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I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

I don't know how many times I myself have been guilty of saying this phrase when work, life, and obligations are stacking up. Across the nation organizations are suffering from lack of staffing following the pandemic and quarantine mandates. Add in first responder professions that very few are interested in pursuing and those who are showing up are burnt out from being forced to work even longer hours!

One thing I hear repeatedly with clients is that with everything they have going on sleep takes the back burner. I'll use an illustration that gets used regularly when discussing self care (and YES sleep can be considered self care). When flying, the instructions covered pre-flight include if there at any point the oxygen masks fall, place yours on first and THEN help others. The reason can NOT help others if you fall out or die because you have not taken steps to ensure you are able to push through the adversity and render aid to others. The same principle applies to life in general!

When we fail to get enough sleep EVERYTHING suffers! In fact, research shows that after 18 hours without sleep we are the equivalent to being a .05 blood alcohol content (BAC). Essentially, this means that even though we may not have drank a single drop of alcohol, our reaction time and cognitive functioning (ie. processing, learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention) substantially decreases.

Why do you care? Well...if you are a first responder this means that those split second decisions that you need to make might not be made so quickly. You might be so declined that trying to come up with a resolution seems impossible. Or you are not able to focus and miss something big! It could mean someone else's life OR your own!!!

"Shift Work: Unless you've worked it yourself, you can never gain a true appreciation of just how hard it is." - Audra Starkey

If we're speaking a personal level, it means that even though we might physically be around our families we are not present, or in the moment, with them. This can mean arguments with our significant others/spouses, our children feeling like mom/dad never listens to what they are saying so they stop sharing and grow distant.

What CAN I do then? Here are a few pointers of things you have control over!

  • Keep your phone away from your bed. Buy and set an alarm to avoid blue light that is disruptive to sleep.

  • Begin to relax or unwind approximately one hour prior to going to bed.

  • Take a warm bath or drink non-caffeinated tea or coffee to increase your internal temperature (warm = cozy and drowsy).

  • Buy blackout curtains (these are great even if you don't work shift work at keeping any unwanted light out).

  • Practice some breathwork in bed (there are some great apps that are free that will help guide you through some breathing exercises to help get you into a "rest and digest" or parasympathetic stage of relaxation to decrease your cortisol levels).

  • Turn your phone on do not disturb (if you MUST have your phone next to you turn it so that only certain numbers can get through to you for emergencies or if you are on-call).

  • Keep your room cool.

  • Use a sleep mask.

  • Block out time as if it's an appointment for sleep so that you do not compromise for other activities.

These are just a few things you can do to help with getting regulated sleep. When you feel rested you are better equipped to be efficient and effective in your daily tasks. You can rush through them and still have time for things you want to do rather than taking longer than you've allotted to complete tasks because you are so tired you stop and stare off into the abyss for awhile, slowing your progress.

Your health is important! If that's not reason enough hopefully knowing that your relationships that are a priority will suffer without sleep will make you stop and re-evaluate if sleep is truly a priority to you. If you want more information about sleep or help with evaluating your sleep process, reach out! I'd love to connect!!

Starkey, A. (2019). Too Tired To Took: The Shift Worker's Guide To Working (and Surviving) in a 24/7 World. Balboa Press. Bloomington, IN.

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