the Calm meditation app. They have great sleep stories and soothing relaxing music. Putting something like that on immediately after waking up can be helpful. It does feel nice to have something else to focus on. Having warm bodies next to us in bed can also be soothing -- we can put our hand on the person's belly and breathe to the same tempo as they're breathing.
J u s t
F o c u s i n g
B r e a t h i n g
To g e t h e r.
Sometimes all we can do is breathe.
What a privilege it is right now to be able to breathe. If we have that privilege, let's practice gratitude for that. If we're willing and able, we can put one hand on our heart and one hand on our belly, and as we inhale for 5 and exhale for 5, we can think: "Thank you body. I'm so grateful for the ability to breathe. Thank you."
I wish you so much wellness and peace.
Take good care of you and others.