First responders seem to be among the worst at self-care including getting restful sleep. We may or may not know what we should be doing and we likely don’t know why it is helpful.
Unfortunately, when we live life without proper self-care including getting restful sleep, it affects our day and actually affects how well we do our jobs. When we aren’t getting restorative rest, we feel it emotionally, physically and mentally.
Some of the adverse effects include increased irritability and decreased patience with our loved ones causing more spats or fights. Perhaps your spouse has told you that you have been more irritable lately. At the time, it may have felt even more annoying to hear that. We may even know that we are more irritable and less patient because of lack of sleep, but it isn’t enough to put ourselves first and make sure we are getting the sleep we need.
Not only does not getting enough sleep cause problems in our personal relationships, we then start to notice the lack of patience at work. We may start to become sarcastic about the calls we go on, or start to do things that we know better not to do in order to act or “prove” we are strong (such as going on a call by ourselves when we know we should be bringing someone with us).
Can you relate with John, a police officer in downtown Sarasota? He has been a police officer for 15 years. At first it was wonderful. He really enjoyed what he did and felt like he was good at his job. Over time, he started going to the gym more and longer trying to “decompress” from his day. He became quieter at home and wasn’t as playful with his kids. He didn’t feel right, but couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong. His spouse mentioned it to him, but he just blew it off as “work is stressful.” Well, he knew that was true. But it was far more than that. He couldn’t get pictures of calls out of his head. He superimposed his own child into some of the calls. He worried every time someone he cared about was out.
Eventually, John (and all first responders like him), end up in a place of complete frustration and loss of control. It is a downward spiral that intensifies each day we do not take good care and get restful sleep. It becomes a monster that started out small, but can ruin our lives and careers. We may make “silly” mistakes at work, but those mistakes can cost us lives.
The truth is, it is completely normal for police officers, firefighters, EMTs, 911 dispatchers, and other first responders to struggle with sleep. We see and hear a lot of very painful things throughout the day. We hold people’s pain when they are at their worst and our brains may not be able to just let some of it go. We are human and will feel the effects of what we see and do every day.
It’s very true that our work affects us and it can be hard to turn the thoughts off and get restful sleep. However, if we can learn a few tips and tricks to getting restful sleep, we can head off the dangerous path we’re on and obtain a fulfilling life and career. When we implement just a few strategies into our daily lives, it is entirely possible to let the stress of the day go and get the sleep we need. Keep reading for three tips so you can start sleeping better tonight.
Loss of relationships, careers, and even suicidal thoughts and actions…these are common end points to lack of good sleep
The biggest downside to not getting the sleep you need is your life will end up where you don’t want it. Maybe you’ll end up divorced due to the increasing fights. Maybe you’ll end up sick more often. Maybe you’ll end up feeling so out of control that you attempt suicide. We need you to stay healthy and engaged with your passion!
At the very least, however, with lack of sleep, you’ll find yourself tired and unhappy throughout the day. It is a lot of mental energy to stay happy when you are feeling so out of control and not getting enough sleep.
Living without enough sleep is extremely frustrating. I know you want to sleep well. The racing thoughts, the inability to turn your brain off, the constant thinking, the restlessness, the frequent awakening and early morning awakening. It is not how you want to be each night.
Living the relaxed, peaceful life you want by sleeping through the night
Although you struggle with fatigue, irritability, and feeling “blah”, you have the potential to get your spark back. You can bring yourself back from this feeling of not being in control and get the sleep you need each night to feel rested and ready to do the great work you do. You do not have to live this way anymore.
When we choose to take control back through improved self-care and sleep, there is a possibility for living life on our terms. Enjoying our work, friends, and family. Enjoying life.
You have the opportunity to improve the quality of your life and see the life you expected and wanted to live. You have the ability to regain control of yourself, your work, and your life. What is it worth to you to get your spark back? What is your family worth to you? What is your career worth to you? What are you worth to you?
3 tips to achieve restful sleep
I know you may be feeling frustrated and tired, but regaining control of your life is so important. You do great work every day. We need you to continue to provide the care you do every day. It is very hard to do the work you do, and even harder without proper sleep.
The key to achieving restful sleep is to turn your brain off at night. The key is to get your brain to stop processing your daily experiences before and during the nighttime hours.
Making these changes is not as difficult as you think because the brain wants to be relaxed. The brain does a lot of healing and recuperating when we are asleep. When we implement a few of these techniques, the brain will start to recover.
Take a look at these 3 tips to see how you can achieve a restful night’s sleep
I can’t settle down at night
One of the reasons you struggle with lack of sleep is because of the accumulation of stress day after day. Most of us can handle one stressful experience, but as a firefighter, these stressful experiences happen every day…sometimes more than once per day.
It makes complete sense that you’re feeling frustrated that you cannot settle down. You’ve accumulated so much stress. This did not happen over night. This lack of sleep happened due to the accumulation of your experiences day after day after month after year until you are where you are now.
Start with one small change. Don’t expect it to have extreme changes overnight. Don’t give up. You didn’t get into lack of sleep over night, and you will not sleep perfectly just because you try something for a day or a week, or even a month. Every day you do the techniques, you still have more experiences the following day. It will take time for your brain to re-adjust to the new sleep hygiene pattern you are using.
Working with me, you will find the motivation and accountability that you need to not give up on using one small technique to begin with…then pull in more techniques over time to really feel the effects. Just like working with a personal trainer to improve your fitness, I will hold you accountable and stretch your limits just a bit, helping you reach your goals in as little time as possible.
When you stay accountable and continue to use the techniques despite them not working the first day, you will notice that when you forget to do it, there actually is a difference. Something just feels off. You will also start to notice a renewed sense of mastery as you successfully challenge yourself and stay focused on your goal.
Pete had been an EMT for 5 years when he came to me. He was already at his wits end and not sure what to do to sleep anymore. He was getting only a couple hours’ sleep each night because he was afraid to go to sleep. He didn’t want the nightmares to start. He would do anything in his power to actually not sleep. However, he getting sick more frequently. Together, Pete and I identified some of the negative beliefs that were holding him back from sleeping, turned them around, and found ways to stay accountable to both the thought process and sleep schedule he set for himself.
Does this relaxation crap really work?
Our brains are set to help us survive. Not only that, but are brains are muscle. You’ve heard of muscle memory, right? Our brains take in all of our daily experiences, but it doesn’t always know what is “real” and what is “perceived.” The reason we jump to a scary movie is the brain doesn’t realize immediately that YOU are not going through that experience. This immediate reaction is caused by the Amygdala. The same thing happens when we get a call into the 911 dispatch line. The Amygdala doesn’t realize that what is happening is THEIR story, not YOUR story. So, the brain tries to make sense of it. It also stores that “memory” so you can stay safe from something like that in the future. Day after day, we hear very difficult situations and the brain, doing what it is supposed to, attempts to make sense of and store those situations in a way that will keep you safe. The brain, as a muscle, is being used the same way day after day, strengthening it. Strengthening the need to keep you safe from danger.
Thinking of it this way, it only makes sense that you aren’t necessarily 100% convinced that the techniques work. You’ve heard of them, but wonder if they will work for you.
These techniques absolutely work. Look at the research that is out there on neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to bounce back). Read about the effects of mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation in Eastern Cultures. There’s a reason these techniques have been around so long. Take a look at your own thought patterns. What are you saying to yourself about these techniques?
Together with my clients, I help them find the belief in the techniques and in themselves that they can get restful sleep; that it is possible through use of mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation, to fall into a deep sleep and wake refreshed the next day.
After you start identifying some of your negative beliefs as well as the challenging thought to those negative beliefs, you will have a renewed sense of hope moving forward. Thoughts are powerful. I love the quote by Susan Taylor: “Thoughts have power. Thoughts are energy. You can make your world or break your world by your own thinking.” Change your thoughts, you can change your world.
Which technique would you recommend first?
One of the problems is there are so many techniques that it can feel overwhelming. They all work, but does one work better than another? Does one work better for a certain issue related to sleep than another? The amount of information out there can seem very overwhelming.
It makes sense that you aren’t sure where to start and are feeling overwhelmed and maybe frustrated or hopeless. When you get to the point of exhaustion, being able to make decisions becomes harder. And because there are so many options to try, which one should you do to get the best results seems like a huge decision. You want to sleep now.
Instead of beating your head against a wall trying to decide what to do, start by creating a night-time/bedtime routine to ease you into the evening. If you need to let out stress, no less than a few hours before bedtime, do some exercise (this could be stretching only). Breathe deeply as you are doing this. Focus on the exercise and breath. Focus on what it feels like to exercise. Only do what you are capable of doing though; do not hurt yourself. Do you just want to relax? How about having some chamomile tea? Have a glass of that, sipping it slowly while you read or listen to relaxing music. Don’t worry about whatever is going through your head. Just focus on the tea and music (or book). Let the thoughts go and be mindful about the tea. What temperature is it? What does it taste like? How strong is it? What does it smell like? What does it feel like in your mouth? As it goes down your throat? Once you get into bed, do you need complete silence? Maybe you listen to a half hour yoga nidra before turning all electronics off. Some people like to watch something light-hearted as it will act like a bedtime story, allowing them to focus on that and not their thoughts. One important thing, don’t focus on you not sleeping. The more you focus on not sleeping, the harder it will be to fall asleep.
There are several great youtube videos that could help with relaxation and sleep. There are also great apps for the phone. Personally, I really like insight timer. It has many meditations – guided and music only. There are lengths from five minutes to over and hour. There are options for spiritual and non-spiritual.
When you schedule a session with Meg Berry, LCSW, we will together help you create the routine that works best for you. We will iron out how to make it work for you and identify and getting rid of any barriers to setting it up and using it.
Adding a night-time/bedtime routine to your life will make it possible for you to get the sleep you need each night, thus allowing you to wake feeling refreshed and ready for the day. It will help you get your spark back and be the first responder I know you are.
Although retraining your brain’s muscle in order to allow you restful sleep can take time, the result can be both empowering and uplifting. You absolutely can wake up refreshed and excited to help people again the way you did when you came into the field. With your background, and a little nudge from Meg Berry, LCSW, you will have yourself back in as little time as possible.
Schedule a session with me today.