“You look tired.”
Three little words we wouldn’t dare speak out loud. It’s considered quite rude to tell someone they look tired. And yet, so many of us are just that, tired. So very tired. If you find yourself lying in bed listening to a podcast because you can’t fall asleep, you’re not alone – it’s why there are so many mattress ads.
Over half (58%) of Americans are estimated to experience sleep disorders, including insomnia, and there’s a lot of money being spent on chasing a good nights sleep.
My hope is you’ll close that online shopping tab (we’re supposed to be limiting our screen time at night anyhow!) and tap into your own hidden super power to get better rest.
That super power is self-awareness.
If you want to make a change in your life or have a different experience, you need be aware of what you are doing and how it affects the way you feel, think, move, digest, sleep, etc. Each day we expose our systems to food, caffeine, thoughts, supplements, light (sun and screen), alcohol, drugs, entertainment, and interactions. These are inputs and will impact how our body/system feels and functions. When we become aware of how these things affect us we can then shift our diets and behaviors and move towards better sleep and overall health.
What the Research Says
The research on sleep and diet isn’t robust and the conclusions aren’t too surprising. Folks that eat diets high in protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits, nuts, vegetables, fiber, and healthy fats sleep better. Don’t bring your phone to bed, drink too much caffeine, and keep your bedroom dark and cool, etc.
There’s no shortage of information on diet and sleep yet many struggle with both. As my mentor says, ‘You can have all the information in the world and still be miserable.’
Studies look at multiple subjects before drawing conclusions, but at the end of the day the only subject that matters is you. If you can slow down, get curious, and notice how you’re feeling you can get a lot of helpful (perhaps life changing!) information. The best part? When you feel how your body’s intake impacts how you’re feeling and sleeping, it can be pretty easy to make changes because you’ll want to make them.
What is Self Awareness?
Self-awareness, like many of the things we do everyday, is a skill. Which means it can be developed and improved. Self-awareness is listening to and perceiving our internal environment. It’s our ability to notice sensations in the body like shallow breathing, stomach tension, or overall muscle tension. A few years ago I realized I wasn’t sleeping well after watching Law & Order SVU at night. It was hard to fall asleep and my dreams were unpleasant. Eventually I realized that watching a show about assault and violence before bed was probably not the best idea. Crazy right?! Once I made the connection I stopped watching the show, or anything disturbing, at night.
First awareness, then choice.
When you notice that violent shows negatively impact your sleep you can choose to stop watching them. When you realize you feel anxious after your third cup of coffee you can choose to stop at two tomorrow. And when you notice that your back hurts from sitting too long you can choose to get up and walk around for a minute.
Or not. But the point is YOU get to choose.
How do I increase my self-awareness?
Let’s practice a few techniques together. 5,4,3,2,1 This is similar to the practice of Orienting in Somatic Experiencing, but with more structure.
Identify FIVE things you can see; FOUR things you can hear; THREE things you can feel (tactilely not emotionally, ie. wind on my skin as opposed to frustrated); TWO things you can smell; ONE thing you can taste.
This simple practice brings us into the present moment and your senses. If you get stumped somewhere say ‘pass’ and circle back.
Quick Check In:
1. Ask your self, How am I doing? How am I feeling? Try to identify 3 things. Using a list of feelings may be helpful. It may be tricky at first, that’s ok. Example: I’m feeling a little tired, nervous (tension in my belly), and energetic.
2. That’s it! We’re not here to fix or analyze. Simply notice what is and put words to it. It may seem like you have contradictory feelings – tired AND energetic?! Yep, you can be many things and they will change.
Awareness Through Touch
Think about all of the things you touch, turn, feel and grab every single day. A wonderful way to cultivate greater awareness and reconnect with your body is to experience touch with your hands. Grab any small object that you like the look/feel of, a seashell, pencil, apple… anything! Sit comfortably with your back supported and a pillow in your lap. Spend several minutes feeling the object, noticing the shape, the texture, what it is, and what it feels like. The key is to move slowly and spend several minutes with the object. Take time and notice how touching this object that you like makes you feel. Your hands are amazing sensing, feeling, information gathering body parts and this exercise can be powerful – try to stick with it past any initial feelings of awkwardness.
How is this a super power?
Cultivating awareness allows you to navigate difficult situations. Awareness allows you to touch into your intuition so you know when you are on or off course. With awareness you can see past the noise around you and touch into your own knowing. How will this improve your sleep? You are already the number one expert on you but sometimes we get distracted by outside information and opinions and we forget to trust ourselves first. When it comes to what you need to sleep and feel well, trust that when you slow down and listen your body will speak up. Our body is constantly giving us information and when we cultivate our self-awareness we’re better able to hear. It may take a little time. And the message may be to seek the assistance of a doctor or coach – and that’s OK. We all need people. But don’t forget to trust yourself first. Not only, but first.
About the Author:
Meredith Amann is a certified Ashtanga and Yoga Tune Up® and Health Coach. Meredith works with yogis and movers of all ages, from 3-year-olds in her PK classes, high school athletes, as well as adults and seniors. Off the mat Meredith can often be found on the tennis court – as an athlete she is passionate about improving performance, enhancing mobility, preventing injuries, and quieting the monkey mind. Meredith has appointments available through Anchor under Yoga Therapy and Health Coach. You can also learn more about Meredith at yogawhileyouwork.com.