Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person feels better after sleeping.

For Highly Sensitive People, Sleep Is a Magical Elixir

Sleeping is one of the few activities that every human has in common. It’s baked into our biology, which is why the vast majority of us spend, on average, about one third of our lives in dreamland.

But sleep is more than just a necessity. It’s a magical elixir, especially for highly sensitive people (HSPs). Because they can get easily overwhelmed, HSPs may need more sleep (and self-care) than others. Sleep restores our bodies and minds and readies us for the other two thirds of our lives.

Why Good Sleep Is Crucial for Highly Sensitive People

As a highly sensitive person, I’ve always been a big sleeper. I’m often in bed by 9 p.m., because in this season of my life, I function best when I get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Less than 7, and I’m a mess.

Part of this is probably a hangover from sleepless nights with young children. It’s as if my body is still trying to catch up. But another part of it is, as a highly sensitive person, I just get exhausted easily. A full life with lots of family and friend time is wonderful, but it can also be a source of physical and emotional drain — especially for those of us who feel deeply and experience the world in high definition (which is what it means to be highly sensitive).

Recently, I had a day that left me wanting to sleep for a week. Busy airports, two canceled flights, many delays, and when I finally arrived home (5 hours late), all I wanted to do was take a nap. But my darling kids wouldn’t have a bit of it! Mommy was home after seven days away so there was no rest for the weary. And although I missed them, their lovely noisy selves did nothing to subdue my already frazzled nervous system.

Of course, an early night would have been just what the doctor ordered. But no, the day wasn’t over! We had a babysitter booked and a party to go to. As an introvert and HSP, parties just aren’t my thing, even on a normal day. But this wasn’t a normal day. I was already completely peopled out, and now I had to face a room full of 40 more people!

Suffice it to say, when I collapsed into bed at 11:30 p.m., I knew it would take me more than a couple days to recover. My entire being was stretched beyond capacity. I needed a mini-hibernation.

Most HSPs have had experiences just like this — probably lots of them. All HSPs face higher levels of overstimulation and mental fatigue; it’s just how we’re wired. That means we need more than just “beauty sleep.” For us, sleep is absolutely crucial. It calms and resets our overworked systems; it’s probably the best thing we can do for ourselves in terms of self-care.

Why HSPs May Find It Harder to Sleep

In a cruel twist of irony, highly sensitive people may find it more difficult than others to get the rest they desperately need.

On the long trip home that day, I’d prepped my husband, explaining that I’d need some space to try to nap that afternoon. But sleep did not arrive. The adrenaline from a full morning hadn’t left my body, and I was starting to feel anxious about the party ahead of us.

This isn’t uncommon for us HSPs. We’re sensitive to all forms of stimulation, including noise, temperature, textures, and the activity level of our environment — and this sometimes affects our ability to fall asleep. HSP or not, when we get stressed and overstimulated, our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone that puts the body on high alert. And when our bodies are revved up, we might find it impossible to relax and drift away into dreamland, even when we so desperately need to rest.

Along with our bodies being wound up, HSPs may find that they have too many thoughts to fall asleep. We process our experiences deeply, so until our minds have had time to wind down, we may be left wide awake, even though we’re begging our brains to “shut down” for the day.

3 Ways HSPs Can Get More Sleep

If you’re highly sensitive, you’ll likely always need plenty of high-quality sleep, no matter what season of life you’re in. Here are three things you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep.

1. Create solid routines

Plan ahead for your time in dreamland. We HSPs tend to thrive on routines; bedtime is no different. A great bedtime routine creates a sense of safety, which in turn promotes feelings of relaxation. It’s much easier for us to relax when we know what’s coming next.

My routine is fairly simple: It involves hopping into bed at least 30 minutes before I think I’ll be asleep. I fill out a very simple gratitude journal and note anything else in my brain that needs to get out. Then, I read myself to sleep. I try to stay off social media one hour prior to bedtime, and if I’m on my laptop, it’s only to write.

2. Reduce all external stimuli

We know it’s good for everyone to reduce technology prior to bedtime. But what about the emotional stimuli that comes from engaging with others? Surely great conversation in front of a roaring fire is a lovely way to spend an evening? Not for me! Well, at least not in the last hour or two before bed. Having silence and giving my brain a break from anything incoming is crucial late at night.

This may mean leaving parties or other social events early so there’s time to unwind afterward. For me, it also means letting my loved ones know that 10 p.m. is not the time to start a major discussion about an important issue.

3. Give yourself enough time

Get to know how much sleep you need. Everyone is different, and your sleep needs won’t necessarily be the same as your partner’s, mom’s, or best friend’s. And once you have an idea about how much sleep you need, make it a top priority. Go to bed earlier! The dishes, the next chapter of the book, and the laundry can all wait until tomorrow.

Changing your sleep habits may seem like a huge undertaking, and you won’t be able to change everything right away. But you can make one small change tonight — and feel the difference. As an HSP, you have an incredible gift to offer the world. It’s going to be a lot easier to do just that when you get a good night’s sleep.

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