Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Lullaby schmullaby.

I think about sleep, the nature of sleep, and how it affects us a lot. I've always been incredibly envious of people who fall asleep as easily as turning off a light, and can pretty much settle down for a nap in any old place, like my cousin Tom can. Give him 60 seconds and a relatively comfortable spot, and out he goes. As I write this, I'm waiting for my electric blanket to heat up so I can crawl into bed and settle in for the night. But I know, there will be a good amount of trying to calm down my brain and thinking of peaceful quiet places in the hopes that it will help me drift off.

Whether it's being constantly awoken by a baby or toddler that needs you, or simply being a "troubled sleeper" like myself, when a good nights sleep constantly eludes you, you can find yourself going a little cuckoo. I've had sleep issues since I was pretty young. Georgia and I shared a room when we were kids, and I'm sure she can pay testament to the fact that once put to bed, I rarely stayed there. I probably drove her crazy, getting up over and over again, but even as a kid I knew that it was ridiculous to try to sleep when you simply can't. In the ensuing two decades of trying to figure out this whole sleep thing, I've come to a few conclusions that I thought I would share with you. 

1. If it's taking you more than half an hour to get to sleep, stop trying. Seriously.

A lot of articles I have read say if it takes more that fifteen minutes get up and stop trying to force it, but I feel like half an hour is a bit more reasonable. We're busy people, constantly connected. It takes a while to switch off. If it's just not happening for me, I get back back up and try to do mindless things that aren't too stimulating, like folding laundry or reorganising my sock drawer. Reading a boring book can sometimes help, and if you find that you aren't too affected by computer screens, then the old Freecell or solitaire can be a winner. At the moment, I'm all about mahjong. I know it's not how you really play mahjong, but good lord is it mind numbing.

The point is, there is no point lying in bed stressing about how much sleep that you're not getting and how tired you'll be the next day. Being tired sucks, but it's not the end of the world. You'll be okay. Whatever you do, don't lie there staring at the ticking clock! And if all else fails, go to the couch and turn on that channel that plays infomercials 24/7.

2. Pay attention to how your body deals with caffeine.

Until earlier this year, I had no idea how wildly different our responses to caffeine can be. Some people can have a coffee right before going to bed, and sleep perfectly well. Others, like myself, have to ration their cups of tea strictly - I avoid any caffeine after midday. Seriously. It puts me into that "I'm exhausted but can't close my eyes" nightmare state, that is truly, truly frustrating. I know this is a big deal - a lot of us a very attached to our caffeinated beverages. I'm not saying give them up, but if you're having trouble sleeping, it could be worth reassessing. 

After midday, I am my very own tea nazi...no tea for me!!

3. No televisions or computers in the bedroom. I mean it y'all. 

This is a tough one, right? I know it contradicts what I said in point one a little, but as a general habit, keep the screens away from the bedroom. The light from these screens supresses melatonin production, which is the hormone that naturally regulates our sleep cycles. Ideally, our brains secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make us sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and so we can stay awake and alert. You don't want to mess with that. It's one of the reasons I've started to become a big fan of podcasts. My all time favourite is from NPR, and is called "This American Life." I seriously recommend it, it's incredibly interesting. So actually, I should probably start seeking out podcasts that are a little duller...

4. White noise.

I have an app on my iPhone that makes rain noises. It's brilliant. You can choose the kind of rain you would like to listen to, and there are a plethora of options. My personal favourite is "medium and steady with puddles" but you might prefer "gentle against windows with wind" or "heavy torrential downpour." Or you could just turn the radio to static, or maybe get one of those wave machines. Whatever works for you. The idea, is to block out noises from the street or your neighbours, that can disturb your sleep. I think it's brilliant. Plus, if you are travelling, it helps you feel more at home.

There are other things that might work for you that I've tried, but for some reason never really did it for me. Sleep teas and meditation recordings are both options that work like a charm for others, but left me wide awake, with a chattering mind. 

I hope this helps! Sweet dreams. Y'all.

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