This is so far from ground-breaking that I’m not even sure I should be writing about it. I suspect it falls into the category of ‘things everyone else worked out a long time ago, but I somehow didn’t’. But since it’s been quite profoundly life-enhancing for me this past week, I’m going to share it anyway.
Stage whisper: I’ve discovered the secret of happiness and (almost) boundless energy and it’s… sleep!
I told you it wasn’t breaking new ground. But the thing I’m most aware of as I journey into this year of better tending to myself so I can tend to everything else (see previous post about my word of the year) is that none of it is. All the things I need to do for myself and give to myself are really simple. It’s just that in the busy-ness of the days of motherhood they don’t happen.
Around Christmas, really aware of how much I’d been running on empty for too long, I booked a session with my friend who is a medical herbalist and reflexologist. It would’ve been the first whole hour of pure tending I’d given myself in ages. And do you know what happened? I was that tired when I made the appointment that I wrote it on my calendar wrong. I arrived half an hour late (face palm). I couldn’t begin to tell her what I needed and there was only half an hour left of the appointment. One look at me probably told her and, if that didn’t, feeling my feet during a quick reflexology treatment certainly did. Tired, was the verdict. Really really tired. Adrenals on overdrive. I took home some herbs and strict instructions to rest and SLEEP. She was very clear about the sleep.
When I chose my word for the year – Tend – I spent some time thinking about what it meant and what I needed to do differently. I wrote a lovely list and got excited about the thought of building in a regular yoga practice, learning to meditate (like, really this time), eating even cleaner than we already do, getting organised so I could fit in a bit more of what I need. Lots of lovely thoughts. All very valid. At the end, my friend’s voice ringing in my ears, I wrote sleep. And then carried on getting sucked down social media rabbit holes, using my evenings for jobs, making myself overtired and going to bed later than I’d planned. Unsurprisingly I still felt really tired.
With back to school looming I picked up the list and asked myself what was the one thing on there which, if I tended to it like my life depended on it, would make all the difference. Sleep waved at me.
You see, my babies were both the most dreadful sleepers. I went through prolonged periods of getting around 4 hours sleep a night and that was broken, not even in one lump. Neither of them slept through the night until they were two. I think my eldest was more like three. I was that person you give a concerned look to because they’re so sleep deprived they can’t even string a sentence together or work out an appropriate emotional response to something. Those babies are now 7 and 3.5 and we’ve been getting whole nights for almost a year and a half, but somehow I’ve not made best use of them. So used to surviving on less sleep, I got into the habit of doing what I wasn’t fitting into the day into the evening. Always intending on an early night but rarely making it happen.
Screens are a lot to blame. They override our animal brain which knows that when it’s dark we should sleep. I can feel that switch flip. They wake me up and I buzz around being busy all evening, finding it hard to switch off. And then I wonder why, when I do finally get there, I don’t sleep all that well.
So when sleep waved at me from the list I promised I’d give it a chance. I gave myself two new rules. Number one is evenings are for rest not busying (within this I’m trialling candles instead of screens!). And number two, 9.30pm is my new bed time.
I’m honestly quite astonished at the difference. Who knew that 8 hours sleep a night made you feel this good! I’m waking before my alarm from a deeper more restful sleep, I’m more productive throughout the day, I’m happier, I have more patience with pretty much everything. I can think! It all seems just that little bit easier. Amazing.
I don’t want to harp on. If you’re currently sleep deprived I’m pretty sure you already hate me by now anyway for getting more sleep than you do. Please know that I feel your pain. Man alive, do I feel your pain.
Last night my youngest came in with us at 3am. I don’t even know why. I was in such a deep sleep that my husband heard him first and just plonked him between us. For a moment I enjoyed the snuggle and then he set about whacking me across the face at least once an hour until my alarm went off. Today, funnily enough, I don’t feel quite so well rested!
Tending to my need for sleep is clearly a daily habit I (and my children) need to form. Changes like this don’t always embed themselves immediately, especially when you add small flailing arms to the mix. Even though I’m completely sold on restful evenings and early nights based on how I’ve felt this past week, I’m pretty sure I’ll revert to old habits if I don’t really commit to them.
Here’s what I’m doing to help myself – sharing in case it’s helpful to others:
Bedtime is bedtime – there’s something paradoxically freeing about having an absolute bedtime, even if it is self-imposed. I’m less likely to, on the one hand, drift from thing to thing being ineffective, and on the other hand over do it by expecting myself to climb a mountain in an evening. 9.30 is bedtime. Lights out by 10. It feels really early but so is 6am which is wake up time on weekdays.
Embracing the dark – it’s low lights or candles for an hour before bedtime. It’s amazing how we respond to the natural dark. I’m feeling my animal instinct to wind down in that hour and honouring that means sleep comes easily when I get there. It’s also really peaceful.
Turning off the screens – we don’t really watch much tv but ordinarily you’d have found me on my phone or laptop for some of the evening, if not much of it. Embracing the dark means trying really hard to put the screens away in the pre-bed hour. It makes such a difference. I never really realise just how bright even a phone screen is and how it stops you switching off. I’m certainly not anti-screens – there’s so much inspiration and community wrapped up with mine – so I’m challenging myself to find other times of the day to do that stuff. Times when I’m less susceptible to falling down rabbit holes on them!
Tending – clearing the latter part of the evening of distractions leaves them free for all the nurturing things I hardly ever have time for. The extra energy I’m waking with makes the days more productive so I’ve really no excuse. Evenings this past week have been about hot baths and reading books, knitting with an audiobook in the background, writing on an actual notepad instead of a screen and other such self-indulgent things. At least they feel self-indulgent given that evenings have been far too much about being productive for too long.
This all comes with a hefty dose of realism. I’m a mum, after all. I might suddenly have to knock up an urgent costume tomorrow evening for something I haven’t yet heard of. I might say yes to something I should’ve said no to. Any number of things are going to knock the early nights off track. Not much I can do about it, except switch off this screen now and embrace the one I’ll have tonight. And keep trying.