What to do when expat worries become sleepless nights


What to do when expat worries become sleepless nights

By Sarah Cummings

Content provided by Sleep Advisor

If you’ve made the move to becoming an expat, your friends back home probably think you’re on permanent holiday. They wistfully remark about how easy it must be, how little work you must do, how you don’t know how hard the rest of them have it.

Yeah, yeah…you’ve heard it all before! What few of these people realize is that being a professional abroad, in any field, isn’t easy. As well as landing the job in the first place, you suddenly need to adapt to a new way of life fast, in a country you’re unfamiliar with, with customs that may be different to your own, maybe surrounded by a language that sounds alien to you.

It takes guts to do what you do – whether you’re working for a company or striking it out on your own. And while there are lots and lots of benefits to being an expat – after all, that’s why you became one! – it comes with its fair share of stress.

Worries about money, visas, work permits, cultural differences and language barriers can take over. Not to mention having to deal with family and friends back in your own country, and their constant needling of you to “get serious and settle down at home”!

So however much it feels like you’re living the dream, sometimes the expat lifestyle can be a tiresome, frustrating and isolating experience. Enough to keep you awake at night, even. And if it gets to this stage, you need to take action. Because, as all the sleep experts will tell you, getting sufficient sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing. This applies to everyone; but is particularly important if you’re living somewhere where you may be more vulnerable to getting sick.

External factors like climate, pollution and just the sheer stress of living in a very different environment can take its toll on you. So you need to look after yourself as much as you can… starting with your sleep.

Here are a few ways you can sleep better at night, wherever you are in the world:

  1. Get an evening routine going

Sometimes our sleep patterns are so disturbed because, well, we never really formed a proper pattern in the first place! When we moved abroad, we got caught up in that ‘holiday feeling’ – having late dinners out on the town, enjoying ‘sundowners’ every evening just because we could and never really grasping the difference between a weekend and a working week. Because of this we rarely develop a sense of routine. We eat at different times, we sleep at different times, and it’s no wonder that we can’t shut down when we want to.

And after the initial excitement wears off, this can get pretty frustrating. You may find it harder to get to sleep at night and even harder to drag yourself out of bed in the morning (particularly if your alarm clock is a raucous hen, mistaking sunrise for 4 am!)

Take my advice: create whatever sense of routine in the evenings you can. During your working week, have dinner at the same time every night – whether dining in or eating out. Not only is it better for your digestive system, it helps the mind to realize that sleep should come within a few hours, too! Next, start winding down for the evening. Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks (cocktails included!) and stick to herbal tea instead. Do something to relax your body and mind, like taking a bath, reading a book or doing a guided meditation exercise; these tips will help you shake off the stresses of the day and set you up for a deeper slumber.

  1. Don’t bring your screens to bed

If you’re working as a freelancer abroad, chances are that your laptop goes everywhere with you. Any space you occupy seems to become an office – a cafe, a beach, and even your bedroom! And sure, you might not keep traditional working hours like you would back home. But that does not mean you need to be sending emails at 1 am!

It’s not doing your sleep any good, and it’s not helping with those expat worries either.

Or maybe your laptop finds its way into your bed for entertainment purposes. You’ve gotten hooked on the latest TV drama, or you’re feeling homesick and need a silly comedy movie to cheer you up. I get it. I’ve been there. And there’s nothing wrong with it, from time to time anyway.

But it becomes a problem when this ‘time to time’ turns into a habit; so much so that you can’t get to sleep without your favorite show. And instead of bedding down with a relaxed, living-in-paradise, melatonin-filled mind, you’re dealing with an over-active, over-stimulated one instead. And probably some very weird dreams.

So switch off those screens an hour before your newly appointed bedtime (yes, make sure to include a bedtime in your routine!) and leave them out of the room. Buy an alarm clock if you need to, or rely on that hen instead.

  1. Make yourself at home

Traveling does not make for easy sleep. All that moving around, the new hotel rooms every few days – no matter how luxurious your surroundings, they’re still unfamiliar. And your sleep suffers as a result.

So as expats, things should get better right?! Well, not always. Because sometimes we see our new digs as somewhere to rest our head rather than as a home. And, even if you’re only going to be in a place for a few weeks, or a few months, it’s important to create this homely feeling.

Bring whatever creature comforts you can to your new bedroom – a bed cover in your favorite color, a comfy pillow, a soft lamp, some candles, incense, whatever. Make your bedroom your sanctuary, a place you long to get back to after a busy day; then even the act of stepping inside will be enough to relax you and your daytime worries will start to melt away.

Hopefully with these tips your expat anxieties will start to become a thing of the past… and you can start waking up with gratitude, for the wonderful and brave life you’ve chosen to live.

[Image courtesy of Sarah Cummings via Upsplash]

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