The other day I was talking to my mom, and she told me she was having sleeping problems lately. In fact, she occasionally suffers from sleep issues. I remember I had lately written an article about this, so I started telling her, “You should sleep on time, you shouldn’t be on your phone, and you shouldn’t be watching TV…”
Suddenly I stopped mid-sentence. While I was rambling, it suddenly struck me that my mother obviously didn’t do any of these things. She didn’t spend time on Facebook or WatsApp, she didn’t sleep at 1 AM and she obviously didn’t work on her laptop till late. She was a doctor, so she didn’t really need to be on a laptop too much. I realized that all my thoughts on sleeping early applied to people of our generation. But, not the generation before us. I immediately wanted to help my mother out. If my articles couldn’t help my own mother, what use were they? So, I tried to understand what was going on.
My mother’s always worried about everything. Maybe being a parent makes you a worrier. But, she’s always worried about where I am, what I’m doing and whether I’m alright. It’s something which I can’t force her to stop doing. Also, her life isn’t easy. She has a super stressful job, and puts her heart and soul into it. She worries about me because I stay in another city. She’s just become so tuned to worrying all the time that she can’t imagine not worrying.
Surprisingly, this is something my mother is guilty of. But, it was impacting her in an altogether different way. She watches the news and gets really worried about everything that is happening and then her brain gets too wired to sleep.
Apart from the above, I couldn’t pin-point anything else. She ate pretty early, she tried to exercise whenever she could and she obviously wasn’t stuck on laptops and phones. She also went to bed early.
I realized that it was just the stress and worry which was not allowing her to sleep. And, there is really no “just” when it comes to stress and worry. Both are really harmful and can physically and mentally affect you over the years. My mother would start worrying even if she woke up in the middle of the night!
Dealing with stress and worry
Most articles and reports say that when you have worries, you should deal with them. So, ideally you should identify what is worrying you and then you should take steps to address those worries. However, in my mother’s case this does not apply. Being a doctor is stressful and I can’t tell her to stop worrying about her patients. Similarly, I can’t tell her to stop worrying about me. She won’t stop! And, try and tell any parent that and see what reaction you get.
Detaching from worrying
So, for her, the best practice was to “detach”: to shut her mind from all the worries and stresses and to try and focus on something else. Unfortunately watching mindless television never helps as your brain soon tunes out what you’re watching and starts thinking about something else.
What can work:
- Doing something which is slightly boring but still requires your attention
- Doing something which is not critical or urgent
- Doing something which you enjoy to some extent
Guess what we identified for my mom? Reading of course. Yes, good old reading before bedtime. My mother hardly gets time to read. And, by the end of the day, she’s pretty tired. So, if she picks up a book, after a while she gets tired, and since she’s already in bed, she just keeps the book away and goes off to sleep. Surprisingly, she’s been trying this and has actually been managing to get some sleep.
Of course, she still has sleep issues. But this has been helping her a lot, and she’s been trying to turn this into a daily habit. So, if any of your parents, uncles, aunts or grandparents suffer from insomnia, try and see if this can help them.
What you can do
Another thing I realized is that I can play a major role in reducing my mother’s worries. By being more frequent in my phone-calls to her and by responding quickly to her messages, I can help her immensely. Taking out time to Skype and talk more often with family members makes a big difference, and doing so can make them feel closer to us. When we live away from our parents, we might get absorbed in our day to day lives, but our parents constantly wait to hear from us. We should make their lives easier by just making more time for them. None of us are so busy that we can’t make time to fight the loneliness our family members experience.
Sometimes it takes just a small change to make a significant difference!