Saturday, July 21, 2012

Self-Care: Episode 1: Sleep

Before any of us can do anything truly remarkable or glorious in this world, we have to learn how to do one simple thing. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves. A person can’t give the best of themselves or create their best work if they aren’t operating at their best. Do you think that Michelangelo could have painted the Sistine Chapel on only 2 hours of sleep and a Granola Bars ? I certainly don’t think so.  

In a little creative play and experimentation, I created a collage of words with  Watercolor Pencils on the topic of self-care.

I’ll address each of the things I came up with in subsequent posts.


Sleep is my number one need and the thing I’ve struggled with the most. Since my teens, I’ve been an insomniac; and it was only when I became pregnant that I realized how important getting a good, full 8+ hours of sleep was. Often, I was up into the wee hours of the morning then, in turn, sleeping ‘til noon. My fiancée kept going on about the importance of getting my sleep cycle regulated.

At first, I used some over the counter sleep aides in order to get my body on a decent schedule to fall asleep. I then weaned myself off of them, slowly, preferring not to rely on pills.

Once I actually got on a decent “up by 8, down by 11” sleep schedule, I felt like I had more energy. I felt like I actually got a lot accomplished each day. I noticed that my mood improved and that I had lost a little weight. In general, my overall well-being was enhanced.

Now, with my having chronic pain, sleep is a different animal, yet again. I’m still up later than I should be, but that’s my main creative time. The house is still. Everyone else is asleep and I can focus on things for a prolonged period of time. I normally stay up until between 1:00 and 2:00 am, either writing or painting. (Interesting note: 90% of my blog posts are written while I sit in bed between midnight and 2 am!) I end up sleeping about 8 hours a night, getting up at about 10:30 am. I go about my day and from 3pm-5pm, I take a much needed nap. It keeps my mind from being burnt out in the evening and keeps my body from getting overly tired and, thus, painful. If I skip my nap one day due to a busy schedule, I can seriously feel it the next morning when my joints are stiff.

If napping works for you and fits into your life, I would highly suggest getting some Blackout Window Panels. If there’s enough light to read a book by, that’s enough light to keep your body from producing the hormones you need to actually fall asleep.

Everyone’s body clock is a little bit different and I know that most people can’t afford the luxury of sleeping ‘til 10:30 am. Finding what your body needs (usually between 7-10 hours of sleep per night) is step one. Experiment with different times and see what works for you. Step two is fitting those needs in with the schedule you have to keep in order to make your life work with a job, family, and so on. Step three is to give yourself a comfortable sleep environment.

Try approaching sleep as more than something you “need” to do. Put a little time into thinking about things that would give you a comfortable retreat at the end of the day. Anything you can do to increase your level of comfort in your own bed, to make your bedroom a safe, welcoming place will increase your overall sleep quality, I promise you. Attention to detail will really help you, here. 

Sheets that feel good to you can make all the difference and need not be expensive. I like lighter cotton sheets in the summer and jersey cotton in the winter. I’ve slept on silk sheets and I, personally, just don’t like them. There’s an effect of sliding when you’re lying on silk sheets that just isn’t comfortable and is a bit unnerving to me. For sheet colors, I prefer cool tones in my sheets – blues, lavenders, greys. Any bright color is too stimulating to be in a soothing sleepy place, for me. Also, notice the temperature in your bedroom. The human body actually sleeps better in cooler temperatures. 

Pillows are, again, a highly personal thing. I won’t go anywhere to sleep without taking my Memory Foam Bed Pillow with me. My fiancée used to nap with my pillow and liked it so much that I got him one for Christmas. In actual nightly use, it didn’t give him enough neck support, so now I have two memory foam pillows! Adding pillows to hold or a body support your knees might also be something to look in to.

Some modifications to the bed environment may need to be made if you’re not sleeping alone. My fiancée sweats in his sleep, so he and I have separate sheets and comforters so we can each change our sleeping temperature, if needed, without bothering the other. If he had to sleep at my comfort temperature, he would swelter. If I had to sleep at his comfort temperature, I would freeze. 

If you’re woken up by sounds in the night, try putting a fan in your room or getting a white noise machine like a White Noise Machine. Soft music might help you sleep, as well. Maybe try soothing classical music like Bach or maybe Native American Flute . Find whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable, pampered and cared for. It might be sleeping in nothing but a pair of Chenille Slipper Socks , getting a nice soothing Eye Mask, or it might be having a cup of tea as a nighttime ritual. I encourage you to experiment and find what works for you.

As for waking up, I would love to peacefully and progressively awaken from slumber to soft music and gradually increasing light like some of the alarm clocks I’ve seen. In reality, that will never work for me. I regularly sleep through alarms, so as much as I hate them, I need one that’s blaring right by my head that will repeat ‘til I’m up. On days that I absolutely must get up at a certain time, I set my alarm clock and up to 4 different alarms on my cell phone, just to be on the safe side. Everyone’s needs are different and we all do what we have to.

If your sleep patterns are truly out of whack, where you stop breathing in the night or you kick constantly, I’d really urge you to see your doctor for a sleep study. There are all sorts of sleep disorders that can cause major problems in the waking hours, even if you don’t notice it all that much, right now. Your problem may be remedied with something as simple as adhesive strips that keep your sinuses open at night, or it may be that you need to be on oxygen when you sleep. 

Making the 1/3 of your life that you’re asleep as restorative as possible is really, to me, priority number one in self-care. Now that I’m sensitive to it, I can feel the difference with just one insomnia night or one night on a bed that’s too hard. It is amazing how much better I feel and how productive can be when I’m getting good and regular rest.

I hope this entry has given you some ideas about how you can begin to care for yourself as a creative being and an individual. I will discuss different aspects of self-care as time goes on. For now, feel free to share with me the tricks that help you get a good night sleep. I’d be interested in hearing them all.

And remember, we’re all visionaries. We’ve just got to figure out where we excel!