Monday, March 12, 2018

Sleep Strategies

Last night I slept for seven hours straight. This was deep sleep, too, with dreams that I vaguely remember (something about trying on clothes. I haven't bought anything new since I began my weight-loss quest.) I woke up feeling a bit fuzzy but otherwise great. I've been sleeping like this most nights for the last six months.

Why even write about it? For one thing, I'm a lifelong insomniac who generally averaged only 4-5 hours of light, often-interrupted sleep most nights. When my insomnia was really cranked up, or my arthritis was flaring, that decreased to 2-3 hours. For a long time I thought I had no other option than to live with it, but meditative studies led me to some new ideas. As with writing, I absorbed everything and let it percolate, and tried new approaches to treating my insomnia. Many writers I know have similar sleep problems, so I thought I'd share what's worked for me.

Happiness and Gratitude: Toward the end of the day I herd my thoughts into two corrals: things that make me happy, and things for which I'm grateful. This is recommended by many sleep-help sources. I also try not to think about things that rile me, depress me, or make me anxious. Before bed I meditate lightly on my next day, and what I can do to be a more productive person. I know, it sounds corny, but when it comes to sleep I believe mood is a big influence.

Negative Mindset: To expand on the mood thing: because my sleep has been so poor, I've always resented it. I never went to bed feeling happy about the prospect of sleep; it always felt like an exercise in futility and a waste of my time. I think behind that resentment was a lot of dread. Anyway, I worked on my attitude and developed a mental mantra for bed time. Sleep = good. Sleep = healthy. Sleep = better day tomorrow.

No Napping: Getting up and going to bed earlier have helped a lot, but so has avoiding naps. I try not to let myself sleep anywhere unless it's in my bed at night. I stay away from the sofa and comfortable chairs where I might nod off. If I feel tired enough to nap, I get up and do some chores or take the pups out for a walk.

Positioning: I've always slept curled up on my right side, up until I started developing arthritis in that shoulder a couple of years ago. Then I went into a period of trying to sleep on my right side, having a pain flare-up, then tossing, turning, hating the bed, hating my arthritis, lather, rinse, repeat. I finally forced myself to accept that I'm never going to be able to sleep on my right side again. I then started trying different positions each night until I found the one that was most comfortable (as it happens, flat on my back.)

Sleeping Aids: I've tried a number of products that are supposed to help improve sleep time and quality, including the OTC stuff. The most success I've had with the pill form is with Alteril, although it gives me a bit of a hangover the next day (note: your mileage may vary, and always check with your doctor before you try any new medication.) These last six months I've been using more natural solutions. I have a nature-sounds device by the bed that plays the sound of rain in a continuous loop, which knocks me out. I don't know why, but it does. So does the sound of distant thunder. Chamomile tea, long soaks in the bath tub, and avoiding anything with caffeine have also helped.

Wind-down Routine: I do the same things every night as I unplug, settle, and get myself relaxed (usually by shutting off the computer and quilting, reading or journaling.) I also make sure that I've tidied the kitchen, washed the dishes, folded the laundry etc. Leaving housework unfinished makes me antsy and unhappy, two states that contribute to my insomnia.

Sleep still feels a little like a waste of my time, but I can't deny that the benefits of getting more sleep are pretty amazing. I'm writing with more focus, my moods are better and I'm getting more work done every day. I'm less inclined to lose my temper, too.

Have you found anything that has improved your sleep? Let us know in comments.


  1. I've started reading a short devotional every night again which has really helped me. Also, on the nights where it takes me more than half an hour to fall asleep, I take some melatonin which works well and leaves your system rather quickly so there's no real after effect to it. Aside from that, I'm still doing the same routine I've done for years. Making sure stuff is done for the night, washing my face, moisturizing, brushing my teeth...the reading has helped a lot. And I bought an Amazon Spot* which has almost too many skills to go through but the ocean sounds in summer and the fireplace sounds in winter have also really helped. In most cases, I fall asleep a lot quicker than I used to and I can set it to shut off after a pre-determined time. So, if I can get four or five hours of uninterrupted sleep now, I'm doing really good. And I do feel better the next day.

    *We're rural enough that we can't get 99% of the radio stations around us without terrible static. Because I wake to a local talk station rather than an intrusive alarm sound, the Spot has solved a huge problem for me not only going to sleep listening to white noise, but I can now wake to my favorite radio station again as well as a brief news/weather report if I ask. :)

  2. I've always been curious about the white noise machines. My insomnia is better now, but every once in a while, I become the walking dead. I think the sound of gentle rain would put me to sleep.

    I just have to make sure there's no thunder. Poor Iko is afraid of thunder.

  3. "I have a nature-sounds device by the bed that plays the sound of rain in a continuous loop, which knocks me out."

    We've used one for years. It has a dozen settings, but we leave it on ocean. It blocks out the ticking clock.

    We also go to bed about an hour before lights out and read. I keep a Kindle by the table in case I still want to under the covers, but lately I get a few pages in and I'm ready for lights out.

    If I still have trouble sleeping, I'll rerun a story through my head. I used to read Patrick O'Brian, so I'd imagine I was on a sailing ship, sailing from Peru to Australia. Nothing special happens, maybe an encounter with another ship, but running through the events of a day sends me into night-night land.

  4. A word list can really help. It's just engaging enough that you don't get bored, but routine and soothing so you don't worry over other things. Use the same one every night. After a few weeks, your brain gets the message that it's time for sleep.

    I have used two of them.

    The first one is listing every fruit and vegetable in alphabetical order. Start with artichoke and end up with yams. The order is important as it takes concentration to list your produce alphabetical and you have to work to remember all of a certain letter.

    The second listing is animals from A to Z. Start with aye-ayes and end with zebras. Trying to think of every kind of animal starting with a specific letter and then keeping the list in order is involving.

    The listing really helped me to settle my brain and I still use the lists when my insomnia comes back.


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