To Dream, To Sleep

I can’t sleep.

Frequent blog readers and anyone who knows me in real life knows this. It takes me forever to get to sleep, and once I do, I often wake up several hours before my alarm (and usually can’t fall back to sleep). I don’t take prescription medications for it, because I don’t want to. I thought I’d tried everything, but today I decided to branch out, to experiment.

One problem: I enjoy the late-night hours. I hate going to bed early. I actually wake up well, considering I’m not a morning person, but I’d rather stay up late. I’m always afraid I’ll “miss” something if I go to bed. But by now, I’m desperate enough to change my habits.

Maybe not that much…

Since for everything there is a Cracked article, I found out that waking up in the middle of the night is actually quite natural. Until the invention of artificial light, humans went to bed when it got dark (duh). But that does not mean that on long winter nights they slept for 12 hours. They usually slept in shifts, naturally waking up for an hour or two, and then going back to sleep for another few hours. Now, in the age of artificial light (not just lightbulbs but TV screens, computer screens, and digital clocks), most people are now used to staying up later than the sun and then sleeping 7+ hours straight through. Some people, however, have brains that still don’t work like that, especially in the winter with longer-lasting darkness, even if they’ve already been up until midnight. Yup, that’s me, apparently—woohoo! (Actually, as I blogged previously, last January was also a nightmare—pun unintended—for sleeping for me.)

So, basically, my “problem” of waking up at 3/4/5am is normal, and I’m not going to worry about that so much.

What I’m going to focus on is why 1.) it takes me forever to get to sleep in the first place, and 2.) why I can’t go back to sleep once I’ve awoken, even at 4am. Usually it’s some combination of I can’t get comfortable/I’m not sleepy/my mind is overactive.

According to James Altucher, “Insomnia 101” involves: “No screen time in the two hours before you go to sleep, no alcohol, no heavy meals, no exercise, no sugar, no coffee at least 10 hours before you go to sleep. Soft voices.”

I will be trying to adhere to that from now on, perhaps starting at 7pm (ugh). I’ll try to limit sugars and caffeine and alcohol throughout the day. Closer to bedtime, I’ll also limit liquids in general, heavier foods, loud and/or upbeat music, and overly stimulating movies/shows, and practice an earlier cutoff time for using the computer in the evening. (I watched four intense episodes of Doctor Who yesterday and that might have been a mistake.)

And what do I do when I wake up too soon? Well, I have a plan for that, as well.

I have transformed my nightstand—formerly full of random odds and ends and stacked with whatever books I’ve read in the last two months—into a mini sleep-spa.

Now, If I feel productive when I wake up, I have notebooks, journals, and pens on hand. Along with a flashlight and a book light, in addition to my usual (but very bright) lamp. I also have an old devotional and my Bible and the notebook I use in church if I’m feeling productive and pious.

If I’m hungry or thirsty, instead of trekking to the kitchen, I can just reach over and grab the bottle of water, or the little container of trail mix, I will have on hand in the drawer (where I’ll also be keeping my bottles of melatonin and tryptophan for easier bedtime access).

Today I also bought a big lavender-scented candle to make my room smell more relaxing. This candle will pull double-duty, because when I wake up in the wee hours, I’m going to try to read/write by candlelight, in the hopes that the more natural light will encourage more natural sleep.

And I will keep my iPod charged and on hand if I just want to listen to soothing music.

Joy suggested a humidifier, since my apartment is very dry, but I don’t think that has much of an effect. I told her I’d consider it, though, if the other factors prove ineffective.

Her response: “If the other factors prove ineffective, I’m going to…I don’t even know.  Buy you a crucifix and say nightly prayers against the torments of sleep-precluding demons, or something.”

So we’ll see if this works. I will post updates if it does (and probably if it doesn’t).

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