Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Getting some ZZZZs

I've had a lot of inquiries about how I'm sleeping lately, after all my insomnia posts in July and August.  Firstly, thanks for asking :).  The answer is that I am sleeping much better these days.  After hitting my sleepless rock-bottom after our move, I went on something of a quest to beat my insomnia and have learned some really interesting things about "sleep hygiene" along the way.  I picked up a few tricks for getting rest on sleepless nights and wanted to share them, as I also know from your e-mails that I am not the only one battling this affliction.   So today I bring you...
SMJ's Top 10 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby
1) Don't eat anything two hours prior to going to sleep.  This sounds like a minor thing, but I learned from my doctor that when your metabolism is busy digesting food, you don't get as sound a sleep as you would on a more empty stomach.  Not only that, but if what you eat before bed contains sugar or caffeine, you'll have more difficulty falling asleep.  Have an earlier dinner, and resist the urge to munch late night.
2) Nix the vino.  Wine (or beer or a dirty martini) might take the edge off early in the evening, but have more than two drinks, and your chances of getting deep REM sleep are slim and none.  Alcohol can also cause the kind of indigestion that makes it hard to fall asleep.  You know me. I certainly haven't nixed my wine consumption entirely, I've just adjusted my thinking around having a glass (or two) as follows:  if I am having a super-stressful week which is likely to result in insomnia, I think twice before reaching for a post-work drink and consider which will really be more helpful to me in the end... that glass of red or a deep sleep.   Sometimes the answer is still the red, but the thought process is a good one.
3) Create a transition time.  My days are so packed, it is often impossible to do anything but work right up until I go to sleep; especially since I use the evenings to close out my work day.  However, it is invaluable to unwind before bed.  Making some time to chat with the husband, laugh at the Daily Show, or stretch a little helps quiet my head before sleep. Even just reading in bed for ten minutes has made a huge difference for me.  Note: the book must be funny or otherwise entertaining; no tomes about climate change and the certainty of our doom before bed.  Anthony Bourdain is my current favorite pre-bedtime author.
4) Lavender oil rocks.  A smidge on the wrists and the neck, plus a diluted drop or two spritzed on the pillow help lull you off to dreamland.  I don't know why.  Who am I to argue with aromatherapy?
5) No caffeine after 12pm.  Period.  Duh.
6) Morning exercise helps deepen sleep, late afternoon exercise, not so much.  There is no doubt that a hard workout helps promote the natural exhaustion one needs to sleep, but evening exercise can rev up your metabolism, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.  Try to fit in your exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.
7) Change it up.  If you've been in bed for more than thirty minutes and can't sleep, don't just lie there waiting for sleep to come.  Get up, do something relaxing for a bit (think stretching, reading, knitting, a facial mask -- NOT bills, work, or anything in front of a light, bright screen), and try again.  This stops the cycle of lying there thinking "I'm not sleeping, I can't sleep, I'll never sleep."
8) Try meditation. A friend recommended Yoga Nidra: Extreme Relaxation of Conscious Deep Sleep as a guided meditation before bed to help with my insomnia.  Downloaded to your iPod and listened to in a dimly lit room, this is a surefire way to unwind head to toe and prepare your mind and body to rest.
9)  Darken the clock.  We have an alarm clock whose face can be darkened so you can't see the time.  If you don't, try throwing a towel over your clock, or turning it to face the wall.  Whatever you do, don't stare those numbers in the face as you try and fall asleep.  If you are having trouble falling asleep or having a wakeful night, knowing the time can sometimes only worsen the stress and anxiety.  This is another seemingly small thing that has made a huge difference to me.
10) Put your irrational thoughts on trial.  This has been by far the most significant tool I've learned in my battle against insomnia.  Whatever worry is running through your brain and keeping you awake is likely not as significant as you make it out to be in the middle of the night, all alone in the dark.  Here's how to shrink that worry down to size: 
    1) Stop.  Just stop.  You have to stop the snowball of worry from rolling farther down the mountain and gathering momentum and power.  Take a breath and really stop the thought.
    2) Question your true belief in that thought.  As in: "do I really believe that I'll never keep my career on track while being the kind of mom I want to be?  Really?"  Rate your belief in that thought on a scale of one to ten.  Chances are that you do not believe in this thought as much as your mind might be tricking you into thinking you do.
    3) Ask yourself: even if I truly believe this thought to be true, what is the worst thing that will happen if, in fact, it is? In nine cases out of ten, you aren't looking at a life or death situation.  More often than not, whatever you are worrying about is just to do with life's minutia and is fixable, manageable and literally not worth losing sleep over.  If you can step back and realize this, you are golden.

These little tricks have helped me go from pacing our halls at night to getting a solid seven hours of restful sleep most nights of the week.  I'm by no means a deep sleeper yet; a dog barking three houses down can still wake me, and it still takes me a good half-hour to fall asleep every night, if not more.  However, learning all these things about sleep have been really helpful to me, and I'm eager to learn more.
What do you do to lull yourself off to dreamland?

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