I have a major problem with insomnia. When it comes time to catch some ZZZ’s, no matter how heavy my eyelids are, once my head hits the pillow, I seem to feel wide awake. And then I start playing the battle with the clock: “if I fall asleep now, I’ll get 5 hours of sleep. And if I fall asleep now, it’ll be 4 and a half…” and so on, until daybreak.
I’m not sure if my insomnia is caused by my depression and anxiety, or if it’s because I’m a night owl and it’s hard for me to break those rhythms when I try to go to bed earlier. While I do have some prescribed sleep aids that (usually) do the trick, I prefer to avoid those on weeknights as I tend to wake feeling groggy and discombobulated. I also realized that the lack of quality sleep I was getting during the week was contributing to my all day naps on the weekends. Talk about unproductive. And let’s be honest, if I start counting sheep, I’ll start calculating how much yarn I can get out of all of them to knit something pretty.
Truth be told, I suck at managing my mid-night wakefulness. I will toss & turn for a little while, and then I’ll get up and do something. Sometimes, I’ll watch a show, or catch a few more pages in my latest read. On really desperate nights, I’ll take a hot shower, hoping that my wakefulness will wash down the drain. I’ve even been known to work on logic puzzles (believe me, they are oddly relaxing). The grand irony was the night that, in my insomnia-induced web searching, I came across this fabulous TED Talks playlist, all dedicated to the power of sleep.
Realizing that I needed help, I started to do some research on how to get better sleep. I found all kinds of interesting tidbits about our sleep habits. I shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many articles dedicated to getting quality/more/regular sleep—as Americans, we report getting less than the recommended 8 hours’ a night. I can’t even recall the last time I got that much sleep in one shot that didn’t come on the heels of a late night on the town. Nor did I realize that our lack of sleep contributes to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Wow. I knew I had a problem, but now I see I need to take this insomnia thing a little more seriously.
Here are some of my favorite solutions to finding better sleep:
Go Dark. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a rural area, so light pollution was never a thing for me, but as an adult, living in the city I need to sleep in a dark room. I kicked the nightstand clock, partly because the display was distracting when I awoke in the middle of the night, but mostly because the illumination made it hard to sleep. I hung heavy drapes in my bedroom and also use a sleep mask. I never thought that these small changes would make such a huge difference.
Write On. Whether it’s journaling the day or writing your to-do list for tomorrow, writing your thoughts down makes you less likely to fret over things while you’re winding down. Even if you’re a digital list-maker, for this activity, pen and paper are still best. Spend 15 minutes expelling the most pressing
Power Down. This one is probably the hardest for me to do, especially when I acknowledge how hard it is for me to disconnect. But it’s probably the most important one of all. Our devices not only contribute to our insomnia, they make it harder for us to fall asleep. The illumination from TV and device displays interrupt our receptors, and actively working on something, whether a game or work, increases our stress hormones, keeping us awake longer.
Sleep in bed. It sounds pretty obvious, but a lot of people use their bedroom as a dining room, office or entertainment room. I am also notorious for sleeping on the couch in my living room. Being surrounded by all of these distractions detract from your ability to fall asleep. If you create a space that is dedicated to the comfort of sleeping, you create a mindset that sleep is the only activity that is expected of that space. And when you’re in it, you do just that.
Before you cut off your screen time, have Samuel L. Jackson read you a bedtime story. Sweet dreams.