As working women, we work hard and give to others all day. When we are advised to get eight hours of sleep, but don’t, it can make us feel guilty. We wish we knew how to shut off our devices in the evening, how to keep ourselves from trading an hour of productivity for sleep, or how to turn our heads off when we wake up at 2 a.m. anticipating tomorrow’s ‘to do’ list.
We have the will, but not the way… but we do have tools that can help us have more control and sleep throughout night.
Our response to stress comes from the nervous system, which has two parts to it: an “on button” (your sympathetic system which gives you energy and focuses on solving problems) and an “off button” (your parasympathetic system which gives you calm and replenishment). As human beings, we developed this nervous system apparatus early in our evolution: when approached by a saber toothed tiger, our on button would release a full-blown ‘fight or flight’ reaction. When the danger subsided the off button would resume its function of rest and digest. In this way, we were built to have coordination between the two.
Because of the “always on” nature of our professional and personal lives, plus our sense of responsibility for others, many of us feel unbalanced. We only use our on button.
Here are three strategies from my book Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On to easily press the off button and win over your insomnia. To hit the off button:
Do left nostril breathing. When you wake up in the middle of the night, simply cover your right nostril with your thumb or index finger, and breathe normally through your left nostril only. The reason it works is that this breath activates a nerve that immediately engages the relaxing part of your nervous system. Even for those of you who are busy mothers or Type A achievers, this magic bullet technique will get you back to sleep within three minutes! And you’ll wake up feeling more rested. (Make sure to do this technique correctly, if you breathe through the wrong nostril you’ll be up for hours and you might as well go to the office at 3 a.m.!)
Balance your On and Off button. Any time you take even 3 minutes out of your day for a deep breathing mental vacation (or even better, when you do something that really detaches you from stress, such as exercise, massage, a walk, etc) it helps your system be more relaxed for sleep time.
Use natural aides to press the Off button. You can create a state of short-term relaxation with Chamomile tea or breathing in essential oils with relaxing aromas such as lavender, vanilla, cinnamon. Also, most of us who are stressed out or live in urban environments are unknowingly deprived of the mineral magnesium, potentially causing insomnia and anxiety. So fill your tank with a magnesium supplement before bedtime. It relaxes your muscles and helps you drift off to sleep easily.
You are the center of your family and your team and your clients, they need you to take good care of yourself. There is so much more that you can control when it comes to getting enough sleep. Know how to access your Off button, and instead of staring at the ceiling feeling guilty, you’ll sleep like a baby and wake up rested to start the day right!