• Megan Hicks

I Just Need to Sleep

Before the pandemic took over our day-to-day lives in new drastic ways, my job had allowed me the flexibility of working out my own schedule, as I was working in health care caring for individuals who had physical and cognitive disabilities and needed 24-hour care.

I had a few permanent shifts but was always able to make up my full-time hours in shifts of my choosing. There were night shifts and day shifts, some during the week and some on weekends. I also had the luxury of exchanging shifts when I needed to.

When the pandemic hit, the Province of Ontario instated emergency orders to help protect workers and those we took care of from catching Covid that only allowed staff to work at one location.

In order to accommodate these new mandates I was sent to work at one location with a very specific and inflexible schedule; this meant I was scheduled to work a consistent, two-week rotation of night shifts.

I had never worked only night shifts for that long of a period before.

It was not too many months in when I started feeling the effects of insomnia. My sleep became super erratic and non-existent at times.

As an introvert I need to sleep at least 7-9 hours a night. Without sleep and recharge time it is very difficult to function in the day to day.

After a few months of adapting to a lifestyle suffocated with insomnia, I started experiencing new symptoms of sleep deprivation- dizziness. Constant dizziness.

Benign Positional Vertigo decided to join the party.

Getting up too fast, or moving my head side to side became a challenge that left me ‘spinning’. Even turning over while sleeping would snap me out of my sleep as my mind would spin in every direction. I could not escape it.

Even when I had moments to sleep I could not get the proper rest.

My thoughts were constantly running over the same thought... I just need to sleep.

My health really started taking a toll from this work schedule and lack of sleep.

During this time, along with the insomnia and vertigo, I ended up being diagnosed with the BRCA2 cancer gene. The first thing my Oncology Doctor told me was that I needed to make sure I was taking the best possible care of my health- eating right, drinking lots of water, exercising, not drinking alcohol or smoking and most importantly, getting proper sleep.

Well, I definitely was not getting quality sleep.

After much consultation with my family Doctor, my Oncology Doctor and lots of prayer, I knew I needed to leave this job. I could no longer do shift work. I left my job just after New Year’s and have been on an uphill journey towards regaining my health.

In the last 5 months of leaving my job and being able to sleep at night, I have gone from tired, grumpy, and unmotivated to empowered, energized, joyful, and motivated.

I. Feel. So. Much. Better.

Considering how necessary sleep is to our overall health and self care, it is important to understand all the benefits of sleep and the consequences of not sleeping.

Doctor Don Colbert in his book, The Seven Pillars of Health, discusses all the things we can do in our lives to feel and be healthier.

He tells us all the amazing things sleep does for our health:

- Sleep regulates the release of important hormones

- Sleep slows the aging process

- Sleep boost your immune system

- Sleep improves brain function

- Sleep reduces cortisol levels

And when you do not sleep:

- You increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

- You become clumsy and ‘sleep drunk’

- You jeopardize your job

- You endanger your life and the lives of others

- You reduce your sex drive

- You invite diseases

So how do we move towards improving our sleep?

Doctor Colbert tells us that we should first consider the things that rob us of a good night’s sleep:

- Painful physical conditions

- Caffeine

- Cigarettes and alcohol

- Medications

- Food insomnia

- Low carb diets

- Exercise that immediately precedes sleep

- Bad mattress or pillow

- Snoring spouse/partner

- Hot flashes/menstrual cramps

- Enlarged prostate

- Newborn babies

- Environment

Considering where you are at with your relationship with sleep, are there any things from the above list you could cut out of your life?

Your next step should be setting yourself up for a successful night sleep.

Here is what Doctor Colbert advises to do in preparing ourselves to have a great night sleep:

- Daily exercise

- Eat dinner no later than 4 hours before bed

- Follow your body’s signal when you start to feel sleepy and head to bed

- Turn down the lights

- Corral your thoughts

- If watching TV before bed, watch something calming or funny

- Take a warm shower/bath

- If anxiety plagues you, try to make a list of things you are grateful for

- Read your Bible

- Sleep before midnight is better than sleep after midnight

- Is your bedroom inviting and calm, or full of chaos?

- Your bed/pillows should be more comfortable than your couch

- Try to let your room be as dark as possible

- Use a noise generator to block out outside noise- use water or rain setting

- Turn off your phone

- Set temperature between 70-75 degrees F; 21-24 degrees C

- Acceptable sleep aids: Valerian, 5-HTP, Calcium and Magnesium, L-Theanine and Melatonin

Considering how important sleep is to our lives, what is one way you can be more intentional about getting better sleep in your life? Is it a practical step, or maybe a change in mindset around sleep?

Good self-care starts with having a great foundation, sleep, and after all, Doctor Colbert says that sleep is a great secret to anti-aging.

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