PhD Self-Care Project: Sleep

I identified some of my crippling distorted thinking that creeps up when I am nearing a deadline, or preparing for a presentation, or awaiting a decision on a submission. I’ve also found that I’m more susceptible to this kind of negative thinking whenever I’m considerably more exhausted and lacking in quality rest and sleep.

I’ve always been a very light sleeper and have had great difficulty falling and staying asleep. I will not try to create any unrealistic expectations, but I’ve made it my mission this week to re-examine my bedtime habits and see whether there are some aspects I can improve on.

I created a running list of things I observed that I would do around bedtime. This is probably the scientist in me, which wants to observe the current status and then identify what the possible problems are. The list in the end helped me find sleep habits that I could improve on, and here are some of the things I’ve tried to do to improve on my sleep quality.

  • I’ve made sure to go for a walk each day if I can’t get a workout in to help make sure that my body is physically ready for rest at the end of each day.
  • I put away my laptop and my phone at least one hour before I close my eyes and have lights in my bedroom dimmed as a cue that it is bedtime and will soon be time for me to sleep.
  • I try my absolute best to not bring any work with me to bed, which includes reading or answering emails, so that I can re-train my brain that the bedroom is my space for sleep and rest.
  • If I can’t quiet my thoughts away from work and worry, I put on some mindfulness or meditation recordings to steer away from stressful thoughts and remind myself tonight is to recharge myself with enough energy to tackle all of that tomorrow.
  • Unless it was a weekend or a special occasion, I have a light dinner, avoiding rich food and any caffeine.
  • If I have a couple of hours before bedtime, I treat myself to a warm bath with my favorite candles and lavender scents.
  • I read a physical book, not on any device, for at least half an hour before I switch the lights off and close my eyes.

I am sure there are a few more things I could incorporate, but for a start, these strategies have helped me feel less anxious about being able to fall asleep at night. I sometimes still wake through the night, but I’ve found that falling asleep now isn’t as stressful as it used to be. Progress!

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