Finding the sweet spot for sleep

I don’t know about you, but sleep, and lack of it, has always pissed me off.

When I was a kid, I hated bedtime. I was never tired. I would stay up reading for hours. Sometimes I would hide 20130828_171154under my covers with a flashlight and read until 3am. I just wasn’t sleep.

As an adult with all sorts of health issues, that’s just one of my sleep problems now. Sometimes I’m not sleepy at bedtime. Sometimes I fall asleep without a problem, then wake up complete at 3am. Sometimes I sleep for 10 hours and wake up feeling as if I hadn’t sleep much at all. I almost never wake up in the morning feeling rested. Still, I’ve recently had some success in the sleep department. It both surprises and excites me, so I’m hoping to continue it. Sometimes I’m sleepy at bedtime. I’m not waking up as much during the night. I wake up feeling tired, but that goes away with an hour or two. So I’m not there yet, but I’m enjoying the progress I’ve made so far.

Here is what works for me (in no particular order):

  • The room must be cool, bordering on cold. I use an air conditioner through most of the summer, fans are on all year round, and sometimes I open a window even in the dead of winter (and remember, I live in Boston, so our winters aren’t warm.)
  • I keep the room fairly dark. Of course, the shades need to be open if the windows are (so I can get fresh air, and also so they don’t make noise while being blown around.) For the light that gets in, I cover my eyes. Wearing a sleep mask helps a lot.
  • White noise is a must. When the air conditioner is on, that’s plenty of noise. In the fall, winter, and spring I use an app on my phone. This has made a huge difference for me. It helps to block out the city noises outside my window. Sure, I still hear the garbage truck in the morning, but the screeching of brakes and drunken yells during the night from the sidewalk don’t bother me anymore.
  • I have a bedtime routine. Getting undressed, brushing teeth, etc. all happen in a certain order. This cues my body that it’s almost time for sleep.
  • I wear as little to bed as possible. Most nights I just wear underwear (if that.) I find that clothes make me too warm. They also get tangled when I roll around in my sleep, and that wakes me up. If I must wear clothes, I make sure they’re as comfortable as possible.
  • My bed is really comfy. I have a great mattress and spring board, soft sheets, and blankets that are the right amount of warmth for each season. I spend more than 1/3 of my days in that bed, so I want it to be fantastic.
  • I read before bed every night. Some nights I read a lot, other nights I fall asleep after a paragraph, but I always read. I’ve found that if I don’t read, my mind wanders to things I did, things I need to do, people I need to talk to, problems I have to deal with, etc. Sound familiar? Reading is a great distraction, but it has to be the right reading. Personally, I can’t read books about health stuff before bed because I get upset or my mind starts churning. For me, light novels are the best bedtime reading material.
  • I moved around my supplements. I now take my zinc and magnesium in the evenings and at night. I heard about this from other patients and I think it has helped.
  • I avoid screens before bed. No tv, no computer, no cell phone. They say to avoid these for at least an hour before. I’ve found tv is ok until near bedtime, but I need to avoid the computer for at least an hour beforehand. This isn’t just because of the effects from the light of the screen (though that too) but because I get sucked into interesting articles, feel tempted to read just a few more Facebook status updates, want to answer some emails, and too much time goes by and I stay up too late. Plus, the things I do online tend to get my mind churning and sometimes my bedtime reading isn’t enough to stop it. I’ve found that tv is ok, and books are best in that final hour.
  • I went to a sleep clinic and met with a great doctor there. He suggest I take low doses of melatonin to help me get sleepy at night and to use a blue light in the morning to help me wake up. These have worked really well, though I’ve found that if I take melatonin too often then I’m drowsy the next day. Still, it’s a huge improvement.
  • Food and water make a huge difference. Thanks to a strong bladder, I never wake up during the night to pee. I drink a lot right before bed so I’m not thirsty during the night. I also mentally check in on my stomach a couple hours before bedtime. If I’m not entirely full, I have a snack. That way, hunger won’t wake me up, either.
  • I don’t eat close to bedtime. That definitely messes up my sleep.
  • An exception to the last one: I take a couple sips of orange juice before bed. This is new. I read that if you have adrenal fatigue (which I do) and you wake up around 3-4 am (which I often did) then you could be dealing with a drop in glucose levels. OJ helps with this. So far it’s working. I’ll have to see how that goes.
  • I set my phone to not show any blinking lights at night for text messages, phone calls, etc. That way if for some reason I do wake up and take off my sleep mask, I won’t be tempted to check my phone. I keep it near the bed for the white noise app and so I can check it when I wake up, but I don’t want to check it during my sleep times and this helps.
  • I have a clear rule for all friends and family: no phone calls or texts before 9am unless it’s a true emergency. If I’m really in dire need of extra sleep then I shut off all phone sounds. Otherwise, I leave it on knowing that if I get a call before 9am, it’s probably either an emergency or a doctor’s office/lawyer’s office/insurance call, and I want to get those at any hour.
  • When I’m mentally stuck on going to bed, I remind myself of everything I did that day. That way I remember just how many hours I’ve been awake, and going to sleep doesn’t seem so bad. I also remind myself of everything I want to do still that night, and how much easier and more fun it will be to do those things after I get some sleep.
  • I go to bed around the same time every night. I wake up around the same time every morning. That really helps!
  • I’m treating my adrenal fatigue, which is getting my energy levels where they should be. I’m not there yet, but I’ve definitely improved. This means that I’m getting sleepy at night more easily and also that I’m sleeping better during the night.
  • When the pain is sort of bad, I read as a distraction. When it’s really bad, I watch one of my favorite old movies. If the pain subsides enough after meds kick in, I’ll fall asleep in front of the movie. I’ve seen it enough times that I don’t mind. After an hour or two I’ll wake up and go to my bed (the tv is in the living room.) If the pain is completely unbearable, I don’t try to sleep. Some nights it just won’t happen, or at least not much, and that’s ok. I don’t feel bad about it. I just try to get back on track the next night.

You probably noticed that some of the things that work for me are pretty standard in any sleep advice lists, such as having a sleep schedule and avoiding computers before bed. Here are a few more I’ve read about that might be helpful if you’re having sleep issues. Of course, I’m not a medical professional, so definitely get advice from a professional if your sleep is a real problem.

  • Write a list of positive things that happened to you that day. This is good for clearing your mind and also as part of a bedtime routine.
  • Meditate.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine for several hours (at least) before bed.
  • Avoid naps during the day as much as possible.
  • Exercise every day if you can.
  • Time your exercise so that it works for you. This usually means avoiding exercise for a couple of hours before you want to go to sleep.
  • Consider who you’re sleeping with and what changes you might need to make. Ask a partner to avoid watching tv in the bedroom, insist your pets sleep someplace else, etc.

We all know that sleep is important for our bodies to heal properly, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to achieve. This is a really tough area for many of us. In fact, this post was inspired by the Twitter conversation by WegoHealth yesterday (#hachat) Check it out to see what others are saying.

So tell me, what works for you?

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3 Responses to Finding the sweet spot for sleep

  1. Jess says:

    Sleep is actually SO HARD for me to achieve. I need it, but I’ve got two kids – one of which sucks at sleeping.

    I’m always so exhausted that after my bathroom routine, I just pass out in bed. I don’t feel like I’m getting enough GOOD sleep because I’m not. Especially not right now. Usually my husband handles at least one or two of the night wake ups, but he’s still recovering from having a dump truck axel crush his pelvis.

    (Also, this is unrelated but I figured I’d give it a try anyway, since you’d probably understand lol!

    I just pitched to The Huffington Post to write about parenting with a chronic pain disorder. I think they’d take me more seriously if I had an “army” of chronic pain sufferers supporting me! If you could like my blog and Facebook page (http://facebook.com/thefeveredpen) and share, I’d be entirely grateful. It’d be an honour to write for The Huffington Post!!)

    • chronicrants says:

      Good luck in your HP endeavours! I’m not on Facebook, but I hope you get the gig because I think it’s an issue that’s not addressed enough. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to take care of kids in addition to yourself when you’re in pain, and sleep must feel really elusive. I hope you can find a way to get it that works well for your family. Good luck!

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