How to Handle Tossing and Turning

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Dear Soft Hearted Loves,

There are so many articles out there on how we’ve got to disconnect from screens about a half an hour before bed to get good rest and I’ll be honest, I haven’t been doing this. This article is not to shame us into better sleep hygiene. We’ve got gazillions of helpful articles recommending a bed time routine and I practice and recommend this too. I get it, no lights, and do gentle reparenting before bed to help with sleep. But what happens when you’re tossing and turning? A majority of people in the U.S. experienced sleep issues during this pandemic and I wonder if it is related to trauma. As such I’d like to address sleep interruption with a gentle trauma-focused approach. Keep reading for a few recommendations on how to address the toss and the turn the next time you’re awake in the middle of the night.

  1. Note/observe. Noting and observing have been one of the most helpful tools in my toolkit to not judging or criticizing thoughts as much. Noting what arises in thought or feeling can be helpful because it doesn’t say pick it up, analyze it, and see why you thought it in the first place. Noting what thoughts arise is like observing a child playing. We just note, “oh that child is skipping” or “she’s crying.” We don’t have to assign all sorts of meaning or judgment to what we observe. It is great to find out if a pattern of thoughts or feelings is leading us to or from something, but sometimes this can be difficult to discern when we can’t get back to sleep and often isn’t helpful at 2 am. Observing a thought without judgment or even observing the judgment of the initial thought can help us to note it and just watch it rather than get stuck in the intrusive thoughts loop with no exit in sight. Also, it is okay if it’s really, really hard to note too. We can even observe it’s difficult to detach and pause a thought loop. In fact, it may be very difficult to unhook from an intrusive thought loop late at night and that’s understandable, especially if our neural pathways have had years of practice at holding on tight to looping thoughts. Please reach out to me if you’d like to talk more about meditation practice to help with noting during any time, not just when it is hard to sleep. If you’d like an inner child sleep meditation let me know and I can post one on InsightTimer.
  2. Promise to revisit tomorrow. You can promise your inner parts that you’ll revisit whatever is on your mind the next day. For example, if something said something that hurt and you didn’t realize it until 4 am you can process after you get some more sleep and awake to start the new day. You can set a gentle internal boundary. It doesn’t mean arguing with your inner critic or battling other parts of yourself. In fact, I’d recommend pouring on loads of validation. For example, “I see how painful these thoughts are for you right now and I promise we’ll look at it more or address it tomorrow at lunch break.” This is just one example of many of how to acknowledge while practicing some helpful reparenting of promising to revisit another time. Over time the inner parts often develop more trust that we’ll come back to hear them out rather than stuffing our feelings or experiences deep down.
  3. Gentleness. Take it easy on yourself with whatever internal debates, pains, wounds or fatigues are taking from sleep. Take it easy on yourself no matter what. Easier said than done, but please practice your most compassionate voice here. You can even use a mindfulness self compassion exercise where you talk to yourself like you’d talk to your dear friend on your best day. You can even pet your own arm like you would your beloved pet. Hopefully you’d send someone suffering understanding and love without blame. Hopefully you’d send them gentleness no matter what. It’s easier said than done, but practicing this with yourself too is possible. It’s also helpful to take it easy on yourself the next day. Is there an appointment you can be flexible with, time for a walk in the sun, or can you do one less chore by any chance? Love on little you like you would if you had a child who struggled to sleep the night before.

Thank you for taking a moment to learn how we can note, commit to revisit, and be gentle with ourselves when we want to sleep and cannot. One last thought is that sometimes the day is so filled with doing what we do (such as nursing, therapizing, parenting, or something else) that we didn’t experience any play or relaxation. Sometimes our inner parts may be up and about because they are forcing their way out since we didn’t let them out to play while we were helping others or working very hard all day. If that’s the case, this awakening in the middle of the night thing can be addressed by some tender, loving reparenting throughout your day by sprinkling or squeezing in relaxation and play. This is also so much easier said than done. Is there something small you need in this moment that you can acknowledge?

With kindness,

Dr. Joharchi

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