I had a night last week where my mind was full of anxious thoughts. The next evening I was going to be interviewed live in a Facebook group with thousands of members. It was all I could think about and I was afraid of saying something stupid. I needed a distraction.
I started thinking about my grandparent’s house. I walked myself through it from entering the front door, to my grandma’s pink bathroom, to the guest bedroom upstairs where my brother, our cousins, and I used to play for hours by placing underwear on the blades of the ceiling fan and then hiding as one of us would flick the switch.
I fell asleep to that memory, and I woke up excited to have a new way of calming racing thoughts and helping myself fall asleep peacefully. I added it to my sleep emergency kit.
YOUR SLEEP EMERGENCY KIT
It’s not an actual kit, like a kid’s lunchbox or a wicker basket beside the bed, it’s an arsenal of tips and tricks you use when you’re having trouble falling asleep. Some of them might be actual items, like a white noise machine, or a sleepy-time tea. Some might be a handful of do-it-yourself sleep secrets that you turn to on those nights when you need a little extra help.
I believe in sleep aids, and I know there are many that work. You’ll hear me endorse blue-blocker glasses, weighted blankets, special pillows, and white noise, to name a few. They work, and it’s proven, and I use many of them myself. BUT, I also believe that we should be able to sleep without them long-term. Sleep aids should be used sparingly, when needed, and the rest of the time we can rely on our body and our brain to know what to do.
Building your own sleep emergency kit is important, especially when you’re traveling, or something has changed at home, internally or externally.
Here are a few things I have included in mine:
Comfortable ear plugs that stay in your ears all night. They’re cheap to buy, so it shouldn’t cost you a lot to find a pair you like. I buy mine from the drug store, in the travel section.
A SLEEP MASK
If you’re bedroom or hotel room isn’t pitch black at night, a sleep mask will save your sleep! You can pay anywhere from $10 to $60 for one. My favourite is from a company called MANTA, found at www.mantasleep.com. It’s adjustable, breathable, and very comfortable.
You could also make a sleep mask by cutting a strip off an old t-shirt and wrapping it around your head. You’ll know pretty quickly whether a sleep mask is for you, and it won’t cost you anything but your old Three’s Company shirt to find out!
You can download a free app on your smartphone, or buy a good one from amazon for around $50. If you’re commonly woken by noises, or you just can’t wear ear plugs, white noise is great. Check out The CALM+COZY Podcast episode 14 for more about white noise and why I love it.
If your bed partner is keeping you awake, having a second bed or a comfortable couch you can move to is wonderful. Don’t stay in the room if it means you won’t be waking up feeling refreshed. If it were the other way around, wouldn’t you want your partner to get a good night’s sleep? Snoring and restlessness isn’t done on purpose. No one snores to piss off their partner, so staying in bed and resenting the person you love isn’t good for either of you. Go find somewhere else to sleep. If you need more convincing, listen to episode 17.
BREATHING EXERCISES & MEDITATION
You know I’m a fan of focusing on your breath to help you fall asleep, right? It’s been a huge help in transforming my own sleep. When your mind is full of worries, thoughts, and anxiety, the simplest way to refocus your thoughts is to breathe and focus on your breath. It’s as simple as picturing your belly rise and fall as you breathe, or picturing the air filling and leaving your nostrils. It sounds too good to be true, I know, but try it! And when your mind wanders, go back to your breath. Episode 8 will dive deeper into the topic and walk you through my favorite way of breathing to calm my racing thoughts. Just know that it doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything!
READING A BOOK
If I’ve been in bed for a while and sleep just isn’t happening, I’ll sit up and read. Reading reduces stress and transports you into another world instantly, causing you to temporarily forget what’s bothering you. It also has a magical way of making my eyes want to close at the BEST part of the chapter!
CHANGE YOUR FOCUS
Stop worrying about falling asleep, and focus instead on rest. Take the pressure off of yourself to fall asleep. Just be still and rest.
My newest sleep trick is #8. Thinking about a happy memory. And not just thinking about it, walking through it and re-living the details that make it so special. Maybe it’s an event, like a birthday, a wedding, or a vacation. It could also be a place?
For me, my grandparent’s home was a special place in my memory. They lived in that house when my mom was a teenager, so it was the only house I remember them in from childhood. My grandparents lived there together until my grandpa had to move into a senior’s home. My grandma was in the early stages of Alzheimers and Dementia at that time, so she wasn’t safe living there alone.
When I close my eyes and really go there, I can even hear my grandma clomping up the basement stairs in her shoes that were always too big for her. She would appear with her favorite tupperware full of date squares and cookies, and cover the kitchen table with them, forcing us to eat whether we were hungry or not.
Close your eyes, and go back to that happy place. Fill your brain with details that make you smile, and let go of the worries of the day. Most of those worries won’t matter a week from now anyway, but your amazing memories will.
Another way to do this is to re-live a great part of your day. Walk yourself through the moment, and look for the details - the faces, the sounds, the smells. Capture that memory before you go to sleep, as though you’re pasting photos into a scrapbook so you can remember them later.
HOW SLEEP AFFECTS MEMORY
During sleep, recent memories are consolidated into long term memories. You can go to bed knowing that even though the day is over, sleep will help make that memory a moment you’ll remember for a very long time.
According to Dr. Jose Colon, Neurologist and Sleep Doctor, REM sleep is essential to the consolidation process, and helps to restore our brains to take in new memories the next day.
“Many people think that REM is our deep sleep, but it’s a very active brain time that we take in the day’s information and we’re turning it into a long-term memory,”
What would you include your sleep emergency kit? Do you have a tip, trick, or item you turn to when sleep isn’t happening?
If your insomnia symptoms and bedtime anxiety are too much for you to handle alone, please find help. I’m not a doctor, and I know that DIY solutions don’t help everyone, especially if your sleeplessness is due to an underlying medical issue or you’re struggling with depression or anxiety. Finding a professional you trust to help you through whatever is going on in your life is the bravest move you can make!
(This post is a segment of the CALM+COZY Insomnia Podcast, episode 22: Creating Your Sleep Emergency kit.)