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When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?

Perhaps at the end of a big project, or maybe it was on the first day of your holiday when, frantic with work and things to sort out until the moment the plane took off you relaxed in your seat drinking a gin and tonic and finally succumbed to the exhaustion and alcohol.

Maybe that that single night of a deep sleep was enough to refresh and fortify you. 

Chances are, that single night of sleep isn’t enough to make up for all the damage done in the weeks, months or even years running up to it. It could be that your body has become addicted to adrenaline and cortisol and you can’t relax, switch off, stay asleep.  Welcome to the danger zone.

Step beyond that and you’ll hit ultimate burnout; adrenal fatigue.  Your body will no longer response to the stress hormone cortisol or may not be able to produce it.  Whilst the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue is still contentious here in the UK the effects of exhaustion in burnout are undeniable; exhaustion, feelings of disconnect, simple tasks overwhelm you, your limbs feel heavy and unwieldy.  Worse still, you may feel cynical and depressed, wondering why you feel so awful.

I’ve been a life-long insomniac

I’ve been a life-long insomniac.  From a young age I would fall asleep without issue but could not stay asleep.  Sometimes I would wake up in a panic at 2.30am, convinced that I had said/done/not done something at work that was THE end of the world and it would take hours to get back to sleep.  Other times I would wake for no particular reason, often around 1.22am (no, I have no idea either) and wouldn’t be able to sleep for an hour or more.

The most perverse part about this is I wore it as a badge of honour ‘Oh I don’t need eight hours sleep, I get so much more done during the day’ or ‘I need this huge coffee, I’m an insomniac’.  Crazy (and also: bullshit.  I would be a walking zombie which only piled on the pressure of I need to do, achieve, be better).

These days I’m far more protective of my sleep; I will still suffer from bouts of insomnia during stressful periods and there’s nothing I can do about my neighbour who over-revs his car at a ridiculous hour of the night every night, but building in fail safes allow me a buffer, where one night’s sleep can be compensated the following day.

Firstly, if you are suffering real difficulties with sleeping, go to the doctor.  Sleep apnoea and other chronic conditions are not to be trifled with.  But if you’re looking to reset your routine without sleeping tablets then these are my tested and true tips:

  1. Employ good sleep hygiene.  This includes, but is not limited to; going to bed at the same time each night, using blackout or other blinds to keep your room as dark as possible, ensuring your room is cool to prevent a stuffy head or overheating, avoiding caffeine for 6 hours or more before bed.

  2. Create a relaxing routine.  We all know we shouldn’t work in our bedrooms but how many of us work until 10, 11pm or later and then try to collapse into bed, with work thoughts still whirring through our heads?  Wherever possible, keep an hour clear before bedtime to start relaxing.  Drink a cup of caffeine free chamomile tea (Sleepy time tea is my favourite), have a warm shower or bath using relaxing essential oils.  I wax lyrical about Neom’s essential oil blends.  They are pricey but you only use a little each time and a hot bath with their essential oils followed by bed is a never-fail technique for me.

  3. Put.  Down.  The.  Phone.  (that goes for your laptop and TV too!).  Blue light emitted by personal devices directly counters melatonin production – melatonin being the hormone that is secreted as the night gets darker (see blackout blinds above) and regulates sleep.  Melatonin supplements are still prohibited in the UK so you have to make as much of your own as you can.  Besides which, your brain won’t switch off if you’re watching Friday the 13th right before you try to sleep!

It can be difficult to break the cycle or stress and overwhelm when you’re inadvertently switching off nature’s pause button.  A good night’s sleep helps your brain to sort through the information and emotion of the day, allows your body to rest and repair and can even help you lose weight.

Why not put some of these tips into action and come over to the Facebook group to share your results and get further support.

I was a chronically exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed lawyer when burnout hit full force.  Get the free guide to the first steps to take to deal with burnout and start a recovery - without throwing in the towel at work!