sleepless nights

When expat worries become sleepless nights.

“I can’t sleep.” “I don’t sleep through the night.” “I lie awake for hours each night before I fall asleep.”

Do any of these sleepless nights sound familiar to you?

People suffer from disturbed sleep for different reasons, including medical problems (like hyperthyroidism or migraines), emotional distress (such as depression or anxiety), changes in lifestyle (having a baby or any other changes that may influence daily patterns), and general life stressors. Expats tend to face additional stressors that can lead to sleepless nights, like: relocating, being new to a city, moving house regularly, feeling homesick, dwelling on questions like “should I stay or should I go?”, feeling the instability of being in transition… you name it!

Of course, lack of sleep only makes those stressors all the more challenging to deal with. And when you’re sleep deprived, it’s difficult to really enjoy your expatriate experience. Fortunately, there are some small steps you can take to try to break the cycle.

Here are some pointers to help you conquer those sleepless nights:

1. Establish a regular bedtime and be disciplined about it (yes, weekends included!). Going to sleep and waking up at the same time daily helps stabilize your internal clock.

2.  If you are in a transitional phase before or after relocation, try to get into a normal routine as soon as possible. I understand this is not always easy to do – your body may suffer from jet lag and need to adjust to a new time zone; you may not live in your own house yet, or your house may still be full of boxes – but the sooner you can get back to “normal” life, the better you’ll feel and the easier it’ll be to reestablish good sleep patterns.

3. Develop rituals that signal the end of the day; for example: “I will turn off my computer by 7 pm”; “I won’t look at emails after 9 pm”; or “I will put the kids to bed and treat myself to a hot cup of calming herbal tea before heading to bed”. Tell yourself that it is time for rest so that you can start the new day feeling fresh.

4. A bed is for sleeping: don’t eat, work, watch television, read or carry out an argument in bed.

5. Preferably avoid naps. Naps don’t necessarily replace the quality of sleep you get from a full night’s sleep cycle. Some people are able to take naps and feel rejuvenated; for others, a nap can sabotage the sleep-wake cycle. If you really can’t resist a nap, then restrict it to a maximum of one hour, at the same time each day.

6. Take a warm bath one to two hours before bedtime. A temperature of 37–38°C is recommended to relax both body and mind.

7. Think of something pleasant. Select an image to focus on while falling asleep. Images commonly used are a burning candle, a favourite vacation scene, clouds, waterfalls, and floating on or sinking into a mattress.

8. Decide on ONE thing that you will start doing from today to improve your sleep. Repeat and finish the sentence: “As of today, I am going to…” It is important to take that first step.

If you are still struggling to sleep well after trying these suggestions, then perhaps some counselling may help you deal with your worries and be more relaxed so as to enjoy a deep and restful sleep.

First published on Expat Nest.