Stress and sleep
Stress messes with my sleep, and the last few years I’ve had a lot of stress. (But then, who hasn’t?) So after months of broken, restless sleep, followed by stupor-filled days, I finally consulted a sleep specialist. It was money well spent. Within a week I was getting more rest. This was a big step in learning to take better care of myself.
The doctor quickly ruled out sleep apnea and the need for a C-Pap machine. Blood tests revealed that I had low levels of vitamin D, so I got a prescription for mega-doses of it which I took for a couple months. He suggested using a light therapy box during the day because they help regulate sleep cycles (as well as combating seasonal affective disorder). I found mine online for about $70.
Improving my sleep habits
The doctor told me that in order to improve my sleep, I needed to improve my sleep habits. During the day, he suggested I make these changes:
- Avoid caffeine after noon.
- Get regular exercise, but not too late in the day, because it can cause a boost of energy just when it’s time to wind down.
- Avoid naps, no matter how sleepy I am, because they upset sleep patterns.
In the evening he suggested the following:
- Put away or turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime (TV, cell phone, tablet, computer, all of them!) because they emit blue light, which revs up our brains.
- Use a neti pot or other type of sinus irrigation to ease breathing (but not right before bedtime because it causes the sinuses to drain).
- Take 3 mg of melatonin right before bed to induce drowsiness.
In my quest for for restful slumber I’ve picked up a few more tips. I use earplugs, especially when I’m traveling, to block out noise. A sleep mask prevents me from peeking at the clock and is also helpful when traveling. The scent of lavender calms me down, so I keep a sachet under my pillow when I’ve had an especially tense day. And I’ve found that listening to ambient sounds like ocean waves or summer crickets helps me unwind. You can find audio files or CDs of these sounds online or at your library.
Resources on improving sleep
The doctor also referred me to the website for the National Sleep Foundation, which offers lots of information and resources for improving your sleep without pushing for prescription medications.
The website for Harvard Medical School offers 12 suggestions for improving your sleep naturally. There’s also helpful information on the website for The University of Maryland Medical Center.
So how easy was it to improve my sleep habits? Well…Let’s just say that some changes were easier than others. Renouncing all electronics an hour before bedtime was hard. As I’m getting ready for bed I’m always thinking of something I want to do online, like checking tomorrow’s weather or looking at Facebook “just one last time.” And once I’m in front of that screen, I lose track of time (and common sense) and before I know it I’m too wired to sleep.
Giving up napping on the weekends was hard, especially on days that were rainy or especially cold. Cutting back on coffee in the afternoons was hard, because I was often sleepy before my new routine got established. Nowadays I’ll indulge in an afternoon mocha, but I try to be mindful about it. If I’m anxious about something, or if I’ve already had a lot of coffee, I’ll have something decaffeinated instead.
I’ve learned that meditating earlier in the day improves my sleep. It took me a while to get used to the change in my dreams, which became much more vivid. At first their intensity kind of freaked me out, but now I’m able to view them as little movies in my head. And sometimes I find that they offer me insights and solutions to problems that hadn’t occurred to me when I was awake.
I still have the occasional bad night, as everyone does. But I’ve made real progress in making sure I get a good night’s sleep. How about you? Do you have any tips to share on getting a good night’s sleep?