Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Serenity Tip: Put Yourself to Bed

One of the first symptoms of stress is sleep disturbance, and if you're self-employed, you're almost certainly stressed. There are clients to worry about, invoices to obsess about, marketing efforts to worry about and the future to order in your mind. It can tire a person out while robbing them of restorative sleep.

So how to cope with bedtime breakdowns?

Well, I won't be the first person to mention the idea of sleep hygiene--that is, the idea that maybe you shouldn't be drinking coffee right before bed or sleep in a room with a bright light right outside the room or try to sleep next to jack-hammering.

But I will share what's working for me. A few months ago, cognizant of my own tendancy to stay up till midnight and be unable to unwind from the day, I treated myself like a little kid and tucked myself in at a regular time every night. Here are the main changes I made:

No staring into monitors of any kind--TV or computer--after 10 PM

This was the hardest and most dramatic change. I love my 10 p.m. reality shows as much as anyone, and it's tempting to slink over to the desk and do a little work late at night when it's quiet. But I also know that both those things ramp me up. It takes about an hour for me to settle down after I turn off the TV or computer at night. So if I'm staring at it till 11 p.m.--or later, if I catch a bit of the Daily Show--it's almost impossible for me to fall asleep before midnight.

I will add that I'm naturally a night owl, but I actually do my best work first thing in the morning. So this routine works for me. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. I know there are many people who do their best work at night--after the kids are asleep, etc. But I know that I need at least 8 hours of sleep a night or I'm cranky. And since I don't drink caffeine, I don't have the option of giving myself a chemical boost. So, off with the TV and computer by 10 most nights.

I'm not perfect with this. Just last night, I was on the computer till 10:30. But by having that guideline I make it more likely that I'll get enough sleep.

Do a little yoga

I had been doing my yoga practice in the morning, but as the days got shorter, I found I needed more sleep and that I was having a harder time falling asleep. So I adjusted. Right now, I'm doing yoga poses for my shoulders, neck and back, as well as relaxing poses like child's pose. I light a few candles, and between that low light and the light of my bedside lamp, I go to bed with my body humming and relaxed.

Don't save up your worrying till the end of the day

Let's get back to the comment I made at the beginning of this post: Worry. Obsessive thoughts. Obsessive planning. Sometimes I hit the sack and lay there with a spool in my chest unwinding all the exciting and anxiety-producing events of the day. If I'm really on a role, that spool also includes events of the past week or upcoming events that hold a lot of charge for me.

So for my own sanity, I can't wait till the end of the day to think about and address those things. If our actions are our only possessions, then we need to address the things that worry us before they intrude on sleep hours. So I write and talk to fellow business owners throughout the day about my stresses and anxiety. I write them down before bed if they're still bothering me and end with this comment:

All these feelings will be here waiting for you when you get up. It's okay to let them go right now.

And if all else fails, I meditate just before bed. Then I can usually slip into sleep without much resistance from my overactive mind.

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