How Midlife Coach Alana Kirk saved her sleep - and her sanity!

We spoke to author and midlife coach, Alana Kirk, about her non-negotiable sleep tips. Alana shares how she has learned to be a better sleeper to avoid the devastating impacts of sleep deprivation. She finds that good sleep contributes to mental health, emotional resilience, weight management and has a positive impact on general health and relationships.

1. Tell us why sleep is important, what are the health benefits of sleep to you?

Sleep used to be my nemesis in my 20's and I suffered from terrible bouts of insomnia.  Through a mixture of acupuncture and CBT I managed to get into a fairly good sleep routine into my thirties. And then babies happened!  For about five years I felt like a White Walker from Game of Thrones, but eventually it settled down again...... until my late 40's and peri-menopusae came knocking (usually at 3am).  I know the devastating impact of sleep deprivation has, so that I make it a real priority in my life as it has such a profound impact on mental health, emotional resilience, weight and general health, and relationships.
As a single mum to three teenagers, I have become the Queen of Nighttime Nagging, to ensure they, and I proactively invest in a good sleep routine.  I was never taught how to sleep well (few of us where in the 70's / 80's) and so I'm very clear with my girls about the importance of a screen break before bed, reading, hydration, and experimenting with what works - light or total darkness, sleep music or stories from an app or earplugs, blankets and socks or light clothes. I've even invested in weighted blankets (works for me and one of my daughters) and am also exploring the idea of earthed sheets.  Since peri-menopause began for me I also always sleep with a silk pillowcase. 

2. Is sleep a topic that comes up with friends, family or the audience in your line of work? What are the issues that come up? What advice if any would you offer?

I think we are obsessed with sleep (or lack of it) but often without digging down to the causes and then investing in mitigating the symptoms. So sleep talks (often about sleep walks) are a big part of my wider circle. As The Midlife Coach, I work with women in midlife and I will always start with getting them to assess where they are and how they are, and so as part of health, sleep comes up a lot.
I'm a great advocate of brain dumping and so often recommend journaling at bedtime but also just jotting down a list of everything that is flailing around in your brain so you can get it out of your system before you switch off the light.  Sleep isn't just something that we have to do; it's something we need to invest in. Like I have learned to breathe better through yoga, I have also had to learn to sleep better. 

3. Do you have a sleep routine – how do you enhance your chances of a glorious, restful night’s sleep?

I love my bed. I look forward to getting there from about 4pm every day! I have a silk pillowcase which keeps me cool at night and a lamp that gradually lightens in the morning (rather than an abrupt alarm). I always read before I put the light out, even if it's a page, although usually it's half an hour.  No phone. I try not to snack in the evenings so don't go to bed feeling full. I sometimes do a quick gratitude list - 3 things. I might also do a list to dump random thoughts from my brain. I wait until I can barely read another word of my book, and then put in my earplugs (light sleeper) and switch off the light.
One trick I use is to lie quietly and play the day out again in my head. The feelings, actions, conversations.... partly to be present and make sure I have properly been aware of this one day I'll never get back, and partly to give myself a line of thought. I rarely ever get to the end of the day in my thoughts.   If I've had a glass of wine or anything at the weekend, I usually take two Panadol Night to try and avoid the sleep disruption from alcohol. 

4. What is your favourite sleep accessory ?

My silk pillowcase. I also use a weighted blanket in winter.  I bought one for my youngest daughter a couple of years ago and saw such an improvement in her sleep I got an adult one for me.  It feels like being held and when I use it I wake up 7/8 hours later in exactly the same position I went to sleep!  

5. Any night waking? If so, how do you get back to sleep?

I can go through periods of waking up at the same time (and never a time I like - 3.20am, 4.10am). It used to be very annoying but I read that if you wake up, don't fight it. Just acknowledge you're awake, don't catastrophise that your day is now ruined, or get angry. Just accept it and either I'll go back to sleep, read, or use the time to think about things without it being an issue. That has helped enormously. We often assume because we haven't slept and are tired that we'll have a bad day. Instead, I now acknowledge I'm tired but also be intentional about not assuming this means I'll be in a bad mood. I might just decide to go more gently into the day but still be happy to be here and living life. Sadly I know too many people who lost that gift too early. 

About Alana Kirk:

Alana is the Midlife Coach, helping women navigate their mayhem and opportunities of midlife.  She is author of the bestselling memoir The Sandwich Years: A memoir of love, loss and dirty dishes, and her latest book is a self-guide for women to invest some time and thought on themselves, called Midlife, redefined: Better, Bolder, Brighter.