I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep recently, as many of you probably have. We are starting our wellness series talking about Sleep for a critical reason – it’s literally the most important thing you can do for your health. In 2017, the sleep aid industry generated $69.5 billion worldwide – there are weighted blankets, supplements, lights, noisemakers, a whole industry. When we go through transition our sleep is often impacted, either because we are thinking about the transition (worries, excitement, etc) or because we are in a new situation and trying to maintain some semblance of control but don’t really know what is going on or dealing with under-the-radar stressors.
At the same time, our compromised sleep lowers our ability to actually tackle these issues and have the energy to pursue our goals. This includes compromised decision-making, as evidenced by many studies surrounding how sleepy driving can be as bad as drunk driving. It can include a short temper, apathy, etc. Therefore, sleep is critical to your wellbeing and welldoing through transition. A best practice in our crisis leadership series is to ensure that staff gets sleep in crisis, in order to allow them to continue making the critical decisions that must be made, sleep is critical. But…how to ensure good sleep?
1. Name the issue. I have found my sleep schedule fluctuates greatly depending on where I’m living. I found in countries where the physical security situation was in greater fluctuation despite my personal situation being quite secure, I slept far less well. It took me a long time to realize that this undercurrent of stress was my trigger. In fact, it took my parents telling me to take my bed from home to my first post because it was more important that I feel comfortable and sleep well – while it didn’t wholly change the situation, knowing what I was facing helped me create practices to help me sleep better. If you name it, you can tame it.
2. List what you can Control. I know my mind will race at night with all the things I
have to do, want to do, should do. I usually am not willing to get up and do those things, because it just cascades. Learning to take a note instead of relying on our memories can help us feel less responsible for remembering our to-do list, checking things off the next day is a bonus! Listing out what we can control can also help us see where we can shift to make ourselves more comfortable or ready for sleep. Lastly, knowing what we cannot control can sometimes help us come up with tricks to address these issues – whether that be self-care or something else. In one tour, it became clear that I wasn’t sleeping because underlying stress was keeping my muscles too tight. I started to use stretching before bed as part of my nighttime ritual. While I would still wake up with tense muscles, it would help me get to sleep. To this day I usually do some self-massage for my feet before bed.
3. Action Plan. As mentioned earlier, find a way to develop an accountability plan around the actions you can control. This might be marking it off somewhere, creating a sleep journal, or one of any myriad of things that help you get through what you need so you can clear your mind and body before bed. It might even include shifting to water instead of coffee earlier in the day, hard as that may be in light of all you feel you need to get done in the day. With enough sleep you may find you don’t need the same amount of coffee and in fact get more done!
4. Develop a Night Routine. I know people talk about night routines all the time. I do too. My night routine has expanded over the years, but there are a few tips I have picked up that I think might be instructive in modern times.
a. Phones are a great accountability tool. Many people I know ignore their night alarm – and stay up well past their “bedtime.” Instead of doing that, I let my phone transition to red light pretty early in the evening, I also shift it to black and white about two hours before bed. I do read on my phone before bed, but it’s already shifted to a black and white page like print, instead of glossy, colorful images. I also shut down social media pretty early. Most people know I won’t be responding until the next morning and it has never caused any issues. These phone habits have helped me wind down. I’ve even found myself pursuing non-technological things at night – like puzzles and cooking which help protect my eyes.
b. Create healthy rituals around sleep. Everyone tells you to use the bed as a place for sleeping, not other things, but it really does make a difference. I usually only am in bed to sleep. Before bed, I clean my teeth and face and moisturize. This takes about 15 minutes. I then give myself a foot massage and chat with my husband. We usually read for another 15 – 30 minutes and then we go to bed. Since he moved in, I’ve found having a lamp that we use while reading, helps us to stay warm instead of turning off the main light and has helped my brain realize its time to sleep when the light goes off. I actually got off of coffee about a year ago, but I never drank it after noon and have tried to up my water intake to two liters a day.
c. What night routines have you created? What have you found to be effective for you?
5. Stick to it even when transitioning. This is the hard part! Have you ever left a party and had music playing in your head making it hard to stop from bouncing much less go to sleep? Transitions can feel like that – you are bubbling with excitement, opportunity, anxiety, and worry. Creating the routines prior to these times gives your body something to fall back on, so to speak. The routines remind your body that it’s safe regardless of the opportunity or threats it has mentally created. This can help it ease into sleep even in challenging times. I use my sleep routines on planes, and it helps me shift through jetlag faster and adapt to a new place more quickly.
a. For more jetlag tips, I concur with and have tested out everything that Christine Hansen discusses on Sundae Schneider-Bean’s Expat Happy Hour podcast.
What about you? Do you have a sense of what triggers insomnia in transition for you? What has helped you move past it? Do you have some pro-tips, tricks, or tools that you swear by? Have you tried meditation or other mindfulness techniques to help your mind prepare for sleep?
What about kids? What has helped you get them to sleep during transitions? What do you say or do to help them feel at ease? Do you have a preferred flying time to support them?
When you're transitioning our own health can be the first thing we sacrifice, and so instead of thriving we begin to wilt. If you are going through a transition, reach out and we'll work on both your wellbeing and welldoing to ensure you thrive through transition.