Living the hectic, stressful lives that we live, we often forget how to push the “Off” button. We work, run from place to place, and are anxiety ridden to distraction. We’re cancer survivors who power up each morning, because we have a lot to do and we’re so grateful for the ability to do it. Yet, we might not be as good at powering down at night and getting the rest we need to support our full lives after cancer.
A few months after my mastectomy, I went to a support group and met a woman who was an exercise instructor. She was extremely upset about not being able to exercise during her disability and gaining weight. When her doctor cleared her to exercise, she threw herself back into it with a vengeance, which caused a lot of pain. Now she was mad at the doctor and afraid she would never return to what she loved. As we talked, it became obvious she had the drive to return to exercising once she let herself heal. What she wasn’t able to do was relax.
It’s hard to relax when our minds are in turmoil. But without relaxation we can’t get to sleep to recharge and focus productively. In my last Survivor’s Nest post, I wrote about how to turn your bed into a refuge, a soft place to land. But what if you still can’t get to sleep?
Here are 10 tips to help you get the sleep you need:
1. Set a regular bedtime and time to get up each morning. Follow through on the weekends. A regular sleep schedule will help ease you into the routine of good sleep.
2. Have quiet time before bedtime. No television or computer screens, because the light they throw off is a stimulant. Plus, how many times have you watched a particularly violent episode of a TV show, or been disturbed by the news? Let only good thoughts come your way before going to bed.
3. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet.
4. Don’t drink alcohol, caffeinated beverages, or eat or drink too much before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and, although alcohol may initially make you sleepy, it is also a stimulant and you will find yourself wide awake a few hours later. As for other liquids, no one likes to make frequent trips to the bathroom when they should be sleeping.
5. If you still can’t get to sleep after about 15 minutes of trying, focus on relaxation, rather than sleep. The more we focus on “not sleeping” the more likely we are to create insomnia.
6. One thing I like to do to relax is to listen to guided imagery or calming music on my iPod, while I am comfortably lying in bed. I started doing this before I had my mastectomy because my anxiety was keeping me up at night. It usually worked wonders.
7. Journaling or writing is a calming activity when you can’t sleep. Putting your anxieties and worries down on paper may be all you need to do at 3 a.m. to feel more in control of the situation. If you are awake because your head is full of ideas, write them down. Visualize the ideas out of your head and on the paper, where they can sit and wait for you to get back to them tomorrow.
8. Drink herbal tea and honey and curl up in a blanket. A little bit of TLC in the middle of the night goes a long way to making you feel more relaxed and nurtured.
9. Listen to the silence, really hear it. The middle of the night is like no other time of the day (especially if you have a busy job, family life, etc.) Sometimes I realize I’m awake because I need the solitude.
10. Breathe and meditate during the day. If we practice mindful meditation during the day, we will be that much more adept at quieting the “what ifs?” at night. Anyone who has ever dealt with insomnia knows that the more upset you get about it, the more likely you are to stay awake. Mindful meditation keeps you from panicking, and that may be all you need to eventually get yourself to sleep.
Give yourself the gift of meditation and breathing during the day, and it will reward you with the best meditation during the night. I hope you get a good night’s rest!
Survival > Existence,