Why is it so hard to sleep when you feel so tired?
Last week’s Expert workshop focused on sleep in midlife. Dr Kat Lederle is one of the leading experts in the field of sleep therapy today - and holds a PhD in Human Circadian Physiology and Behaviour, and an MSc in Biosciences.
‘ If you are lucky enough to live until 90, you’ll spend 30 years of your life asleep’.
Dr Lederle, Founder of Somnia
Most women will talk to feeling a different kind of energy when they spend time with other women. And research is now revealing that instinct is right. Especially in times of heightened anxiety. Studies by both Stanford and UCLA show that, in times of stress, women don’t just experience the drive toward fight or flight — they also release oxytocin. This hormonal surge can compel women to “tend and befriend,” - we’ll move to protect our kids (if we have them), but also to connect with other women.
We know, from conversations within our community and from published research, that around 40% of women will experience difficulties with sleep in midlife. We learned that:
- We all wake in the night - but often it is for such a short period of time our brains don’t even register
- Our need for sleep does shift as we age
- Our menopause years will sometimes bring sleep challenges as a result of hormone fluctuations, hot flashes, pain, mood, stress & anxiety, a lack of attention to diet...and more
- Our perceptions of our ability to sleep can drive our ability to sleep; simply learning how to practice self-compassion can make a significant difference to getting rest
- Mindfulness can reduce stress and aid sleep further: the act of observing thoughts rather than reacting to thoughts calms the mind
- ‘Common humanity’ builds the ability to find rest: knowing that you’re not alone, that sleeplessness in midlife is common - and simply makes you human, can aid acceptance and, in time, promote sleep
Dr Lederle also shared the guidance she often uses in clinic to support a better quality of sleep:
- Change the narrative: the anticipation of a poor night’s sleep, the fear of no sleep, the sense that you are a ‘bad sleeper’ - creates a vicious cycle. In Dr Lederle’s words; ‘our brain looks to find proof for the belief…’. We explored a simple mindfulness practice that helped us to view the thought rather than absorb the thought. By ‘unhooking from difficult thoughts’, we allow our minds to settle for a restful night.
- Develop a healthy rhythm for a healthy sleep: we have all read about sleep hygiene - but Dr Lederle’s advice focused on consistency of practice and breadth of those rhythmic factors; from when you eat, to what you eat, from how you manage light at night, to the devices you use. All contribute to the signals you send to your brain about winding down for rest.
- Find your personal sleep window: Did you know we are the only species that can control our sleep cycle? As Dr Lederle flagged ‘no other animal would put off sleep if they’re tired’...Her advice was for us to establish a healthy sleep window and stick to it. Women, statistically, are more likely to need to go to bed earlier than men - and sleep for longer than men. And, although 7-9 hours is considered optimal for most people, we will each have a natural sleep window. To find it, she recommends we take time off from work (a staycation is pretty easy to arrange right now, so use it!), and spend 3-5 days going to sleep when we feel tired and allowing ourselves to sleep until we naturally wake. Over time our bodies will work through the sleep deficit to find a new balance. That is the window you should then look to stick to, everyday.
As we learn more about the necessity of sleep for current and future health, giving yourself time to prioritise rest, with compassion and kindness, is critical. And, as Dr Lederle shared, shifting the quality of sleep, although not always immediate, with practice and the right mindset and routine, is within reach.
Why not start this evening? Eat early, turn off the TV, put the digital devices away, dim the lights and find some space to meditate. What is the worry that comes to mind when you stop? What are you anticipating about your rest tonight? Can you turn towards the pain point, the suffering thought, with kindness? And create distance by recognising it as simply a thought? This distance may just hold the key….
And, if you’re looking for tailored support, or just to learn more about Dr Lederle’s work with women, you can read more about Somnia HERE.
With love, the MPowder Team