Been getting any sleep lately?
Like a lot of you, I have bouts of insomnia from time to time. In a world that feels chaotic and swelling well outside of my locus of control, sleep has been quite elusive.
I need some rest. And I know it. Whenever someone 'helps' me by reminding my psyche about how bad it is for me to not get regular rest, I often wonder if they register at all the irony. My unprocessed stress and anxiety is what is usually driving the lack of sleep; and the information that it's also hurting my personal health does not lessen the root cause! So thanks anyway well-meaning friends, but I'm acutely aware of the importance of sleep to my memory, my motor skills, my overall functioning, my cortisol levels, my creative problem-solving, and even my lifespan. I get it. Insomnia is not a great coping mechanism.
I need some rest.
What I didn't realize until recently is that while my need for rest may be manifesting as 3am-and-I'm-still-awake insomnia, sleep may not actually be the type of rest I'm craving.
It's more than sleep at issue.
And, in case you're up reading this at some unholy hour, I wondered if you might be experiencing the same thing.
Sleep is only one of the 7 types of rest. You (and I!) need to address our sleeping because of the very real effects not getting enough has on our physical and mental well-being, but to really do more than get 'out' of this round of insomnia (knowing the bastard is coming back like an ex that can't a hint), we have to look at the remaining types of rest and see if engaging with those will help us correct the lack of physical sleep we're getting right now.
Sleep is part of the rest type known as 'physical' rest. And it can be some extra shut-eye: although remember that sleep experts will tell us that going to bed and getting up consistently at the same times is far better than over-indulging in a sleep-a-thon on a Saturday. Physical rest can also be restorative movements or mindfulness and breathing, meditating, yoga, and other movements that help relax your body. That mid-day walk can actually help with your insomnia and it's a far better choice than the 3rd (or 4th) hit of caffeine you're really jonseing for.
You might need some social rest, too. How this type of rest will manifest in your world is largely based on your interpersonal and intrapersonal make up. Know yourself, trust yourself, and don't compare yourself here. You may need the social rest of spending quality time with good friends in a comfortable-for-you setting, or you may need a night off from having to see a single soul. Social rest might also mean a tech sabbatical - stepping away from the onslaught of social media channels, zoom calls, and yes, even blogs, and reconnecting with your people or yourself. As someone who has a job where I'm 'on' a lot, I find social rest critical to my mental health.
If you take a tech sabbatical, you are also engaging in sensory rest. I see a lot of children really struggling with sensory input in ways we can easily see and understand but as adults it's common to forget that many of us are spending far longer in sensory over - or under - whelming circumstances, staring far longer at our screens than we allow our kids to. TV, computers, lights, sound, and even white-noise contribute to this overload syndrome we experience. But remember, it isn't just unplugging that's helpful; kick off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass or dig your toes into sand (make a 'sand bin' if the beach isn't accessible), light your favorite candle or use essential oils in the shower, wrap yourself in your softest, or fuzziest blanket, suck on a peppermint or drink lemon tea. Engage your body in restoration, even if you have to leave the cell phone on (although even if you think you do, you probably don't!).
If you're noticing that these slow-down-and-rest methods overlap, you're right. That means that picking certain activities can really pack a (restful) punch by hitting on lots of the types of rest we need. Mental exhaustion is a place I've found myself frequently during the pandemic. I'm overloaded and my previously driven mind simply freezes. I know I have "things to do" but I'm not accomplishing any of them. This is a big red flag for needing mental rest. But the good news is that if I engage in a sensory break, I can often center on that experience for just a few minutes and even try to meditate or do breath work, which not only encourages my body to settle but also reboots my mind. If you're a fan of the Pomedoro method, try some simple deep breathing or box breathing exercises in between your segments and I think you'll be surprised how much better you can feel.
My newest 3am strategy has been a lot of fun. I'm playing with clay. If I'm really ambitious I do some pour painting. This is how I'm (currently) getting my creative rest. You don't need to be skilled or accomplished at whatever creative thing you engage in - but you DO need to be the creator to get essential creative rest. So, while listening to music might be part of your sensory or mental rest, you need to make the music to engage in creative rest. I highly recommend making yourself a pre-set-up little place (so you don't spend your time and energy trying to find the damn scissors, or washing out the paintbrushes) where you can be grounded in your activity: even if it's just a corner of the kitchen table, set it up - and dive in.
When I read about spiritual rest, I confess to a myriad of emotional responses. I am so lucky to have a grounded, accepting, incredible faith community now - but for years that was not the case and my personal spiritual journey was actually negatively effected by the organizations I engaged with. But it turns out belonging to a spiritual community (or not) has nothing to do with spiritual rest. Spiritual rest might come from an organized group/affiliation, but it can also come from finding ways to support your community, or getting involved in a meaningful-to-you project. And whether that's filling a Free Little Library in your neighborhood or organizing aid for Afghan women, the key to this being 'rest' is that it recharges you. If it doesn't, I'm not telling you not to do it (because I know so many things need our help right now), but it won't restore you and you'll have to keep looking for what does.
At last we come to the big one: Emotional rest. Emotional rest is the place of vulnerability where all those feelings you're feeling (or trying not to feel) have to come out. This is the good, the bad, and the ugly - yes, the very ugly. Even if you're a non-social engager, even if you're single, even if you mostly experience solitude, you really need a trusted person for this one: someone with whom you can be yourself and say whatever you need to say without judgement. Perhaps you and your 'listener' can take turns, or maybe your listener is a therapist (and if you can have both - by ALL means, do it!!). Here, you must be brave in your truth-telling and compassionate in your listening because in the end - you can use clay, walk in the grass, breathe and meditate, volunteer, unplug, and even sleep - but if you're doing it and avoiding this part (or even TO avoid this part), you're not getting the rest you need and 3am will be waiting for you to do your emotional work again and again.
So starting today, let's not tell each other to 'get some sleep', and instead let's wish for everyone to 'get their rest'.