Sleep: that elusive final frontier. Let’s talk about insomnia: what causes it, how to prevent it, and whether we can solve it or not. How can we make getting enough adequate sleep a priority? And there’s also the issue of how a sleepless spouse or child can affect you. And if your sleepless or restless dog should sleep with you or not.
Did you know that about 3 million Americans suffer from some amount of sleeplessness? Some may have trouble falling asleep, others perhaps have restless sleep that once awake, we cannot return to sleep easily. We stay up too late, cannot shut off our brains, glued to our electronic devices too late at night. For creatives, ideas can arrive at any time of the day or night but our “to do” list for the next day is not worth staying up for, is it? If it’s a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, write it down. Then return to sleep.
The key to finding more sleep is to establish a routine and to stick to it understanding that it will not work for every situation, especially if there is disruption (bad weather, travel, etc.). For me, here is my ideal routine: going to bed by 10:30-11pm at night, reading a boring book, unplugging from electronics early (this one is very challenging for me), spending time with our daughter and our dog with their wind-down routine. You see, we can’t just press the off or sleep button and fall asleep immediately except on our activity trackers. For parents, this earlier bedtime is a tough goal because we have all kinds of disruptions that affect that: fussy children and/or dogs, school science projects, dance and other activities that run later at night, and children who suddenly announce they are hungry and/or thirsty after they have already brushed their teeth and everyone else is in bed.
What causes sleeplessness? Some of us snore, disturbing our own sleep. Sometimes our spouses might snore, waking us up or keeping us awake. For us, sometimes even the dog stirring in our bed will awaken us or keep us from sleeping. For some reason, dogs like to snuggle and cuddle in their sleep with humans in winter to stay warm. If dogs didn’t do this, maybe they would hibernate like other animals through winter, right? My advice: don’t sleep with your dog unless you have to (because dogs kick and have restless legs during dreams) and same with your kids, let them sleep in their beds (with the dog;)
A few years ago, I tried to cut sleep out of the equation. I’m still a recovering insomniac. I didn’t think I needed it, decided it wasn’t a significant priority. It had a horrible effect on me: I was constantly tired, exhausted, cranky, lethargic, lacking energy and that caused me to eat the wrong kind of food, gain weight, and become more sedentary. I became concerned when my sleep patterns began to model my father’s fitful, restless, sleepless nights. Chronic insomnia extended for days and weeks. Sometimes it was night-time asthma waking me up. It affected my running performance and my health deteriorated to the point that I learned that I had high cholesterol. That was my wake-up call. I realized I wasn’t managing stress very well. Focusing on relaxing my breathing helps a lot.
So I took steps to improve my health, reduce stress by running more and improving my nutrition, and being more diligent about cutting back on no coffee after dinnertime (it keeps us awake). So I started drinking green tea.
Turmeric milk also helps. My version includes almond milk and turmeric sprinkled on top (you can stir it in if you like), warm for about a minute in the microwave.
If the turmeric milk doesn’t work, sometimes I will journal, write down what is bothering me or update my to-do list, read a really boring book, or speed read books at random. Sometimes I need time to figure out if a creative outburst is happening or if my brain is simply in overdrive and can’t find the pause/stop/sleep button. I have had some very creative thoughts in the middle of the night but few of them have been salvageable (only a handful).
What finally brought my sleep under control (mostly) was monitoring it with my vivofit 2 activity tracker (formerly I tracked sleep with a vivofit 1st generation tracker). Now I sync my device every day and I can look at how much deep and light sleep and awake time I had. Sometimes I can feel it’s out of kilter, sometimes I’m able to see the imbalance before I feel it. If it’s out of kilter, I can take steps to re-establish that strong sleepy routine instead of the workaholic insomniac routine. Prayer and meditation have helped me sleep better too. Sometimes I’ll just randomly sample some very relaxing music and sometimes that will put me to sleep right away or at least move my mind, body and spirit to the calm and serene scene.
Exercising more helps us sleep better. Also, make sure you get enough sunlight during the day, natural light keeps our body in balance for sleeping well. And try to make your room as dark as possible. Dim your alarm clock. All those blinking electronic lights, turn them away from the bed. Dim your phone lighting is a more sleepy setting. Bright artificial light from phones, ipads, and computers keep our brain going and make it hard to stop when it’s sleepytime.
Sometimes visualization helps, too. Love the Caribbean (the Bahamas in particular). If I can see/hear the Caribbean Sea in my head, I can fall asleep. Among my favorite musical selections to put me to sleep are: Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and Streams, a wonderful album by many contemporary Christian artists (some instrumental/some songs).
We all need sleep. If I could summarize the health formula I will be teaching people as a health coach it goes something like this: Lifestyle (including Sleep) + Exercise + Attitude + Nutrition equals success. We all need some R-E-S-T. Yes I know, it’s a four-letter word. But you can satisfy it with a beautiful 3-letter word: N-A-P. Yes, power naps are great for your health. Try to limit them to 45 minutes to an hour though. Otherwise, they become what we jokingly call at home the “nap with the option to sleep” (through the night). Make sure you get enough ZZZs. Chronic sleep deprivation causes all kinds of health problems.
If snoring is an issue, think about a Breathe Right strip over your nose, those help me a lot.
And if you have chronic sleep issues, consult a doctor. You need not be sleepless in Seattle, Lincoln, or wherever you are.
Here’s a brief Periscope today from katch talking about sleep and insomnia. Enjoy your sleep and R-E-S-T. Sleep through insomnia. It’s a positive affirmation. We can do it. The next time insomnia bothers you, tell it: Sorry, I’m sleeping through! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ