SLEEP, a valuable commodity to those who struggle to get it. It is something I have personally struggled with since I was a child. According to the American Sleep Association, 50 - 70 million US adults have a sleep disorder, so I am not alone.
Some of the top impacts of poor sleep quantity and quality are poor memory, concentration, mood, immunity, and weight gain. This is not an extensive list but gives you a baseline to understanding the importance of sleep for physical and mental health.
EARLY SLEEP ISSUES
I can remember the sleep struggles going back to childhood. Troubles falling asleep and staying asleep were present most of the time. I come by this honesty as my father was one of us, the sleep strugglers. He would play the piano well into the early morning hours and my brothers and I would yell down the stairs "dad, can you stop playing the piano now?" I actually value that memory as my father would sing along to his tunes. This is annoying when you are trying to fall asleep but if that is my bad memory, dad singing and playing the piano, I will choose to keep it.
As a young adult when I couldn't sleep I remember getting up and frequently finding my father watching some odd movie in the middle of the night. I would often join him and can remember us laughing at the strangeness that aired at those hours.
Fast forward and we created another sleep struggler in my son. As a teen he would go and walk the town in the night hours. I had a flashback when I heard him one evening around 1 AM playing the piano and singing along, EXACTLY in the same style as my father. Working out the song by ear and practicing it over and over until he got it down.
EARLY RECOVERY SLEEP ISSUES
The first months of recovery where almost unbearable with the inability to sleep. I am always so grateful that there was a 1.5-hour midnight meeting at the clubhouse I attended. I would got to that meeting and to the all night diner after with others in recovery. On the nights I didn't do that I would be on the phone calling people as they energetically held my hand through the craziness of early recovery.
Drinking was definitely a sleep tool for me, except it was passing out not sleeping. In high school I can recall drinking NyQuil to get the needed escape of an active mind and drift off to sleep.
In those early months of recovery I used a duplicated cassette tape, in a walkman, with a funky guided meditation to get me to sleep. We didn't have cell phones with apps back in the day. We couldn't search it on Google or buy it from Amazon. For me, that tape was hard to come by. I even tried finding more of them but none had the same impact as that duplicated tape did. My friends mother gave it to me and it took hold. At first I would have to listen to both sides of the tape and would drift off after. As I stuck with it I got to the point where I was drifting off in the first five minutes of the meditation.
CONTINUED SLEEP ISSUES THROUGHOUT RECOVERY
In my many years in recovery I have not turned into an early to bed early to rise girl. My sleep struggles go up and down but are always there on a subtle level and now sleep apnea is part of it. I am aware of the things that contribute to my own sleep situation, including the crazy impact of the full moon. I discovered this by staying mindful on the nights when I just COULD NOT sleep. No amount of breathwork, calming tea, essential oils, melatonin, or guided meditations would work on these nights. I began to Google "full moon" every time I hit that place and without fail it was the day before, day of, or day after a full moon.
The difference today is three fold in how I manage this important part of my life.
Acceptance - I have tried everything to be that sound sleeper. I drink very little caffeine, no coffee only tea, and not after 2 PM. I exercise, breathe, meditate, work on sleep routines. Sometimes it just is what it is, and as frustrating as it feels to not fall asleep, acceptance eases that battle. To the best of my ability I work on letting go of any judgments about my sleepless night and know that this too shall pass. And it passes quickly, it just doesn't feel that way sometimes. I shift back into a somewhat normal, normal for me, sleep cycle. UNTIL that next FULL MOON! ☺
Keep Coming Back - Using this slogan as a mantra in my recovery has been a staple since my first meeting. I really knew nothing of 12-step culture when I came in. I did not go to rehab and had never gone to meetings before. After my first meeting I was stunned when I was told to Keep Coming Back! Wow they like me? Yes, yes, I was that clueless. But the importance of this slogan, for me somewhat of a mantra now, is to root me down and keep me grounded. So, when my sleep gets off track, or my meditation, or self-care, I know that I can Keep Coming Back to those tools, and that is what I do. Letting go of any judgments to the best of my ability and resuming with grace what I know works for me.
Knowing Myself - I remember when my son was young, some 20 years ago, my sponsor suggested I start to track my moods and behaviors on a calendar. So that is what I did. I hung up a calendar and everyday I would write down a few single words to describe the day. This exercise gave me great insight into my own cycles in many areas and how they all impact each other. Body, mind, spirit, recovery. It was clear after three months what the cycle looked like. With that information I can better care for myself compassionately. This did not happen over night folks! It has been a slow and steady easing up on myself. An honoring of my body, taking the appropriate actions for the appropriate times, tuning into the cycles of nature and aligning with them to drift down stream instead of fighting the current.
If you struggle with sleep, begin to build up a toolbox just for that. Pull in meditation, breathwork, healthy sleep hygiene practices, essential oils, or any other tools that will support sleeping without taking substances. Be compassionate with yourself and let go of judgements the best you can. Work with your doctors and be sure to tell them you are recovering.