Many people say that there is not enough time in the day—there is much to do and enjoy.
I share these feelings, as my life is centered around activities that I am passionate about—singing, playing Brazilian percussion, biking, hiking, baking, cooking, reading, writing, watching movies and meditation, plus the hours I spend at work.
There are also people who say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
This phrase is one that makes me cringe.
People believe that the hours they spend sleeping are valuable hours that could be spent living their lives; they consider it wasted time when they are asleep.
I used to share these feelings—until I spent two years struggling with insomnia.
The two years without sleep were some of the most challenging of my life—I was an emotional basket case, I couldn’t enjoy anything or anyone, I was so tired I couldn’t even exercise (which is my natural stress relief, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety remedy).
My body and mind could not relax.
I was experiencing adrenal fatigue caused by the insomnia, or perhaps the other way around.
It seemed that nobody understood what I was going through (with the exception of the many health practitioners that I was blessed with consulting), and I felt isolated and alone. It was awful—an experience I would not recommend to anyone.
I tried everything I could to help myself, but I was stuck in a vicious cycle, which had originated from my own perfectionism and over-busyness that I created. I went to every kind of therapist and health practitioner, looking for answers, supplements, dietary changes and even pharmaceutical drugs (which for me are an absolute last resort).
In the end, it turned out that while some of these things could help for a less serious situation, what really had to happen for me was to deeply change my patterns (mental, emotional, physical) and change my lifestyle. As it turned out, I had been running myself into the ground for years based on some perfectionistic ideal of how I should be living my life, and realized that not only did I need to slow down right now, but that it had to become a lifelong commitment on my part—not just for a little while until I got back on track sleep-wise.
There were many factors that led to my eventual improvement and recovery from insomnia. But what has sustained me and maintained this deep sleep and sense of peace since then is a regular commitment to slowing down, tuning into my needs, and making sure that I have time to integrate and recharge from the daily goings-on of life.
There are many rituals and activities that I discovered along the way to help me bring peaceful and regular sleep back into my life.
Here are just a small handful of practices that I find to be absolutely essential:
Some form of movement or exercise each and every day (with an occasional day off if total rest is needed).
This does not have to mean going to the gym for a workout, or doing a huge hike or bike ride (I live in Boulder, Colorado, the land of the triathletes and adrenaline junkies, so the theory of relativity and making comparisons definitely applies here). I spent the first year of my recovery from insomnia riding my bicycle around the two lakes near my house, which was a 20-minute bike ride with flat terrain, and barely three miles in distance. In my past, this ride would have seemed like barely a warm-up, but in my state of exhaustion, this ride became a major event.
Coming from a more depleted place, I could feel the importance that came from having increased breathing and respiration and circulation, and getting fresh air. I always came back from these rides feeling transformed, and now, even though my energy has returned significantly, I notice how much of a difference this little ride makes in my entire day. It also is a great thing to do just after waking up and after work to refresh after a rough day.
2. Rest and Integration.
An Ayurvedic Doctor who I consulted during this time informed me that between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day is “Adrenal Recovery Time” and that this is the optimal time of day to rest, and will give the maximum return on recovery time. There is a very specific type of rest that she recommended on a daily basis: laying horizontally on my bed for 15 to 20 minutes, ideally with my eyes covered, with no sounds or input.
I set an alarm when I know that I need to get up after this, so my mind and body can let go as much as possible. I leave the alarm off if I know that I have time to spare and have a chance of drifting off into sleep. That said, the point of this rest time is not to nap, meditate, or fall asleep, but really just to give the whole nervous system a chance to slow down, recover, recharge and integrate.
I have found this to be one of the most valuable additions to my daily routine, as I feel completely relaxed afterwards, and it feels like an energetic reset. It also serves as a check-in for myself, helps me notice if I am needing more rest, and is my way of slowing down. If 15 to 20 minutes isn’t realistic in your workday, try even five minutes—it really makes a difference.
Of course we have all heard this one many times, but it cannot be emphasized enough in terms of the difference it can make in our daily lives as well as for sleeping well each night. Meditating for 20 minutes either first thing in the morning, or before bed (or both!) makes a major difference in my day.
I find that especially before bed, meditation helps me process the events of the day, and my mind is more ready to shut off by the time I make it to my bed for the night’s sleep. And again—if I find that I don’t have time for the full 20-minute sit, five minutes still goes a long way in slowing down my mind, body and the nervous system as a whole.
4. Bedtime rituals.
I am not one of those people who lays down in bed and is asleep within five minutes. I have always been someone who it takes at least an hour to settle into sleep. So, when factoring in what time I want to fall asleep, I have learned to create a bedtime ritual that supports this. With adrenal fatigue, the studies (and my experience) show that getting to sleep before 10:30 p.m. is extremely important, otherwise the body will stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. I have made a cut-off (turn-off) time for electronics of one to two hours before I start my bedtime ritual (8 or 9 p.m.), and then I begin my gradual journey to bed.
This is when I take my sleep herbs and supplements, brush my teeth, turn on relaxing music, take a bath, meditate and pull out a good book to read until I fall asleep. Writing in a journal is also helpful for clearing my mind and letting go of the day. Committing fully to this bedtime ritual has made an important impact on my sleep each night, and I notice a major difference when I become loose around sticking to this routine. I’d say the electronics part is the hardest one to commit to (and the first step!), especially if you have a new boyfriend, or really anyone who wants to communicate during the late evening hours.
5. Checking in with yourself.
All of these rituals speak to the same thing—tuning in with our body, mind and spirit. When I feel my mind starting to ramp up with the question of what I want to do, there are a lot of “shoulds” that come about. Should I go for a hike? Should I write a song? Should I watch a movie? Should should should! When this is happening, I have come to realize how much this is the mind running me, and I am not tuning into what I feel.
What do I really want to do, if judgment of my actions were not a factor? I might think that I should go exercise or do something creative, but often have found that what I really want or need is to rest, take a nap, or read a book. A way of checking in for me is any one of the above activities, as well as others—just stopping, slowing down, and feeling inward and seeing what the answer is.
It may take a while for the answers to come, and I have found that when I am not sure what I want to do, I default to resting until I figure it out.
This could mean minutes, hours, days, weeks, or more. So, really honor this voice in you—you may be surprised at what you find. It took me about two years, and while I thought it was simply temporary measures to get back to regular sleep, I realized that these experiments became permanent wisdom in terms of how I need to live my life.
The realization of my own self-destructive patterns was massive, and I was steeped deeply in the demons that came from these patterns for the years spent in my own private h*ll of sleeplessness. Now I have found that while I may not have time to do as many of the different things that I thought I wanted to fill my time with, I go deeper with the things that I do choose to do, and I enjoy them so much more with a sense of deep peace, relaxation and enjoyment.
And when I sleep late on the weekend—I wake up and cheer!
Author: Rachel Leber
Apprentice Editor: Roslyn Walker / Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Nomao Saeki/Unsplash