Running the Gauntlet to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

I actually wrote this blog post in my head a few weeks ago at 3 am when I should have been sleeping. I should have written it down, but instead I repeated it over and over again in hopes that I’d remember it, because I’m actually 5 blog posts behind in my queue, and that’s a personal record that has me stressed out beyond belief.

Yes, this is a self-imposed deadline, but not missing a post since I started this blog in December of 2012 puts a certain amount of self-imposed pressure on me, especially since I know that several people consider reading it a part of their routine. You’d think that when I switched a while back to only posting on even numbered days, rather than daily, it would have reduced the pressure by half, but no. Now my blogs seem to be longer and require more research than they once did. Again, that is self-imposed.

Since I knew that repeating posts in my head was part of the reason I could not sleep, this post is about the many things that can prevent me from sleeping. Most of them are thoughts. Some are noises.

My husband, and the vast majority of the men I know, won’t be able to relate to this at all. They can fall instantly to sleep and not wake up ‘til morning. I find this quite annoying, because they’ll say to me, “Why are you so tired? It sounds like we both went to bed at the same time.”

All I can do is tersely reply, “Well, we most definitely did not go to sleep at the same time.”

So here are the many challenges I have when it comes to getting a full night’s sleep.

  • My CPAP machine breaking its seal on my face and whistling loudly.
  • My CPAP machine breaking its seal on my face and blowing a jet of air that flutters my eyelashes.
  • My bladder.
  • Soreness in general.
  • My dogs, wanting breakfast at an ungodly hour, and therefore doing an impatient tap dance on the wooden floor.
  • The sun rising at freakin’ 5:11 in the morning and setting at 9:11 pm in the Seattle area around summer solstice.
  • The sun rising at freakin’ 7:57 in the morning and setting at 4:17 pm in the Seattle area around winter solstice.
  • My dog, snoring, and why I find it annoying sometimes and endearing other times.
  • Hearing a random, subtle sound coming from the other side of the house.
  • My dogs barking at the least sign of any sound.
  • Wondering if I remembered to lock all the doors.
  • How intensely I love my dogs.
  • My feet scratching on the sheets.
  • Funny things I forgot to tell Dear Husband.
  • Delightful conversations I had that day.
  • Negative conversations I had that week.
  • Young men with tiny little penises motorcycling or drag racing down our street at random hours.
  • Grown men with tiny little penises shooting guns or fireworks off in our neighborhood at random hours.
  • Things I’m looking forward to.
  • Things I’m dreading.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • The beeps of our computers or phones when one of us forgets to turn them off before bed.
  • Am I good at this marriage thing?
  • The things I do that I’m glad are not qualities that my Dear Husband possesses, and how lucky that makes me.
  • How much this blog post will upset DH, because he wants me to be able to be as positive, optimistic, and carefree as he is.
  • At what point did I lose all ability to keep things organized, and why is that?
  • What I need to do tomorrow.
  • Upcoming social obligations, and whether I’m dreading them or looking forward to them.
  • What I was supposed to do today but did not.
  • Health issues for myself and my loved ones.
  • The state of this country, and the state of the planet.
  • My next vacation, and how much of the world I still long to see.
  • Past vacations and how wonderful they were.
  • The many ways I feel I have fallen short.
  • The many ways people want me to change but I find myself incapable of doing so, despite my best efforts.
  • Did I remember to water the plants?  
  • Do I have my lunch ready for work tomorrow?
  • Which drawbridge will I be working on?
  • Which shift will I be working on?
  • Work BS.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • How lucky I am, generally.
  • Potato chips.
  • My imposter syndrome.
  • Do people think I’m weird?
  • Why do I seem so much weirder than most other people?
  • How can I convince people that I’m not weird?
  • Why do I care what anyone thinks?
  • My irritation that my eyesight is so poor that I can’t always reliably see what time it is without putting on my glasses.
  • My disappointment at not being able to read more books.
  • The many new and unsettling things I’ve learned about myself in the past few months.
  • How grateful I am that I can still learn new things.
  • Aging.
  • The future.
  • The past.
  • My understandable love of naps.
  • My bladder again, and whether I should hold it until the alarm goes off in an hour, or just admit I need to pee, get up and do it, and then return to bed and try to sleep for that last precious hour, knowing I won’t achieve REM sleep in that timeframe.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • Attempting to change positions as quietly as possible so as not to wake the dogs.
  • Cheese.
  • My desperate need to meditate before bedtime, which I never quite get around to doing.

Welcome to my brain.

After that, I usually remember to do a body part relaxation exercise, and I fall asleep for what little time I have left.

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll enjoy my book!


21 Sleep Tricks

I worked the graveyard shift for 13 years. I don’t recommend it. Your whole life begins to revolve around the desperate pursuit of sleep, and you turn into one of those people who curse your neighbors for mowing the lawn. It’s not a good look.

When I think about how I used to cry as a child when I was told it was bedtime, it makes me laugh. Now I’m more apt to cry when I can’t sleep. I’d rather sleep than just about anything else these days. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you feel great afterwards. There are very few things in life that you can say those things about.

That being said, I’ve picked up quite a few sleeping tricks over the years. Some of them involve taking supplements or the like. Please know that I’m not a doctor, and I strongly urge you to consult one before adopting any of these methods. Everyone’s physiology is slightly different, and as the saying goes, your results may vary.

So, in no particular order, here are 21 tricks to help you sleep.

Exercise. Often I can’t sleep because I’m full of nervous energy. But I have noticed that I always sleep better on days when I’ve exercised. Even if all you do is take a 20 minute walk, you’ll reap many benefits, including a better night’s sleep.

Yoga. I’ve discovered that a simple gentle yoga routine makes me sleep like a baby.

Raise your legs. I have a friend who swears by this. She says it has something to do with the fact that your blood is pooling in the area around your stomach. Worth a try.

Meditation. Quiet your mind and your body will soon follow. At least that’s been my experience.

Relaxing sounds. You can find all sorts of free recordings on Youtube that are 8 to 12 hours long, and designed specifically to help you relax and/or sleep. Here’s my favorite at the moment: Tibetan Healing Sounds #1.

Sex. This seems to work wonders for men in particular. (Ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) But as a woman, I’ve also found that I have a much easier time falling to sleep if I’m smiling and feeling loved. Something to think about.

Get a Chillow. Sometimes I can’t sleep because it’s just too darned hot. After hearing me grumbling about this, a friend recommended that I get a Chillow, and since I trust her implicitly, I did. And these things work wonders! If your head is cool, the rest of you feels cool as well. They also are great for people who suffer from hot flashes. My friend recommends the Mini-Chillow, and urges you to get the name brand, not the cheap knock-offs, because they last longer, and you don’t really need a large one.

Breathe through your left nostril. This is a yoga trick. If you lie on your left side and hold your right nostril closed, it is amazingly relaxing. You have to try it to believe it.

The 4-7-8 breathing trick. While researching this blog entry, I kept coming across this trick. It seems that a lot of people swear by it. It’s a little too complicated to go into here, but click on the link. I’m going to try this next time I have trouble sleeping. I’m all for a non-medicinal method!

First sleep, second sleep. I’m lucky enough to have a relatively flexible sleep schedule, so of all the methods I mention, this one works best for me. I also happen to find it fascinating. A few years ago I came across several articles such as this one. It seems that historians kept encountering mentions of first sleep and second sleep as recently as the 1700’s. They came to realize that cramming all your sleep into a single 8 hour period is an artificial construct that came about with electric lighting. Once we were able to illuminate more of the day, we started stuffing more activities into it, and giving ourselves ever-shortening windows of opportunity to sleep. Before that, people naturally slept for a period of time, say 4 to six hours, then got up when their bodies told them to, and talked or made love or did light activities for an hour or so. Then they went back to sleep for a couple hours. Ever since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt a lot more rested in the morning. It’s tragic that the lives most of us currently live do not allow for this adjustment.

Lavender. I don’t know what it is about this smell, but it knocks me out. You can get it in many forms. You can have it in a pillow, or shampoo your hair with it, use it as a lotion or a body spray… whatever works best for you.

Hot Bath. If I’m feeling agitated, a hot bath often calms me down. Sending the message to your body that you deserve pampering never hurts. And if you get some Epsom salts that are infused with lavender, well, that is like a one-two punch.

Warm Milk. Oddly, this has never worked well for me, but I know people who have had great success with it.

Audio Books. When I told a friend of mine that I was writing this blog entry, she told me a trick that she uses. She often can’t sleep because she can’t stop thinking, so recently she decided she needed to distract herself. She began listening to audio books at bedtime. She says it also works when she wakes in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Currently she recommends Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hihuelos.

Stare at a fixed point. Keep staring at it. Don’t let yourself look at anything else. This is a form of self-hypnosis. If you can do this for any length of time and NOT fall asleep, you are a robot.

Write stuff down. Often, I can’t sleep because my brain keeps going over things I’m upset about, or things I’m afraid I’ll forget. When that happens I’ve found that if I write those things down and then tell myself I’ll revisit them in the morning, I sort of give myself permission to “clock out” for the night.

Tryptophan. It’s not just in turkey, and not just for Thanksgiving. Your body requires it, and it’s found in a wide variety of food, including many nuts (and peanut butter), poultry, cheese, red meats, and on and on. And you can also get it in pill form, although I’ve never tried it.

Melatonin. You can get this in the vitamin section of your pharmacy. I use it as a last resort because while it does put me to sleep, it also gives me really strange dreams, and I wake up feeling kind of groggy.

Vitamin D. Now that I’m in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, my doctor discovered that I was not getting sufficient Vitamin D, so she had me start taking a supplement. She recommended that I take it at bedtime, though, because it can make you sleepy. I’m all for killing two birds with one stone.

Marijuana. Okay, first of all, I’m only recommending this in places where it’s legal. Second, it should only be done in moderation, because it can impact your life and your job prospects and your brain chemistry in unpredictable ways. Personally, pot practically sends me into a coma. But it also throws me into a deep dark depression, so it’s not something I want in my life. But if I could get to sleep no other way, I might resort to this now and again.

Yarrow Root. Again, I’ve never tried this, but I have a friend who swears by it.

So there you have it, the results of my years of pursuing the elusive Sandman. May you have sweet dreams and restful nights. And if you have any other tricks, please share them in the comment section!


I am Officially Doomed

After 12 years of working crazy shifts here on the drawbridge, often two or three different shifts in the space of a week, I’m now discovering that there is an official name for my constant state of mental fog, my messed up immune system, and my apparent inability to lose weight despite all efforts. It’s called Shift Work Sleep Disorder. Classified as Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder in the DSM-IV, I can now say that what’s going on with me can be taken seriously, for all the good that does me.

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Lack of sleep. (Well, duh…)
  • Increased stress.
  • Increased risk of infections, including colds and flu.
  • Increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.
  • Higher cholesterol.
  • Increased risk of heart attack.
  • Increased risk of obesity.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Reduced attention span.
  • Gastrointestinal and digestive problems.
  • Decreased production of Melatonin, causing decreased immunity, and increased production of tumors.

Some other fun facts about shift work are:

  • We are twice as likely to have a work related accident.
  • Sick leave is reported in 63 percent of shift workers as opposed to 34 percent of day workers.
  • 30 percent of us are single, compared to 20 percent of day workers.

All this due to a disruption in our circadian rhythms. I’d love to say “Now I don’t feel so bad,” but actually I feel just as bad. Now I just have a name for it.

There are some things you can do about it, but I’m just too tired to write more. So just check out the sources for this blog entry: