I was really excited when Lana Tomkinson and I got together to have a little conversation about sleep. Sleep is such an important tool that we have for our well being. Adequate rest is very important for us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. When we don’t have good sleep, it impacts everything we do.
Lana is the founder of The Sleep Well Clinic for Women. She has lived with insomnia, anxiety, depression, and chronic disease. She learned how to beat them ALL and sleep well. She’s an expert at managing sleep to overcome mental exhaustion. Trained in health and sleep, she helps women overcome insomnia for good and live happier and healthier lives.
Insomnia and Work-Related Stress
Lana claims her insomnia started because of work-related stress. She was hoping she would be more productive if she stayed up late every night and worked hard without a break. Her mentality at the moment was that she wanted to do so much more. The worst part was that she was working full time, her boys were teens and she was also doing community work. She found herself awake every day till 11 or 12 in the night doing some kind of work.
Lana distinctly remembers waking up really tired and almost sick to her stomach because she had not slept properly. Especially on Mondays after the weekend, she would wake up tired and go to work with very little energy.
She noticed that when you are running on adrenaline and hop into bed, you are completely awake for hours and hours. Your sleep is cut quite short. Quite often, with sleepless nights comes unhelpful negative and anxious thinking.
When we go to sleep tired and under stress, our brain doesn’t get rid of all the toxins it needs to. It becomes so much easier to start thinking negative and scary thoughts. Lana says that as a result, she ended up in a dark place. This developed into depression because of insomnia and anxiety-induced panic attacks. For Lana, this was her body telling her that this lifestyle had to stop. She was a healthy woman with a wonderful, loving husband and children but still had these mental issues.
The vicious cycle of sleep deprivation
Lana claims that she had to change her mental framework for how she approached sleep. It’s even harder to do that when you are not sleeping well. The two main areas she had to work on was her lifestyle and her thinking. When you are sleep deprived, the anxiety and the negative thoughts are at their worst. It’s a catch 22 situation. The more sleep-deprived you are, the more anxious or the more depressed you become. It heightens some of your senses and emotions which then stop you from sleeping. So even though you are exhausted, there are so many things going on in your head that you are unable to sleep. This cycle continues till you are too fatigued to attempt to make a change.
The misconceptions regarding sleep
Lana believes that people have the misconception that they will be more productive if they sleep less and wake up earlier to get work done. But actually, it is the opposite. If you prioritise your sleep, you are more productive. When you have a good nights sleep you are more focused, more creative, you can solve more problems, you’re sharper and you can switch on straight away.
Notice the difference when you have a bad nights sleep. You’re putting so much effort into doing something yet it actually ends up taking twice as long to complete. She recalls a study in a college where student-athletes were asked to get a good night sleep for two weeks. Then, compared to other athletes, these students were stronger, quicker and were less likely to make mistakes. Similarly, these students were also more academically creative and engaged than other students.
However, Lana believes that when you go to a university, the culture is such that the students are tired and hardly sleeping. There is a glorified student culture of getting 3-4 hours of sleep, and bragging about it.
There is this perception out there that highly successful people need less sleep. Sleeping less has almost become a bragging right. But is that enough to function properly? What happens to our body if we go extended periods with less sleep?
In reply, Lana says there are maybe 1 or 2 individuals who can manage well with less sleep, but the majority of us work better when we are well-rested. We kind of ‘think’ that we can do better and achieve more if we stay up late and do more things. She insists that this is the wrong approach to adopt.
Treat your sleep routine like a computer
Lana says when it takes you too long to go to bed or sleep, you should know that you are sleeping wrong. This may happen when you have racing thoughts because you didn’t allow your body and mind to rest before going to sleep. Your brain just doesn’t shut down similar to a computer with too many tabs open. Like a computer, you too have to shut things down and let things wind down slowly.
The dark side of lack of sleep
Going to sleep stressed can have serious health problems. The is particularly evident for workers who are always ‘on call’. Even when going to sleep, their body and mind is primed to wake and respond to a call. They are able to function like this because their body is maintaining a level of cortisol in their body to keep them alert. So they are not able to unwind, rejuvenate and regenerate cells while sleeping.
Lana has found that autoimmune disease is mainly caused by an unhealthy gut. She believes the gut is where most problems develop due to lack of sleep. Weakening of the gut allows inflammation and ultra immune disease. Adrenaline fatigue is another issue caused by the continuous production of cortisol.
Lana’s tips for a good night’s sleep
Lana thinks that we have to change our mindset and realise that a good nights sleep will help you to be more productive than when you stay up late. When you make an effort to put other things into place to prioritize a good nights sleep, things will start changing for you. Congratulate yourself and celebrate when you have a productive day following a good nights sleep. The more the brain rests during the REM sleep phase, the better rested you will be.
She also suggests putting on an alarm on your phone. Set an alarm for when you need to start unwinding. It is different for everyone, but make sure you have enough time to unwind and to stop what you were doing. Especially if you have children, make sure you have everything ready for the next day before you unwind.
One of the best things you can do to get better sleep is to be off your phone for an hour before you sleep. People are addicted to their phones and while they are using them, their brain remains engaged. A study showed that some labourers woke up tired because they would often wake up every two hours to check their phone and go back to sleep. It was so habitual that they were waking up to check for any messages or notifications in a half-awake state.
Daylight is made up of blue light. Melatonin, the chemical which helps you sleep is triggered by an optic response. When our eyes stop seeing blue light, it induces melatonin. Your circadian rhythms are tuning into the optic response to the lack of blue light. Cell phones give off a blue light. Thus, by staying on your phone, you deprive your body of the chemicals required to induce sleep. Lana suggests replacing white lights with yellow lights to signal your brain that you are going to sleep.
Children are the best sleepers. Children have a very set schedule with timings and activities such as taking a bath, bedtime routine, reading stories etc. Children tend to always stick to these routines. Surprisingly, we do this for our children but we struggle to stick to a routine ourselves. Taking a shower helps as it feels like you are washing off a long day. People suffering from chronic anxiety or insomnia often take long showers because it helps them relax and prepare for sleep.
How do we deal with racing thoughts?
The best thing to do after a busy, stressful day is to write down the things that are on your mind. Lana’s partner calls it a ‘brain dump’. Brainstorm and work out the triggers and stressors that could be affecting you. Once you identify the components of the problem, it easier to create solutions for it. Once you work on strategies, your brain is aware that you have solutions for problems. Remind yourself that you have worked on your problems and that it is now time to sleep.
I found that there is a primal part of our brain that keeps us in flight or fight mode. Once you try to sleep, this primal component is sending off alarm bells and recognising threats. Your mind is then filled with racing thoughts. I have found when I talk to that part of my brain and address these thoughts, it has helped reduce overthinking. I tell myself “thank you for bringing that to my attention but now is not the time to think about that. Now is the time to sleep”. This ‘thank you but no thank you’ mantra gives your subconscious a rest. Writing it down and speaking to the problem is better than ignoring the problem. When you ignore it, the thoughts tend to come back stronger.
Sleep is an incredibly important tool for us to be productive. I’ve learnt a lot from chatting with Lana about her research. When she works with women, she often helps them perceive the bigger picture. Quite often people get stuck on one thing and miss the bigger picture. Lack of sleep leads you to miss out on the happier things in life. Lana guides women to a happier lifestyle where they can appreciate family, life, and relationships. It is vital to set your foundations such as sleep management before working on productivity and time management.
If you have any more questions for Lana, you can find her on her website. You can also find her on her FaceBook under Lana Tomkinson and leave her a message.
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