Honestly, how is anyone able to sleep well when things are this chaotic?
My anxiety about the world around me has had me in a constant state of physical panic all week, and depression has slithered in right behind it. I can feel the physical weight of fear on my chest. I can feel myself drowning in thoughts of uncleanliness, contamination, illness, and a potential long struggle to have my needs met. I feel smothered by the idea that at any moment, I could cause catastrophic harm to someone else without even knowing it if I’m not careful enough. My focus on my body has become even more overwhelming. It feels so strange for me to be triggered by COVID-19, beyond the “normal” widespread panic, but I definitely have been. But I don’t want to dive into all that just yet. I want to mindfully pause and acknowledge that at times like these my sleep hygiene is even more crucial. I am so grateful that I have been (mostly) able to get enough quality sleep this week despite everything on my mind. Sleep has been an eternal struggle for me, and I have personally never had medication alone do enough for me in that department (although I absolutely do not sleep without taking my bedtime meds!). Sleep can be a universal struggle among people who have experienced trauma or other mental health conditions, and I wanted to share the “little things” that make up my sleep routine in hopes that it may inspire your own.
- A hot shower. I’ve found that I sleep better and am less likely to have nightmares if I take a hot shower before bed. Taking a mindful shower about an hour or two before bedtime is an important signal to my whole self that I am safe to rest throughout the night. After my shower, I apply a calming lavender and cedarwood scented lotion all over as well as a soothing muscle balm to my neck and shoulders where I carry the most tension.
- A cup of hot tea. Warmth is so comforting for me, and in the same way a hot shower relaxes the outside of my body, tea with a dash of milk and honey relaxes me internally. I prefer vanilla chamomile, but at times I’ll drink wild berry tea or even just a cup of warm milk and honey.
- My weighted blanket. My weighted blanket simply feels like safety and home. It helps me stay asleep through the night and my dreams are significantly less distressing when I use it. There’s a lot of hype out there about weighted blankets, and it’s not a complete solution to my insomnia, but it has made a difference for me.
- Something to listen to. I have always needed background noise to fall asleep to; not white noise, but something to focus my racing thoughts. My dad used to read to me when I was little, then as I grew older I would leave the TV on while I went to sleep. At times I will still leave the TV on, but most of the time, because my spouse enjoys reading before bed, he will play an audiobook or read a book out loud to me (the latter of which magically puts me to sleep in about 30 seconds).
- Doggy snuggles. I don’t care what anyone says, my dog sleeps in the human bed. He’s a little guy, and he loves to climb under the weighted blanket with me and snuggle up close through the night. Feeling him pressed against me is reassuring as I fall asleep or if I wake up during the night. It is a reminder that only will he protect me if something unsafe happens while I’m asleep, but that I am capable of protecting him as well.
You might notice that sensory experiences are essential to me feeling safe and oriented as I fall asleep. Closing my eyes is something very scary for me, but I can lessen this fear by hearing something I can follow, tasting my tea, smelling my lotion, and feeling the heat of the shower, the soft weight of my blanket, and the gentle touch of my dog. It’s not a perfect system, and I still have nearly sleepless nights here and there, but having a routine and reminders of my safety have made a massive difference in my sleep during the night and my mental health during the day. Please share with me what helps you sleep the best in the comments or on social media!