Losing sleep because of COVID-19, Mother’s Day, infertility or any other stressful things happening in your life lately? You’re not alone. It’s common to have acute insomnia, defined as sleeplessness that happens over a short period of time (days or weeks), due to stressful events.
Let’s be honest, Mother’s Day is never fun or easy for those who are navigating another year of infertility and trying to become a mom. While some may tell you to enjoy your sleep now because, “It only gets harder when you have a baby!”, you know and I know that a fair amount of sleep is lost through the taxing process of infertility and/or fertility treatments. I was never so tired as the years and years that I tried to get and stay pregnant!
For this reason, we consulted with Elizabeth Grojean, who created one of the most popular weighted blankets being sold today, and anxiety expert and professor of psychology, Dr. Doug Mennin, to help you sleep a little better this season and to remind you that self-compassion can help, too.
What the Anxiety Expert Says:
Dr. Doug Mennin, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University with a specialty in anxiety, weighed in on why it’s normal to lose sleep during stressful times like Mother’s Day, COVID-19 and infertility and how to better cope so that you can catch a few more zzzs.
Q: How is anxiety linked to insomnia?
A: When we have busy minds and a lot of uncertainty, we get apprehensive and our system is in preparation mode — almost as if we’re animals with a predator around the corner. In an evolutionary sense, when we’re in a “wait and see” period, it’s hard for us to shift out of that place. At this point, we can either have generalized tension or start worrying about things and ultimately, that can keep us up. We may also feel more of a sense of sadness and existential anxiety, what’s known as anticipatory grief.
Given that our bodies are so activated with anxiety during stressful times in our lives, it’s hard to have a restful night’s sleep. When we are in this state, we may wake up earlier and may not be able to get back to bed and that affects us the next day.
Q: For those who hear “get over it” from others or put pressure on themselves not to have anxiety, what do you suggest?
A: Relationally, when a person invalidates us, we often internalize that voice and feel bad. If someone judges you for your anxiety during a stressful experience like infertility or the current Coronavirus pandemic, let them know that it’s not helpful. If you’re not able to say that, you can pull back and not share as much with those people.
Before things snowball, it’s important to be kind and compassionate to yourself. We know that validating ourselves helps us manage anxiety. Think of someone who has been caring towards you and use this as a voice to be kind to yourself. According to self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristen Neff, even hugging yourself can even help. (Especially now with social distancing!)
Q: What are some things we can do, when experiencing anxiety at night, to calm our minds?
A: Remember that it’s okay not to get much sleep. We get disappointed when we don’t sleep, but most of us are capable of functioning on not a lot of sleep, as long as it doesn’t become chronic.
We can look at prevention and intervention approaches.
Prevention: The data says to only use your bed for sleep, only go to bed when you’re sleepy, to try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, to not spend too much time on the phone or screens in bed, to have a consistent wind down routine, to eat meals at regular times etc. All of this can be helpful in terms of creating a space for sleep.
During a bout of insomnia, you can also try a breath awareness exercise like this:
Breathe from your belly and pay attention to what it feels like in your belly and with the air coming in and out of your nose and mouth. Pay attention to sounds in the room and outside. Listen to a sound and go further to hear another sound. Perhaps at first you notice the air-conditioner, then you pick up on the sound of something outside. Then, notice your breath and body and come back to the breathing exercise.
The idea is to allow your attention to notice surroundings so you see beyond just your busy mind. Read something or watch something relaxing and when you feel tired, try to fall back asleep.
Q: Aside from Mother’s Day being a trigger for many people struggling with infertility, COVID-19 has caused us to lose sleep. Any thoughts on how to honor our feelings without being overcome by them at night or otherwise?
A: Sometimes labeling emotions is useful both for clarity and validation. You can name it anything you want. You may say, “I feel sad”. See if there’s any other emotion that’s there and uncovered. Emotions are like a band playing a tune in that many instruments can be playing at the same time, so listen for each one.
If you can’t find a word(s) when you do this labeling exercise, think about what emotion(s) would be reflected on a face.
Finally, there’s good data to show that if you write in a journal about what you’re experiencing, it can help. Write for about 10 min and capture the prominent emotions you have and what it feels like. Data shows that if you do this for 3 or 4 nights in a row, it decreases stress and improves your mood and immune response.
Due to Coronavirus and the anxiety it’s brought to many people and New Yorkers, especially, Dr. Mennin has launched a COVID-19 Intervention Initiative to help people in the NY area manage and cope with their difficulties related to these times. Find more here.
What Elizabeth Grojean, Who Created the Popular Baloo Weighted Blanket, Says:
Elizabeth started Baloo Living after spending time in Bali where she tried a weighted blanket for the first time.
In her words, “I was immediately in awe of the way my body responded. I instantly felt more physically relaxed, and then I fell into a very deep sleep. When I woke, I felt like I was returning from far away, the kind of deep sleep that I can seldom remember. I created Baloo because sleep is one of the most healing things we can do for our bodies. Through creating Baloo, I saw a way to share the experience of deep rest and relaxation I was able to experience living in Bali with the world, where pressure and stress are the norm.”
Here’s more from Elizabeth on how weighted blankets may help people have a more restful sleep.
Q: What is a weighted blanket?
A: Weighted blankets are designed to apply a gentle, even pressure across the body, mimicking the feeling of being hugged or held. They’re generally quilted and filled with very small glass microbeads. Their deep pressure touch (DPT) stimulates the production of serotonin, the main chemical in the brain that regulates sleep, relaxation, and mood, and melatonin. The feeling is one of surprising calm and deep relaxation, leading to faster, deeper sleep.
Weighted blankets were mostly unknown for the majority of us until only a few years ago. Previously they were used with children and adults dealing with sensory-processing disorder, autism, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Q: Is there data to suggest weighted blankets improve sleep and may reduce stress?
Studies have shown positive effects of weighted blankets on insomnia and anxiety through the use of deep pressure touch, and with weighted blankets specifically:
- This study shows that 33% of participants exhibited lowered electrodermal activity (EDA) measured through blood pressure, pulse rate, and pulse oximetry. 63% of participants reported lower anxiety after use. Positive effects of a weighted blanket on insomnia.
- “Objectively, we found that sleep bout time increased, as well as a decrease in movements of the participants, during weighted blanket use. Subjectively, the participants liked sleeping with the blanket, found it easier to settle down to sleep and had an improved sleep, where they felt more refreshed in the morning. Overall, we found that when the participants used the weighted blanket, they had a calmer night’s sleep. A weighted blanket may aid in reducing insomnia through altered tactile inputs, thus may provide an innovative, non-pharmacological approach and complementary tool to improve sleep quality.”
- RESULTS: Measurable improvements in diurnal cortisol profiles were observed, with cortisol levels significantly reduced during night-time sleep. Subjects’ 24-hour circadian cortisol profiles showed a trend toward normalization. Subjectively reported symptoms, including sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress, were reduced or eliminated in nearly all subjects.
- CONCLUSIONS: Results indicate that grounding the human body to earth (“earthing”) during sleep reduces night-time levels of cortisol and resynchronizes cortisol hormone secretion more in alignment with the natural 24-hour circadian rhythm profile. Changes were most apparent in females. Furthermore, subjective reporting indicates that grounding the human body to earth during sleep improves sleep and reduces pain and stress.
Q: For those who want to try one of your Baloo weighted blankets and don’t know where to start, what do you suggest?
A: It’s a good idea to start lighter if you’re new to weighted blankets. I suggest the 12 lb throw size because it’s so easy to move from bed to couch, and back to bed. But for bed specifically, the 15 lb full/queen size blanket is our most popular.
What makes our weighted blankets unique is the fact that the premium cotton and glass microbeads give them breathability that other brands don’t offer. Heavy doesn’t necessarily mean hot, and that’s on purpose! These blankets are designed to stay cool, so they can be used year round. Plus, Baloo’s weighted blankets are machine washable, and dryer safe.
Bottom line: Don’t kick yourself if you’ve lost zzzs lately. Anxiety is a very normal response to stressful events in our lives and it doesn’t mean that you’ll never sleep again! By creating a better bedtime environment (by changing your day and nighttime behavior or trying a weighted blanket and being compassionate to yourself, you’ll be on your way to more rest and a better quality sleep).
Baloo Living supports people navigating stressful experiences like infertility, and is offering pregnantish readers 20% OFF their purchase with promo code PREGNANTISH this Mother’s Day weekend (May 9-10, 2020).
(After Mother’s Day, the promo code will still be valid for 10% off your purchase from May 11 to August 11, 2020.)
Click here to shop Baloo’s weighted blankets.
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