Making good decisions through the brain fog of tiredness
Being tired is an occupational hazard of many things: stress, too much work, or having a new-born in the house.
Having to get through the day's work when you're feeling exhausted is not ideal. Neither is spending the day looking after your young children when you're very, very tired. Of course, we would all rather catch up on our sleep before we have to make big decisions or be terribly energetic the next day. Sometimes, however, it's just not possible. We just have to try and fight through the fog in our brains and still perform to our best abilities.
It's clear this is an issue which is preoccupying many people, with online search results revealing that the term "sleep" sees 27,100 searches a month, while "sleep deprivation" gets 12,100, "sleep disorders" 6,000, "sleeping tips" 1,900, "sleepless" 8,100 and "can't sleep" 18,000.
So, how can we carry on operating effectively when we could just lay our heads down right then and there and catch up on our forty winks?
Try to get some fresh air
Fresh air and sunlight are some of the best natural wake-up medicines so if you're suffering from lack of sleep, try to incorporate a bit of fresh air and sunlight (or, if it's raining, just fresh air!) into your day. If you can include some outside walking during the working day, or before and after it, all well and good. If you're a stay-at-home parent, try to get everyone outside for a bit. It'll make everyone feel better and should help promote better sleep the following night, too.
Plenty of water
It's tempting to drink lots of caffeine when you're tired and we are absolutely not saying you should forego your morning latte if that's what you particularly like doing, but clean, natural, hydrating water is very important when tiredness strikes. Also, too much caffeine will likely lead to a worse crash later on.
Pick your tasks
It's important to know yourself and your strengths, as any natural weaknesses tend to intensify when we are tired. Not great with figures? You'll find it even harder to concentrate on what you already find tricky when you've not had enough sleep. If possible, when you've had a rough night, try to do the things you are best at the next day. If you're at home, try to choose the things you like doing with your child - not the things that drive you round the twist!
Behaviour when tired
The simple fact of the matter is that being very tired will often make many of us particularly cranky the next day. Our brains are having to work overtime to stay awake and that means that any annoyances tend to become magnified and we can overreact. We can say things we regret and this is when things can start to become tricky with our relationships.
The important thing is to be aware of this and to try and use all of our normal mechanisms to not get angry when we know we haven't had enough sleep. Remember your parents telling you to count to ten before you react, when you're tempted to react badly? The old 'uns are still sometimes the best ones - it's still a pretty good way to try and calm ourselves down when tricky situations occur and we don't feel quite so emotionally able to deal with them, due to extreme tiredness.
Ways of getting better sleep
How you can actually work on getting more sleep depends very much on why you are losing it in the first place. If you are not managing to get proper sleep because you have a new baby who is waking up because they need to be fed, that's nature, and there's not a lot anyone can do about it! If you're at home with a new baby, our advice is the same as that of most midwives - try to get some sleep during the day when your baby is asleep, and don't sweat the household chores. For the next few months, it really doesn't matter what your house looks like. What's important is that you stay healthy and relaxed so you can focus on the precious new life inside the house.
If you're not sleeping well because of stress, or worrying a lot about things, that's a different matter, and will take a bit more thinking about. Once stress starts to rear up in our minds and take hold, it's at night times that it's particularly hard to control. That's because it's at night-time that we start to relax, even though we may still feel very tense, and those mind calming tricks we may employ during the day will not work so well.
Worrying about not sleeping will only make things worse
It's a bit of a classic conundrum - we are lying awake stressing about not being asleep, and the more we stress, the more awake we feel. Around and around in our minds we keep thinking the same thoughts - "I must get to sleep, I've got so much to do tomorrow" - but thinking that is just no help, it just makes things worse.
So, when you're awake at night and worrying about not sleeping, don't. This is absolutely not your fault. You don't need to punish yourself mentally for not being asleep. If you are waking up stressed at night-time, or can't get to sleep for worrying, try the following...
Don't force it
Many people say that the best thing to do if you are waking up at night and worrying and this is making things worse, is to just go with it, get up and move around. If you have a partner, there is of course the added stress of not waking them but try not to let that worry you. We're all different but you may find it helpful to get up, make yourself a soothing hot beverage (not coffee or tea!), and sit down and read a book for a bit. Some people find this a good way to relax. If you feel sleep coming, try to get back to bed as it's really not a good idea to sleep on the sofa downstairs.
Reduce screen time
Most people are now agreed that devices and screens are a pretty bad idea when it's getting close to bed-time. They are too stimulating and you don't need that kind of anxiety before you're drifting off. If you can, leave your mobile phone downstairs for at least an hour before bed. If you get regular emails in the evenings from work, find a way to make it clear that you will not respond to any inquiries after 9pm.
Routine is very helpful when it comes to stress. If you're regularly suffering with a lack of sleep due to stress, it will be very helpful to try and regulate your night-times so that you always go to bed at the same time, even if you're not actually tired at that time. A regular bed-time of the same time each night lets your body know that this is the time when you relax and go to sleep. It may take time but it will really help. Even if you don't go to sleep at the same time, just that signal to your body that it is lying down will be a great step forward.
Find ways of relaxing before you sleep
A nice bath, a good book, soothing aromatherapy, leaving the window open for fresh air - what makes you relax? What could you just go off and do right now? Think of ways of relaxing before you go to sleep and try and try and make it happen.
Create a good sleeping environment
A chaotic bedroom when you go to sleep can be very undermining, reinforcing in you the idea that this is not a place where you come to relax. Try and create a calm, tidy space where you can really unwind.
Cut down on alcohol
We may think that a nice glass of wine or two will help us to relax, and it undoubtedly does, but too much alcohol will seriously affect our mood and that is not a good idea when we need to relax, get ourselves worry-free, and get to sleep. Try to stay off the booze in the evenings when you're worrying a lot at night-time. Keep your mind free and it should help you get more sleep in the long run.