November 30, 2016

The Importance of Sleep for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

By helping us keep the world in perspective, sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are. And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away.

-Arianna Huffington-

Too often a lack of sleep is viewed as a badge of honor. That you’re so busy you couldn’t possibly waste your time on something as unimportant as sleep. “I’m so tired” is considered a battle cry for most people today.

Sleep is important. It’s a necessity. It can positively or negatively impact every aspect of you – from your health to your mental acuity to your attitude. It seems sleep is the first thing to go when we’re feeling busy or stressed.  For survivors of sexual abuse, sleep is particularly important to help you successfully manage triggering memories when they come. Unfortunately for survivors, sleep can be fleeting.

Reclaim your sleep! Feel the benefits of being well-rested. Below is a list of the things you should do at different times of the day to help you get the best sleep you can:

During the Day:

  • Avoid taking naps. Or, if you absolutely must take one, make sure that it’s for less than an hour and before 3pm.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise will help with good sleep, but try not to do any strenuous exercise in the 4 hours before bedtime.
  • Use a sleep diary. Record your sleep routine from the night before. What did you use to fall asleep? What worked? What didn’t work?
  • Wake up at the same time. Don’t sleep late after a restless night. It may be difficult, but you want to stay on schedule to keep your sleep patterns on track.

In the Evening:

  • Wind down. Before bedtime tell your body that sleep is coming. Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity like reading, drinking a cup of caffeine-free tee, meditating, doing relaxing stretches, or breathing exercises.
  • Dim the lights. Avoid bright lights in the evening. This includes the light from electronics as the illumination from the screens activates the brain.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. It’s best to avoid consuming any of these for at least 4 hours before going to bed. Alcohol is known to encourage the onset of sleep, but it disrupts sleep later when your body metabolizes the alcohol.
  • Eat right. A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well, but timing is important. An empty stomach can be distracting, but a heavy meal too close to bedtime can be just as detrimental to sleep.
  • Stay positive. The more anxious you are, the more cortisol you’ll release into your body and the less likely you are to be able to sleep. Give yourself permission to let go of those negative thoughts. Put them away until tomorrow and instead focus on positive declarations that focus on feeling calm, peaceful, and sleeping well.
  • Set a bedtime. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and days off.

Bedtime

  • Only sleep in your bed. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping, so that your body associates bed with sleep. If you use your bed for everyday activities (like watching TV or paying bills) your body will connect your bed with being awake and alert.
  • Create the right space. It’s important that your bedroom is quiet and comfortable for sleeping. Design your sleep environment to be cool, quiet, and dark.
  • Don’t watch the clock. Frequently checking the clock through the night can wake you up and will reinforce negative thoughts and increase anxiety.
  • Don’t fight with sleep. If you’re wide awake, get out of bed and try again. Do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed. Don’t do anything too stimulating or interesting.

A good night’s sleep will benefit you more than you may realize. Make sleeping well a priority and you’ll soon see how much it will help you on your healing journey.