“You just need some sleep..!” Addressing some of the emotional issues that can come with a lack of sleep

When you’re feeling truly knackered, often people tell you that ‘you just need some sleep’.  If only it were that simple... It is a bit like someone telling you to just ‘chill out’ when you say you feel stressed: the comment is well-meaning, but you find yourself internally grimacing at the seeming impossibility of the suggestion.

When I had my baby a few weeks ago, the most consistent piece of advice I was given was to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. I had a few difficulties with this…

Firstly, I’d heard that some newborns sleep for up to 18 hours a day. As much as I like my sleep (and I really do), even I would struggle to sleep that amount every day.

Secondly, for the first few days, I found myself frequently ‘watching the baby’ at night just to ensure he was still breathing. When I mentioned this to a midwife (in response to a question about whether I was sleeping when the baby slept) she said ‘oh yes, that’s completely normal - that’s what I did with mine!’.

Thirdly, I am not very good at cat-napping; once I’m down for a sleep, I like it to last more than twenty minutes.

Anyway, the list goes on… The point is, there are physical barriers to sleep, but there can also be a lot of emotional barriers. And there are both physical and emotional issues when it comes to lack of sleep.

That’s where we can try:

  • Checking in with how we physically feel, and giving our body lots of opportunities to rest If you have a day when you feel shattered, your body aches, and is ‘going slow’, try to honour that and give yourself some time and opportunity to rest - that doesn’t necessarily mean sleep, but it does mean slowing down if possible, and trying not to override the important messages your body is giving you about what it needs right now.

    I know that this isn’t always practically possible. But racing around and trying to achieve loads on a day when the tank is half full can leave us feeling worse, and even more exhausted.

  • Not striving to sleep This is sometimes easier said than done. Most of us know how frustrating it is when you are really tired but you STILL. CAN’T. SLEEP.. But striving to sleep won’t necessarily get you there.

    Now, when I go to bed, I wind down and do things that help me relax, but I try not to lie on my back with my eyes wide open willing sleep to come. By doing this, sleep often happens more easily. So we can see if it helps to increase the opportunities for rest and relaxation but without trying to force sleep and get into a loop of frustration when sleep doesn’t happen.

  • Noticing story-lines that attach to sleep Noticing any thoughts that attach to the physical experience of being tired can potentially help address any extra ‘story-lines’ or narratives that might be forming about it that aren’t helpful. When we need rest and feel really tired, we can sometimes add an extra layer of punishment on top of the physical sensation of being tired, beating ourselves up about the tiredness itself and trying to resist it.

    In my own case, if I speak to any parent, they all refer to a lack of sleep and feeling tired at some stage, particularly at the beginning: it is perfectly normal. That doesn’t mean I have to ‘enjoy’ it, but that does mean I don’t need to worry that I’m going through some freakish zombie like state that is unusual, or that it will continue to be this way every night for the rest of my life. Somehow that really helps.  

  • Noticing story-lines can also help our minds not get carried away with exaggerations and thoughts which aren’t necessarily true. How many times do we say ‘we haven’t slept for days’ when we actually mean we’ve slept sporadically and badly but we have had some sleep? I’ve definitely said it….

  • Being kind to ourselves Being tired a lot of the time is… exhausting. So try to be kind to yourself and your needs, rather than feeling as though you have to tough it out or act cheery all the time and pretend that nothing is wrong if you are tired. Ask for support if you need it - ask, ask and ask again.

    I go to bed early and hand over the reins to my partner. And I tell him when I feel really shattered so he knows 1. I might be cranky and 2. I might need some extra support.

Finally, if you’re a new parent reading this, you may be secretly pleased to know that I have not ‘nailed’ the sleep thing. My (not always so) Calm City Baby currently wakes up around every 2 - 4 hours and so physically my sleep pattern is probably going to continue to be disrupted for a while.

I’m told by other parents this ends completely when the children leave home. So until then, I’ll try to acknowledge, as gracefully as I can, that ‘just getting some sleep’ will be easier some nights than others, but that it won’t follow the same pattern each night, and definitely won’t be forever...

Thanks very much for reading my blog:) .

If you would like to find out more about mindfulness you can visit this page. And if you want to follow me on social media, I’m on twitter at @calmcitymind and @calmcitymum and facebook at calmcitymind