During the late hours of the night, many of us lie awake unable to turn off our minds and fall sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 50 and 70 million Americans (roughly 1 in 5) get insufficient sleep, and the CDC considers this a major public health problem. In addition to a variety of chronic diseases (obesity, diabetes, depression, and hypertension), insufficient sleep contributes to "increased mortality . . . and reduced quality of life."
If anyone understands the benefit of adequate sleep, it's the people who struggle to achieve it - people like me. I had sleep challenges long before I became a mother, but the long hours required of parenthood and the additional stress of caring for two colicky babies exacerbated those challenges. After putting my little ones to sleep, I would cuddle up next to my husband and lie wide-awake the entire night. I was perpetually exhausted, bleary-eyed and cranky and, as a result, deeply depressed. Looking back, I don't know how I managed the first 2 years of my daughters' lives.
Unless a person has experienced sleep challenges, he or she may not comprehend why anyone would have difficulty drifting off to sleep. I am here to tell you it isn't always that simple, and a little empathy goes a long way.
Here are 10 things to know about a person experiencing sleep challenges:
1. We focus on time. For many of us, there is a certain time we should fall asleep. If that time passes, our stress-levels rise. Throughout the night, we fixate on the clock and obsess over the fact we are banking less and less sleep with every passing hour.
2. Mornings can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we loathe mornings because it means we have to force our tired bodies out of bed and attempt to perform the roles we play throughout the day. On the other hand, we are glad to put an end to the seemingly endless tossing and turning that characterized our nights.
3. We sometimes resent people who sleep well. The people who sleep like babies painfully remind us we don't. They wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed; we wake up feeling groggy, cranky and oh-so-resentful.
4. Many of us have strict bedtime routines. To combat our sleep challenges, many of us have developed strict bedtime routines, such as reading, warm showers, restorative yoga, hypnosis, and so on. In our minds, sleep is contingent upon these behaviors so they cannot be skipped.
5. Our significant others might sleep in separate rooms. For a person with sleep challenges, bed-sharing all but guarantees a sleepless, anxiety-fueled night. We are acutely aware of every small noise and movement. As a result, we often relegate ourselves to another sleeping space.
6. Some of our sleep strategies are unorthodox. On the nights where sleep doesn't come easily, we have developed some unique strategies to ease our nighttime stress and to help our bodies succumb to sleep: lying on the floor of our bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms; curling up next to our blow-dryers, space heaters, fireplaces; pacing until we can't keep our eyes open; reading exceedingly boring novels.
7. We can be impatient with people who give us quick fixes. While we appreciate people trying to help us, it takes more than sound machines, blackout shades, and telling us to "relax and breathe" to cure us of our sleep challenges.
8. Our sleep challenges can impact our daytime behaviors. Often we are so exhausted we can barely form sentences let alone attend social events and carry on conversations. On the occasions we must attend social events, we spend our evenings staring uneasily at the clock wondering when we can sneak out and commence our nighttime routines.
9. Planning future events is overwhelming. We are capable of working ourselves into such a panic before social events -- particularly those requiring us to feel awake and alert - that we deprive ourselves of quality rest. Ironically, the fact that we need to sleep makes us not sleep.
10. We have tried and will try anything if it offers the possibility of sleep. If there is a product on the market or a technique that promises sleep, we will probably try it -- however expensive, unconventional, and uncomfortable it might be: the CPAP, mouthguards (MAD), tongue stabilizers (like the aveoTSD), cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, essential oils, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic care and emotional freedom techniques (also known as EFT Tapping), among others.
If you, too, are a troubled sleeper, what behaviors should be added to this list? How do you manage your responsibilities when you are sleep-deprived? Do you have any tips to help others fall asleep?