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Not getting your eight hours a night puts you in a strange place, your needs become a little different to those of people who sleep and recharge at night. Your outlook becomes different too, often quite negative because of the constant lack of good, refreshing sleep.
After not sleeping well for a long time, I made changes to my daily routine to make the days a little easier and to encourage my body to sleep.
How does constantly missing sleep affect you?
There are cumulative effects to missing sleep and some effects that you feel after a particularly bad night. A lot of these symptoms cross over with symptoms of depression and anxiety, so I find that lack of sleep makes both disorders worse, even though they are the cause of the lack of sleep in the first place. Talk about a catch 22?!
I’ve made a list below of the effects that have made me make changes to my lifestyle:
- Low mood/negative thought patterns
- Foggy brain/difficulty with memory and concentration
- Low energy
- Constantly feeling like you’re coming down with a cold/illness (sore throat, cough, temperature, feeling cold, runny nose, aches, raised glands)
- Muscle tension, cramp and spasms
- Feeling of impending doom (after nightmares or confusing dreams)
- Low motivation
- Short temper
- Headaches/dry mouth/catchy throat (when I can only sleep a couple of hours)
- Stomach aches (when I can only sleep a couple of hours)
What do I do to survive?
I realised that instead of ploughing on with life how it was, I had to find a way to ease the effects of sleep deprivation.
The first things I looked at were energy and frequent headaches. I got back in the habit of taking water everywhere with me and putting a bottle beside my bed at night. I found that hydrating myself better led to less headaches and a teeny bit more energy. I dabbled with herbal teas and found this was a great way to help get rid of dry mouth, as well as hot lemon water. These hot drinks also eased my stomach after nights of only a few hours’ sleep.
I changed my breakfast to fruit, (grapes and sometimes other red fruits) natural set yoghurt and nuts (cashews, almonds or hazelnuts). I found this gave me more energy and helped keep tired stomach aches at bay. I changed snacks to apples, grapes and nuts. Easy to eat and healthy, the fruit helped to hydrate me and again I found I had more energy.
Making sure that fruit was included in my breakfast and snacks every day boosted my immune-system and since I bought those items in bulk, it took some pressure off having think what to eat for those meals each day. I also began taking echinacea again on the days when I felt my immune-system needed an extra boost.
Around the house, in my car, in bags I take out, I made sure to put painkillers in case I did get a headache and I made sure sunglasses were available too. Sometimes it helps so much being able to tone the world down a bit after a bad night.
Whilst sceptical at first, I found that even some tiny acts could go towards making my day more positive. Clean smells can help to put the bad night behind me. A shower is perfect, but washing my face works too. I received a ‘wake-up’ oil in a Buddy Box from The Blurt Foundation and smelling the oil after a restless night helps to break through the feeling of impending doom.
I experimented with yoga and found that a routine with gentle stretches and breathing exercises I found on YouTube could give my body some relief from tension and regain some calm for my mind.
Taking short, gentle walks looking at all the things around me, feeling the sunlight on my skin, letting fresh air get into my lungs and ignoring my phone helped to improve my mood.
Finally, I realised my approach to work had to change too. With a short fuse, low energy and low motivation, I was no longer equipped to work on a task for hours at a time. I had to learn to pace myself with breaks, even when I felt inspired, to slowly start building energy reserves.
The world has a tendency to overwhelm you more easily when you are already on the brink of collapse. Being constantly sleep has deprived taught me that finding moments for calm, timeout-activities is essential. After crazy dreams, restless nights or when that feeling of impending doom threatens to take over I turn to journaling to let those thoughts and feelings out. It can be quite frantic at the time, but usually a sense of calm comes afterwards.
If I feel foggy and can’t concentrate but am restless, I try colouring or doing a small jigsaw puzzle. I discovered the benefits of both of these activities in Buddy Boxes from The Blurt Foundation. I find that my whole body can relax (I cannot emphasise how difficult I find this…), my mind focuses only on the colouring or jigsaw, and I gain a few moments of peace. I find these activities to be restorative, calming and fun. I’ll admit that I doubted the colouring would help at first but I’m so glad I tried it.
Do I sleep more often now?
The main benefit of all these changes was to my days, they are now far more pleasant and less stressful than they were when I didn’t make adaptations for coping with sleep-deprivation.
I do sleep more often than before, so far it’s one good night in a bunch of bad ones. It used to be all bad. Hopefully the good nights will keep coming and more of them.