Are you always tired? I hope you’ll enjoy this second post in this series on choosing rest. If you haven’t read the first post about how rest is a choice, check it out here. And if you want to learn more about how to choose rest and get updates to the series as they come out, be sure to sign up for the Choose Rest Challenge!
Confession: I have been known on more than one occasion to wish out loud that I just didn’t have to sleep. Just imagine all that I could get done! (Especially if my kids had to sleep and I didn’t.)
But alas, the mind is willing; the body is weak.
Trust me, I’ve tried to push the limits. I had many a late night in college. I thought I was a champion then, but a few years later babies came, a period which redefined the meaning of “sleep deprivation.”
My body was literally pushed to its limits in every sense of the word during the baby years. And you know what my response was? Tearful joy and gratitude Frustration. I felt like my rights and ownership of my time and energy were completely stripped away.
Even then, I’d try to calculate the minimum amount of sleep I needed to still feel like a human (somewhere around seven hours, I guessed—not too bad, right?). I’d set my alarm like a good disciplined mama should so I could get a good jump-start to my day, even though by the time afternoon hit I’d be reaching for my umpteenth cup of coffee to make it through.
The result was: I did “make it,” technically, with “just enough” rest. But it wouldn’t take much to tip me into a very cranky, self-centered fatigue. I also suffered from chronic back pain due to stress and inadequately rebuilding my muscle strength after three pregnancies in four years.
I share all these things with you to illustrate that for many years, I’ve had a problem when it comes to my body. And that problem is: I’m just not content with its natural limitations.
There are complex reasons why people might suffer from fatigue, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know that if you’re always tired, it is a signal from your body: pay attention to me! I need help!
The Answer When You’re Always Tired
While some people do have complicated and chronic health problems that contribute to fatigue (hang on for a minute if that’s you), for many of us it’s the result of our choices.
If you’re always tired, cranky and weak, it might be time to take a little pause and do some self-reflection. You are not a victim of your circumstances. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you are in charge of how you spend your limited time and energy.
Recently I got certified as a stress management coach. While my ultimate goal was to help others, I quickly learned that student #1 is me. And hands down, the biggest takeaway from my training was embarrassingly simple.
I need to sleep more.
As I’ve already explained, I have been in the habit of pushing my body to its limits since pretty much forever. But here’s the problem with that. Each night, your brain goes through several cycles as you sleep, typically about 90 minutes in length, which get increasingly longer over the course of a night. During the first part of each cycle, the rest is primarily regenerative for you body. For the second part (also called REM or dream sleep), it is for your brain.
Up until recently, I denied myself my last cycle of sleep. In other words, my brain didn’t get that last bit of regenerative time it has needed to function at full capacity. The result:
- Crankiness/short patience
- Increased anxiety/worry
- Decreased mental sharpness/productivity
- Memory loss
- Frazzled mama/mommy brain
- Lack of energy/motivation
- You get the idea
And so I started making sleep a priority. Simple right? I now get 8–8 ½ hours most nights. And the difference is astounding. I can honestly say I don’t miss that extra hour in the day one bit because during my time awake I am so much more energized.
Strategies for More Sleep
I know, I know, you’ve got a million excuses for why you can’t make more time for sleep, or even if you do, you can’t fall to sleep. I never said it was easy. But consider some of the following strategies and see if you can’t make some small changes:
- Increase the amount of time you sleep in small increments (in other words, don’t jump from five to eight hours a night because your body will not adjust well).
- Experiment to find how much sleep you actually need versus what you’ve been forcing on yourself. Try to sleep as long as you can without an alarm (do the math; you’ll have to either get up later or get to bed earlier).
- Stop drinking caffeine after lunch.
- Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Follow a calming nighttime ritual. This might include activities that trigger your brain into “shut-down mode” like dumping all of your thoughts onto a piece of paper so you can save your worries for tomorrow. Make a mental “turn off” point.
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, dark and tidy to make it more relaxing (if you have a night owl husband, I highly recommend earplugs and an eye mask!)
- Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- If you have babies or other things that wake you up, try to compensate. Give yourself even more time to sleep in or go to bed earlier. Take short naps. Try to adjust your work schedule. Ask for help from your husband or support network so you can find the time you need to rest.
- Keep a sleep diary and track your patterns throughout the day so you can identify what might be causing sleep deprivation (I recommend this one).
Now, as I said in the last section, some people are suffering from more complex health conditions, whether mental, physical, or often both. If this is you, seek help from a medical professional. If they don’t have the answers, ask another one. Don’t stop searching for answers.
These are all simple strategies. The hardest part is deciding, or giving yourself permission, to follow them.
Need help making rest a priority in your life? Sign up for the Choose Rest Challenge and get notified when the next posts in these series come out. Next week, we’ll be talking about how to choose rest mentally and emotionally.