By: Shannon Boatwright
I’m exhausted. I’m so tired, it hurts. Why is this? I ask myself all the time, why does it seem that I’m always so worn out physically and mentally? It’s that time of year for me, when my world is rocked by deadlines, school requirements, performances,…some of my greatest career accomplishments tend to happen during this time of the year, so yes, I’m overwhelmed and overworked. But after so many years of feeling this way, I’m beginning to get really frustrated about it. Is it just the fact that I’m a teacher? Or is it just me? Is it because I’m an over-achiever?
I have a terrible time sleeping. I literally cannot shut my brain off. I don’t take medication to sleep, and I probably should, but I’d really rather not! I’m sure if I could actually get good, restful sleep and a decent amount of it, I’d feel so much better! But heaven forbid I actually be able to achieve that. Most unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is totally foreign to me these days. I live in constant fear that I’ll get sick because I know my body and mind need rest. But I’m stumped when it comes to figuring out the right formula to actually achieve this.
So I decided to do some research. A healthy living article in the Huffington Post called “How To Shut Your Brain Off When You Just Can’t Sleep,” by Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D. gives several tips for those of us with an overactive mind. The problem is, I’m not so sure these tips can or will work for me. For example, one of the tips is to “not worry in bed.” Yea, um, not an option for me! I’m a mother, a teacher, a wife…worry is something I will never be able to get rid of. I try not to let it rule my world, of course, but worrying is a fact of my life. The article suggests that when you can’t calm the worries that plague your mind, to get out of bed. Getting up and going to another room, doing a simple chore, etc may help someone else realize how sleepy they are and enable them to go back to bed and actually sleep, but I guarantee you that WILL NOT work for me! Not only would that wake up the pets and truly give me more to deal with, but if I get up out of bed and start doing something, my body will think it’s time to get stuff done! Sadly, that is a technique that will not work for me in my circumstances.
On a plus side, the article mentions “mental imagery.” Now this is something I do try to attempt when I can’t shut my brain off. They say there’s a reason why people say to count sheep. Something about the repetitive, soothing nature of it. I’m not a math person, so that would just aggravate me, but I do like to use visualization. So I’ll try to envision myself getting a massage or floating on a cloud, or lounging weightless in a glorious, hot tub. Sometimes I am able to actually do this and it helps me get back to sleep. Yet sometimes I work so hard trying to focus on relaxing imagery that my brain engages and leads me to other thoughts that keep me awake. Though it doesn’t always work, it’s definitely worth a try!
They say to write things down, create your to-do list so that you don’t engage in “unproductive worry.” I am a to-do list maker, something major! And, fortunately, this past year, I have found my go-to solution for helping me remember to do things. In addition to hand written to-do lists, I create alarms on my phone to remind me of things that I need to accomplish, whether it’s a simple daily task or something major. That alarm going off on my phone is my little savior at helping me not to fret about forgetting to do something on my list. And I don’t have some annoying alarm noise go off, I use a song that will make me smile or do a little dance as I’m reminded of what I need to do. My family, students and fellow teachers know that if they hear a song start randomly playing from my pocket, there must be something Shannon needs to do. It’s funny, but hey, it helps!
I wish I had the time and energy to create an official daily wind-down, decompression time that could allow me to engage in some honest relaxation, distancing me from worries and to-do’s, but some days I don’t have the energy to make that bubble bath. Sadly, sometimes I think of a soak in a bath as more work ‘cause I’d have to prep and clean the tub and in the end, use up more time that I could’ve/should’ve just been in bed sleeping. Pathetic, I know. Ever feel like you put yourself in a position where you just can’t seem to win? Yea, me too.
There are many tips and techniques to help one get better sleep, ranging from drinking a warm glass of milk to turning off the TV and any other stimulating gadgets. I’m a firm believer that the TV should be off and the room dark and calm, but… and yes, another BUT…some days when I have had a really tough, stressful day, I need that TV on, at least for a bit. Watching something light and fluffy can help keep my mind off the stress, so that I
can indeed eventually get some sleep instead of letting the stress consume me. That’s what good stories, whether from a book, magazine, the television, etc., are wonderful for – helping us escape! I could write page after page of tips and techniques. Ha! I wish I had the time and energy to do so, but who am I kidding, my phone alarm has already been playing a Bruno Mars song repeatedly, reminding me of yet another thing I must accomplish on my fat to-do list.
So what are the techniques that work for you? After doing my research, I know that I’ve got to make more of an effort to get more exercise, create a solid routine for winding down at the end of the day and some way, somehow find more ways to simply relax. If I ever figure out the winning equation for shutting my brain off at night, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, please do share what works for you. It might just be something that could actually help create some zzz’s for us overactive brainiacs!
Here are some links with more info on how to get better sleep.