Searching for a good night’s sleep

Searching for a good night’s sleep

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s been having trouble sleeping lately.

I fall asleep easily enough, but I often wake in the middle of the night and work myself up into a state of anxiety about everything that’s been happening. I go down a rabbit hole of imagining what bad things might happen to family and to the world in general. This is weird because I’m normally a very positive person.

Ironically, my anxiety is often made worse by worrying about how much sleep I’m NOT getting. I wake up, look at the clock and do a quick calculation about the number of hours until I need to be getting out of bed and doing something productive and start freaking out because everyone knows that we need seven or eight hours a night, right?

Well wrong, apparently.

Although it’s a commonly held belief that you need eight hours of sleep every night, there’s no real evidence to support this, and when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense that we would all need the same amount of sleep, or that we need exactly the same amount of sleep every night.

It’s much more likely that we would need different amounts of sleep depending on the amount of exercise we’ve been doing, how old we are, how tired we are, and whether the kids have been keeping us up all night.

I listened to an interesting podcast the other night (when I wasn’t sleeping) on Insomnia Myths and Misconceptions, presented by psychologist Nick Wignall, in conversation with sleep physician Dr Daniel Erichsen, and they had some interesting things to say.

The idea that you need eight hours sleep for optimum health and productivity is based on a study where ‘good’ sleepers (people who say that they wake up well-rested) claimed that they usually sleep for eight hours a night. Scientific studies of these same people indicated that they actually sleep for about seven hours a night, but of course it varies from person to person. So the eight hours a night rule is really just what people thought was a good number of hours, rather than being based on fact. But the focus of the podcast was on what causes insomnia and this is the bit that I found interesting. According to Nick and Daniel…

The biggest cause of insomnia is worrying about not sleeping.

In other words, it’s your anxiety about not sleeping that is causing most of the problems. It’s not the cup of coffee that you had, or the movie you watched on your iPad. It’s worrying that these are going to impact on your sleep. As soon as you start fretting about being awake, you are virtually guaranteeing that you’ll find it hard to get back to sleep.

You also need to stop worrying about waking up during the night. It’s perfectly normal to wake during the night, especially as you get older. In the olden days (prior to the industrial revolution) it was normal for people to have two sleeps every night. They would go to bed early and then wake up in the early hours of the morning and spend a couple of hours talking, playing games, even visiting friends, before heading back to bed for a few more hours sleep. The invention of electric lights in the late 19th Century made it possible for people to stay up later and it became the norm for people to expect to sleep in one continuous stretch.

It was around this time that someone invented the term ‘insomnia’. This caused an explosion of potions and pills to help people get to sleep and stay asleep. It was inferred that there was something wrong if you woke up in the middle of the night, when previously this hadn’t been seen as a problem.

In his book “Why can’t we sleep” Darian Leader says that sleep has become a commodity that’s worth billions of dollars. Not only do we have a myriad of medications, there’s the mattress industry, smart watches to track your sleep cycles, and a host of books on sleep science. It’s a big business that relies on people being anxious about their sleep.

So, where does this leave you if you are having trouble sleeping because you are worried about your business going down the spout, or other very real possibilities?

I’m not sure of the answer to this, but I try to distract myself by listening to funny podcasts (try Elis James and John Robins or No such thing as a fish) or by listening to music. It doesn’t block the swirling thoughts entirely, but it reduces my level of anxiety a few notches, and eventually I find myself dropping off again. I try really hard to convince myself that even though I’m not sleeping, that’s ok. Having children has taught me that you can function reasonably well on a surprisingly small amount of sleep.

If this fails, I try to imagine what I’d do with a million dollars or other favourite scenarios. You may have your own version of this. It might be designing the house of your dreams, writing a book, or inventing something brilliant. Do whatever works, but don’t focus on what the time is or how long you’ve been awake.

Everyone is understandably stressed and anxious about what the next few months will bring, so rather than stress too much about things you can’t control, be kind to yourself and get some rest when you can.

Best wishes from me to you

xxx

Attitudes to money

Attitudes to money

My father died shortly before my fourth birthday leaving my mother with three young children, a half-finished house, and no income.

He was 33, a newly qualified architect just starting out in his own business when he died. He designed our home and it was very modern for its time. It was largely open plan with a huge kitchen/dining room and a laundry overlooking the front yard. This was very unusual at the time, as most kitchens and laundries were generally located at the back of the house. My mother had insisted that she wanted to have a view of the street when she was in the kitchen or doing the laundry. She disliked housework and menial chores (it runs in the family) and didn’t want to be stuck away somewhere at the back of the house slaving over a hot stove in the kitchen or doing the endless laundry that comes with a growing family.

Our family home designed by my Dad, Les Moon.

We had beautiful polished floorboards in the loungeroom as well as a fireplace. This was a bit odd given that we lived in Perth where the winters aren’t really that cold, but we all loved that fireplace and I have happy memories of sitting on my grandmother’s lap eating hot buttered toast. We’d crouch in front of the roaring fire with long forks trying to get our thick white bread nice and brown without burning the edges, but we secretly loved the burnt bits. They added excitement and texture, elevating the toast to something magical.

We moved into the house before it was really finished so when my Dad became ill, we had many working bees at our house. Friends and people from our church would come around on weekends to build cupboards, paint walls and hang doors. They even made us a cubby in the backyard from leftover building materials. They fashioned a little front doorstep and we pushed our feet into the wet cement and put our initials underneath in a neat row – BJM, in that order, oldest to youngest. As I grew older, I would marvel at how my feet had mysteriously grown large enough to fit into the impressions made by my two big sisters. 

Family photo
Family snap circa 1959 – Jennifer, Les, Beverley, Nola, Margaret (L to R)

When my Dad died my mum survived by cleaning the local hairdressers, taking in ironing and doing whatever she could to make ends meet. Sadly, her father (our grandfather) also died in the same year, so it was a difficult time both emotionally and financially, but we got used to wearing hand-me-down clothes and eating meals that had been stretched out with cheap fillers like pasta, oats, and bread. One of my favourite desserts was made from Weet-bix layered with apples and sultanas and served with hot custard. Years later my mother told me that she used to make this when there wasn’t really enough of the main course to go around.

I’ve got no doubt that all of these experiences have shaped my attitudes towards money and I often struggle to understand how young families can afford to take their young children to the local café where breakfast costs $40 or $50 dollars for a family, and that’s without any smashed avocado!

This isn’t a criticism of young families. I can fully appreciate that times have changed in so many ways, but I find it hard to comprehend that people seem to be able to spend fairly large amounts of money on things that I consider luxuries. I still feel a bit guilty buying take-away coffee even though I can well afford to these days, but I’m also very aware of where these feelings come from and I know they are hard to shake.

Once when my children were toddlers, my mother sent me a five dollar note inside my birthday card with instructions to buy myself a cup of coffee at the shops as a treat. She knew me too well. There was no money to spare and it would have been unthinkable to spend money on coffee when I needed the cash to put petrol in the car so that I could get to playgroup.

Now I’m heading towards retirement and I’m finding it hard to accept the idea that one day soon my income will drop and I’ll have less coming into my bank account. Over my career I’ve transitioned from a well-paid job with the national broadcaster, moving to part-time work with TAFE and back to full-time work when the kids were bigger, but I’m still thrilled when I get paid every fortnight.

I’m hoping that when I eventually call it quits, I’ll have learnt to be generous with myself (and with others) and not get caught up in the fear of not having enough. I know that I do have enough, as well as a generous and supportive husband, so these fears are totally unfounded, but it helps me to understand that my fears are rooted in experience.

It also helps to remind myself that being relatively poor wasn’t even a bad experience. We never missing out on anything. We had clean clothes, a nice house, a loving mother and plenty to eat. We were satisfied with our lot, so I hope that as I move towards the next phase of my life I’ll be happy knowing that there’s enough of everything, including money for coffee.

Taking time to think

Taking time to think

Easter is a wonderful time to take a break from everything and think about life, regardless of your religious persuasion. I’m taking the opportunity to gaze out the window, admire the garden and take a deep breath. I hope that you get some time to relax and take your foot off the accelerator as well.

Work has been hectic since I went back after Christmas and this blog has been sadly neglected as result. Today I’ve been catching up on my emails and came across this quote from the School of Life about Career Effectiveness.

Fortune favours the quiet thinkers who may, for a long time, have very little to show for their work. Effective people think a lot.

The Emotionally Intelligent Office

I think this is a lovely idea, but not necessarily true. At my workplace I often see quite the opposite. Fortune favours those who can produce results quickly. And although we are often told that staring out the window has value, in reality, it’s not something that you can really get away with at work on a daily basis. We need to be seen to be producing, rather than thinking about what needs to be produced.

And yet having time to think really does have value. It can help us solve problems and ensure that we are focussing our efforts on activities that are useful and productive, rather than just doing “busy work”.

I’m struggling with this a bit because we’ve just got a new system at work that we are using to track the time we spend on various tasks. It’s called a work flow tool (WFT) but I keep accidentally calling it WTF. Every time I do that it makes me laugh.

We are supposed to account for our time (don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good thing) but I sometimes spend quite a lot of time thinking things through and I’m never sure if it’s acceptable to record this as “thinking time” or just hide it under the category of research. Thinking is a kind of research I suppose, because it’s often about discovering what’s in your brain and getting your ideas in some kind of order.

I agree with this final quote from The School of Life article.

Real work often doesn’t look like work. The point of staring out of a window is, paradoxically, not to find out what is going on outside. It is rather, an exercise in discovering the contents of our own minds.

Happy Easter everyone. I hope you get time to read, relax and look after yourself.

Getting cosy

img_0606I’ve recently come across the Danish concept of hygge. In English it roughly translates as ‘getting cosy’ or more accurately the art of being convivial and relaxed. The Danes claim to have invented hygge (pronounced hoo-gah or maybe hue-gah) and it’s currently a very trendy thing.  There are nine new books available on the topic in the bookstores for Christmas.

Many of the books on how to do hyyge involve scented candles, open fires, chocolate, red wine and cake (all of which sound great to me) but on a more serious level, getting cosy is more about being kind and comforting to oneself. So whilst hygge is the trendy new thing and will result in many candles being purchased this Christmas, I must admit that I’m more than attracted to the idea of self care.

Self care is about being nice to yourself. Why wouldn’t you? It seems strange that we need to be reminded, but perhaps we do.

One of the nine books has been written by Charlotte Abrahams (definitely not a Dane) who writes…

“Hygge is about taking pleasure in the small things in life: having a cup of coffee; walking in the sunshine or spending time with loved ones. Hygge is about enjoying the moment and feeling content in that moment.”

It sounds very much like a rebranding of mindfulness, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Abrahams writes that hygge appeals to her because it’s not about denial, it’s about being generous with yourself as well as others. Of course being generous doesn’t mean overdoing the wine, the chocolate, or the cake, but it does mean treating yourself to a walk before work, or spending time with family and friends and generally easing up on yourself.

Hygge makes people nicer and happier. It’s about paying attention to what makes us feel open and alive and I can’t see how this could be a bad thing.

Here’s some more ideas on how to be more Danish.