Have you had those nights where your body has been physically exhausted, but sleep escapes you? It might be worries about the market, the crops, the health of your livestock, or it may be random racing thoughts that have no tangible value but keep you awake. Sleep problems can include having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning. And sometimes it is a combination of one or more of them. What is shared is a deep fatigue and frustration with the inability to get the needed rest. 

Before Bed Routines

If you’re coming in late from the barn or the field, it is tempting to just fall into bed. However, we all need to have some wind down time to let our brains and bodies ‘shift gears’ from work to rest.

  1. Have a warm shower or bath. This will help you wash off the sweat and grit of the day, give you a quiet moment, and the warmth will lower your body temperature signalling your body to sleep. 
  2. Give your mind a rest from farming or anything associated with stress. It might be tempting to check the markets, your email, or watch one of your favourite YouTube farmers, but it would be better to focus your mind on something that brings peace. Read a book, magazine or watch one of your favourite shows.  
  3. Try gentle stretching or yoga. Have you spent the day cramped up in the tractor, bent over fixing machinery, cleaning the barn, or sweeping the grain bin? Yoga can help stretch and lengthen those tense, overworked muscles and has been linked to falling asleep faster and improving the quality of your sleep. 
  4. Avoid alcohol before bed. Although alcohol can help you feel relaxed and fall asleep quickly, it disrupts the sleep cycles resulting in a poor quality of sleep (shorter and more disruptions) and increased feelings of exhaustion the following day. Try having a warm glass of milk as it contains tryptophan, which has been linked to the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that prepares the body to fall asleep. 
  5. If you’re having difficulty shutting off your thoughts, try a ‘brain dump’. A brain dump is the practice of writing out anything and everything on your mind on a piece of paper. It can provide a mental release or letting go and can be reviewed the next day to help identify important priorities. 

Responding to Sleep Restlessness

  1. If you’ve been tossing and turning for more than 30 minutes, get out of bed. Otherwise, your brain will associate your bed with thinking instead of sleeping. Go somewhere in your home that is quiet with low lights and do something relaxing. Sometimes getting out of bed for a glass of water or a visit to the washroom is enough to reset.
  2. Practice deep breathing and/or progressive muscle relaxation before you go to bed or if you wake-up in the night. Stress makes it difficult for the body to sleep; however, both practices trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, letting our brains know it is okay to relax and rest. 
  3. Consider the paradoxical intention sleep technique. Sometimes the more you try to force yourself to sleep, the harder it will be. Have you ever watched the clock and counted down the number of hours of sleep remaining before your wake-up time and felt more stressed? This technique shifts your focus to trying to stay awake, which reduces the stress of ‘clock-watching’, and you’ll notice that the more you try to keep your eyes open the more they will want to close. 
  4. Finally, if sleep simply won’t come, just allow your mind and body to rest as this too will provide some healing and rejuvenation. Lay somewhere comfortable with your eyes closed and think of the storyline of a movie or book you enjoyed, visualize your favourite place, wrap your blankets around you, hug a pillow, listen to relaxing music and/or engage in the classic act of counting sheep. 

May these sleep practices, routines and responses to sleep restlessness help you and your loved ones as you address the deep fatigue and frustration that come with the inability to get the rest your body and mind need. 

Carrie Pollard, MSW RSW is the wife of a grain farmer, mom of five, an Ag-Informed Therapist, and one of the co-founders of the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance. 

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Grande Prairie’s Resource Centre for Suicide Prevention and Northwestern Polytechnic’s office of Applied Research & Innovation are hosting a Mental Health Summit on May 6th & 7th! We are honoured to be leading some workshops at this summit:-Protecting Your Greatest Assets -Leadership (Becoming a level 5 leader/ Team Building and Morale Boosting)-Farm Succession and CommunicationWe would love to meet you there!@sprevent @northwestern_polytechnic#nfmha #nfmhalliance#farmersupportfarmers #farmstrong #farmermentalhealth #farmerwellness #agmentalhealth #farmfamily #agmorethanever #ruralrooted #ruralwellbeing #therapistsofinstagram #socialworkersofinstagram #supportoneanother ... See MoreSee Less
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