Our sleep is often the first thing to be impacted when we are not well. This could be because of physical illness or issue, emotional overwhelm, mental turmoil, stress, burnout. The trouble with sleep is the red flag indicating that something that is out of alignment.
In my work consulting with churches in building care ministries, we start with assessing the well-being of the leadership team. Results have consistently come back indicating that ministry leaders are struggling with sleep and feel tired much of the time regardless of how much sleep they’re getting.
So if you are one of those leaders you are not alone my friend and I want to identify some common sleep issues and offer 16 strategies that will help you get a night of better sleep.
Course for ministry leaders, Sleep is Not a Dream
It’s important to differentiate between feeling tired and feeling depleted. Because while they might feel similar they are different.
When I am tired. I am groggy, have difficulty focusing, problem-solving and I process information much slower. I am lethargic, feel lazy and have low motivation.
When I’m depleted I am agitated, grumpy, restless, and overwhelmed. I have difficulty with compassion and have little patience. I can become very task-oriented and a poor communicator.
Even though we use the same words like “Exhausted” to describe both experiences, they are different. And knowing the difference is important because what may cause someone to be tired vs. depleted are different even though the physical outcome may feel similar.
Some common medical causes of feeling tired and sleeplessness are:
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Sleep apnoea
- An underactive thyroid gland
- Celiac Disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Restless legs syndrome
This is not meant to cause fear or diagnose, but I think it’s important to recognize the biological causes of sleeplessness.
If you are struggling with persistent fatigue or sleep issues please speak to a medical professional about your specific health needs. It was life-changing for me.
These are some common biological reasons why someone would feel tired. And while chronic fatigue can exacerbate feeling depleted there are other causes of exhaustion due to benign depleted.
Oftentimes we shrug away the impact of serving and supporting others that we don’t see the significant impact that it has on our stress, sleep, relationships and health.
When you lie in bed unable to sleep what do you think about?
Work? Family? Disappointing someone? Does it feel like you’re drowning?
More often than not these are the things that prevent us from sleeping. The constant demand on our time and energy, being pulled in all directions like stretch Armstrong is what keeps our minds racing at night when we desperately need sleep.
Serving others has an impact on us. We feel it’s the weight after each time support, someone.
There is a cost to caring for others.
At some point, the costs build up and begin to spread into our personal lives and negatively impact families and health. The pressure builds and soon we are lying in bed awake thinking and feeling trapped.
Those serving in care ministry, are susceptible to compassion fatigue. The weariness that comes for supporting others who are suffering.
There is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about when you find yourself in higher levels of fatigue. That means that you are a deeply caring individual and you are passionate to serve. But this doesn’t mean that you are to live exhausted.
In Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The first step in this scripture is recognizing if you are weary and burdened. The second step is to rest. 3rd is to take on the perspective and yoke of Christ and learn for Him. But it all results in rest and peace described as easy and light
Research aligns with scripture and tells us that compassion fatigue is due to carers not recognizing when they are weary and having opportunities to refuel.
I don’t say this to shame anyone for not practicing self-care. Taking time for yourself is really hard when you have a servant’s heart and everyone is looking to you for help. Selfcare is much harder to do than helping others.
But when you feel depleted, and your sleep is impacted and the red flags are waving telling you things are out of alignment I encourage you to reflect back on the 7 Keys of resilience and put someone of those into practice.
Back in episode 6, we outlined the 7 keys and how these simple habits can refuel and restore you. But the 7 things are
- Avoid isolation and stay connected,
- Have regular rhythms of rest
- Have fun and activities that bring you joy
- Practice meditation, slowing our thoughts and tuning into Christ
- Having self-awareness and understanding your strengths and weaknesses
- Practicing boundaries
- Practicing self-care
If you are finding yourself depleted I encourage you to check out episode 6 and see how can begin resting and refuelling by practicing these 7 keys to resilience.
I can appreciate that when you are exhausted, regardless if it’s from a biological issue, or depleted from compassion fatigue and burnout. It’s hard to be given more suggestions of things you are to do.
So I want to offer 16 tips that you can start implementing right away and begin to see your sleep improve, as you implement the keys to resiliency
16 sleep tips and strategies.
- Set an alarm to go to bed
Set an alarm on your phone for 30min before you need to go to bed. This will signal you to begin shutting down and starting headed to bed.
2. Establish routine activities
Reading, having a bath, meditating/prayer or listening to gentle music are all great options. By doing that activity every night before bed it is a signal to your body that it’s time to go to sleep.
3. Use parental controls to signal to shut off screens
A great external reminder to unplug. Use the parental controls on electronic devices to disable apps at a certain time as an additional reminder to turn off the devices and break the habit of laying in bed and watching a screen.
4. Lower the light in the evening
Our bodies are designed to have a sleep and wake cycle that follows the sun. Lower the lights in the evening to maintain our body’s natural rhythm.
5. Complete the morning tasks before going to bed
Taking some time to prepare for the next day may prevent you from lying awake thinking about the morning’s to-do list. So in the evening Pick out your clothes, make your lunch before going to bed
6. Have a notebook beside your bed
Rather than lying in bed thinking about what you need to do. Get up and write down your thoughts. Once you release the thoughts from your mind it can become easier to let them go.
7. Exercise during the day
Reports say that exercise at any point in the day shows to improve sleep.
So consider walking meetings. Ride the stationary bike while watching TV. Or play basketball with your kids after dinner. Movement anytime will help you sleep.
8. Decrease caffeine and zero after 2 pm
Caffeine is a stimulant that impacts your bodies ability to rest regardless if you feel the effects of caffeine or not
9. Limit naps
Naps longer than 20min can leave people feeling groggy and sluggish. And naps later in the day can interfere with bedtime. So set an alarm so you can keep naps short and schedule them earlier in the day.
Regular practice of meditation decreases the body’s response to stress and although it is traditionally a dedicated time set apart to focus, that doesn’t mean it has to be a long time. Meditation is simply training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts towards God.
11. Go to bed and wake up at a regular time.
Having a consistent schedule will help your body get into a sleep/wake schedule. This routine will make falling asleep faster and easier.
12. Progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation is when you systematically tense and release muscle groups to promote relaxation of the body and mind. By the end of this exercise your body should be more relaxed and the racing thoughts more calm and focused.
13. Breathing exercises
A simple breathing exercise starts by getting into a comfortable position and then focusing on taking a deep full breath through the nose, expanding your diaphragm. Hold this breath for 3-5 seconds and then slowly release the breath through the mouth. Work towards controlling the exhale so it takes twice as long as the inhale.
14. Daily mental gratitude
Reflecting on the day and finding ways to be grateful helps calm the mind and refocuses thoughts on positives rather than worrying and thinking about the future.
15. Talk with your spouse
Talk with your spouse about changing your sleeping habits and make a plan together. This will create accountability and support.
16. Playing soothing music/noise
It is very common to enjoy the sound of a fan, white noise, ocean or be lulled to sleep with instrumental music. And it’s very helpful if it automatically shuts off.
Imagine what your life would look like fully rested. It’s hard to believe that it’s even possible. But God created us to need to rest and he designed our bodies to sleep. This is a good gift from him. It is worth the investment to implement a few of these tips. Perhaps it’s going to sleep at the same time each night, shutting off screens and practicing progressive relaxation. If you have persistent fatigue consider seeking out medical support and just as Math11:28 instructs us. If you identify that you are weary, find rest and look to Christ for direction to tend to your soul.
Living a life rested and at peace is God’s plan.
Join the Church Mental Health Facebook Group! In the Facebook group, we chat about how to care for others, what are your challenges as well as share tons of resources. This is a great community of pastors, clinicians, and those with lived experience and we want to get to know you.