How to stave off the annual blues of deepest darkest January? I decided to take positive action this year. First there was a decision to make - not Resolutions, but decisions that energise me and enthuse me.
Then, I started a survival kit following the advice of the Rev Sydney Smith (you can read about it here if you missed part one) in order to prevent the anticlimax and antacids of bleak midwinter blues. But in spite of following a few of his suggestions, I found I needed something more.
Deep, deep sleep.
Maybe it’s the urge to hibernate. To sleep through the cold and damp and dark.
Maybe it’s a desire to escape.
Or maybe it’s just a reflection of how much sleep I am missing, of the hours I need to catch up after the busyness and stressfulness of the weeks before Christmas.
I certainly know that I don’t function well if I have had too little sleep. Who does? Most of us are not like Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher, both of whom are reputed to have needed only three or four hours sleep each night. I need at least seven and preferably eight hours under the covers.
And I have discovered that there are ways to help me achieve those hours.
- get ready for bed early. If I leave it until it’s almost past my bed time I am too tired to be bothered to go upstairs. So then I procrastinate and then it gets later and later. And there’s something rather comforting about being in my pyjamas early, ready for bed, but still pottering about downstairs.
- dim the lights. Too much bright light too late at night is far too energizing. So a small occasional lamp, and not the main lights, helps relaxation. (Sitting gazing at the embers of the fire, by candlelight, in my pyjamas, is remarkably soporific. If only!!)
- dim the electronics. It’s all too tempting to check emails or social media sites last thing at night, but it actually stimulates my brain. As does any moving image, whether it’s a film, the 10 o’clock news or YouTube. I’m learning to resist the temptation.
- prayers in bed.
Being in bed in time to spend a few moments with the Lord. A short Compline; or some Celtic prayers from David Adams; or the Examen from Ignatius. Handing the day back to the Lord calms and restores me and settles me in a way that is hard to explain but which leads to a better quality sleep.
- a hot water bottle. Nice to be cosy!
But even more, I know that the quality of my sleep has to do with the quality of my day.
"It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Psalm 127:2 (ESV) My days are too often a hurlyburly of rush and catchup and then I forget to breathe. Just breathe.
Oh yes, that's me. Certainly the me I used to be. But it doesn't make me restful and peaceful and someone I think others would like to be with. And now I am older, fast approaching a rather large birthday, I know that my body and my mind and my heart crave that rest and peace.
Tranquillity. Space. Rest. And if I don't live like that now, I never will. It's a conscious choice - no one else can choose it for me! Why rush around in that vainness mentioned in Psalm 127:2 when I actually don't enjoy it anyway? Instead of thinking 'I have to be everything' I can choose to think, 'I have to be me, the me God made me to be.'
And that me needs tranquillity and space and rest.
And good sleep.
Now I’m feeling really sleepy … time for a nap, I think.
What have you found that helps you sleep better? And what helps you with the January blues?