The Sleep Struggle

I’ve struggled with sleep on and off for most of my life. Whether it was having a hard time falling asleep, feeling tired when waking and then sleeping in very late.  Maybe it was poor dietary choices, too much caffeine and alcohol, a sleepless baby, or feeling like I had too much to get done.  There were too many times in my life where I felt like sleep wasn’t something that was either a priority or within my control. 

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Racing Mind

Looking back to when I was a kid, I used to lay awake sometimes for hours before I was able to fall asleep. My racing thoughts kept my mind busy and it was often hard for me to fall asleep. I now know that anxiety was the underlying cause of my chronic overthinking. I would worry about what I said or didn’t say that day, what I did or didn’t do, or what others thought of me. 

I would often wake up feeling very tired still, and would end up sleeping late into the day (like 1pm) when I didn’t have school. Or, I would come home from school and take a nap in the late afternoon (when I didn’t have sports). Both habits I now know probably played a role in struggle to fall asleep or get good quality sleep. 

Coffee for Cramming 

As a young adult in college, I would stay up very late cramming for exams or trying to meet deadlines for papers.

I would rely heavily on coffee and lattes throughout the day for energy and help focusing, as well as to keep me up at throughout the night to get more school work done last minute. I now know the vicious cycle of too much caffeine, how it actually has the opposite effect, and that too much can actually drain our energy. Too much caffeine, especially later in the day can interfere with sleep, making us more tired in the morning. And the cravings for more coffee to try to wake up and function are often a result of this sleepless, caffeine dependent, exhausting cycle. 

Time to Wine Down

In my 20s, I often drank alcohol. Too much, if I’m being honest. At least several times per week, I would have 2-4 glasses of wine.

I have always enjoyed wine while socializing. But at certain points in my life, I would drink wine alone as a means to relax, unwind, or as a reward for myself at the end of the day because I didn’t have healthy strategies in place for managing stress at that time in my life. The goal was not to get drunk, but to feel chill.  At the time, I told myself that the alcohol helped me fall asleep. I would “fall asleep” easily, but in all honestly “passing out” was more of an accurate description of what would happen when I had more than one or two servings.

And after a few hours of sleep, I would wake several times in the night to go pee.  I also was hot and uncomfortable, because my heart was racing, or I just felt icky as my body tried desperately to detox from the alcohol. And once I was awake, I would have trouble falling back asleep. That busy mind would start racing again.

I would always wake up feeling groggy, thirsty, tired, and my belly would be achy. But I continued this cycle of drinking regardless of the signals my body was giving me that it wasn’t agreeing with the alcohol. The quality of my sleep suffered as a result for years. 

Too Busy to Sleep

In my 30s, I worked full time while getting my Masters in Nutrition and Integrative Health. And at the same time, my son Venice was born.

Venice was never really a consistent napper and had a hard time sleeping through the night. For most of the first year, I’d be lucky to get one half-an-hour long nap out of him. You’d hope that no sleep during the day would equal better sleep at night for a newborn, right? NOPE!  After a couple of hours of trying to put him to sleep at night, he’d finally go down, but would be up about every 2 hours from that point throughout the night for the entire first year of his life. Once he was up, he wanted mommy, and putting him back down was physically and emotionally taxing. I only had part time childcare at this point, so I would work all day and try to balance spending time with Venice and taking care of the household.

When he finally would fall asleep, I would stay up late into the night to work on school. Then have a glass or two of wine every night, and would rely on coffee to “fuel” me to get through another busy day. Enter the viscous cycle of energy and sleep drainers in addition to my sleepless baby! It was a recipe for disaster! I was burnt out, moody, irritable, unfocused, and drained. It was certainly a very special time with my first born, however, it was also very a very exhausting season in my life. This is also when my health started to decline and many symptoms surfaced of autoimmune disease and other chronic conditions that were probably triggered partly by my sleep deprivation.   

Sleep is Sacred

At this point in my life, my sleep is sacred and one my of top priorities in addition to nutrition, self-care, movement, relaxation, and fun.

I have a calming bedtime routine to include skincare, journaling, meditation, and herbal tea. I have a set bedtime and wakeup time now. My son is now on a great sleeping schedule (knock on wood). I have cut coffee down from 3-4 cups per day to maybe 1 cup per week and alcohol is now an occasion social treat of 1-2 servings. I am mindful of how I choose to handle stress. The journaling and meditation help to ease my anxiety by clearing my thoughts, calming my mind, and focusing on positivity, joy, and gratitude. 

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A Few Sleep Strategies

I now know that getting adequate good quality, deep sleep is vital to our health. It plays a significant role in our physical, mental, and emotional health. 

If you’re having trouble struggling with sleep here are a few strategies to try: 

  1. Set a sleep/wake schedule and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily, aiming for 7-9 hours per night ideally.
  2. Create a calming bedtime routine and prioritize sleep hygiene
  3. Try sleeping with a weighted blanked, white noise machine, and/or blackout curtains
  4. Turn off electronics at least 1 hour before bed and wear blue light blocking glasses
  5. De-clutter your bedroom and create a relaxing, soothing sleep environment (cool temperature, clean bedding, relaxing scents -lavender).
  6. Stop drinking alcohol at least 3 hours before bed and caffeinated beverages in the early afternoon
  7. Unwind with non-caffeinated calming herbal teas (lavender, chamomile)
  8. Rest or take a nap if needed (but not too close to bedtime)
  9. Read a relaxing book, listen to calming music, meditate, or take a warm bath before bed 

Sleep well, Mama! 

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Juliet was born in and raised in St. Louis, MO. She moved to Southern CA in 2008 after surviving a long distance relationship with her now husband, who she met in college. They now live in TO and have an incredibly strong-minded, smart and silly 5 year old son named Venice (we honeymooned in Italy!) and a fur-pup named Pepper. She is a certified health, wellness & nutrition coach and currently has a private practice (Nourish Within Wellness) offering 1:1 coaching. Her love language is quality time, and she enjoys being with people she loves by sharing yummy food, cocktail, or coffee and a good chat. You can find her at the farmers market in Westlake every Sunday, practicing her yogi skills at Westlake Yoga Co, at her fav. family friendly happy hour spots (101 North & The Landing), or at home baking gluten-free, plant-based, refined-sugar free goodies.

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