If there is one thing I would credit more than anything else with my recent transformation I would say it was sleep. Yep, fixing my insomnia was key. That may not be the key that you were hoping for, but you know me – I have to say it like it is. I say sleep was the key because I have learned recently that it doesn’t matter what else you are doing right, if you are not getting enough good quality sleep then nothing else works nearly as well as it could. Sleeping well and for long enough on a consistent basis allows everything else to work better and faster. A lot better and faster. So get some sleep.
Oh. Wait. Sleep is not always as easy as that, is it? By a long shot. I don’t think I have ever been more frustrated by anything, ever, as lying in bed, night after night, completely exhausted but completely unable to sleep. Some nights I would lie there in the dark, Mr. McHenry draped over one leg, Daisy curled up by my side, and cry – tears rolling down the sides of my face in utter despair – until after 3, or 4, or 5 hours I would finally nod off for 45 minutes, just about the time the alarm shrilled me into consciousness again. Sometimes I would get up and go camp on the brown leather couch in the den, Mr. McHenry in tow, like changing the décor would somehow lull my body into sleep mode. So yes, I understand how difficult it can be and if you are in that spiral of misery my heart goes out to you.
I was going to write a long, wieldy, and wildly informative post about every nuance of sleep that I could. But then I found this post and realized that I could never hope to write a piece as staggeringly comprehensive, so if you’re suffering in the sleep department I strongly recommend that you read this first and then come back and see what specific actions I took that solved my sleep dilemma. Even if you think you sleep pretty well and feel pretty good when you get up I encourage you to read this article. You may discover you are not doing as well as you thought you were, and it would be really sad if the efforts you are making in other areas of life were not getting the results you’re after and it turned out that tweaking your sleep was all that was required to super-charge everything else.
Did you read the article yet? It’s OK, I’m happy to wait while you do. Goodness knows you’re worth waiting for. In the meantime, here’s a picture of some milk churns I found in California the other week in a delightful town whose name completely escapes me.
Here’s the steps I took in my campaign to regain my sleep sanity:
- I turned off the heating in the bedroom at night. We sleep better when our brain and body temperatures are lower.
- I gave up my love for a big, fat, down duvet (comforter) and starting sleeping with just two micro-fleece blankets. I immediately stopped waking up drenched in sweat. It didn’t take me long to stop missing the duvet.
- I stopped drinking any caffeine after noon. In fact, I switched to decaf coffee and green tea in the mornings too until I got my sleep down.
- I stopped drinking any liquids after 6 pm so needing to pee didn’t wake me up.
- I started going to bed at the same time every single night. No staying up late at weekends. No waiting until I was tired. I set a schedule and stuck to it.
- I set my alarm for the same time every day – regardless of the day of the week. Our brains and bodies – not to mention our circadian rhythms – love routine.
- I started a “going to bed” routine an hour before bedtime – feeding and putting the ‘kids’ to bed, closing all the blinds, locking all the doors, showering, reading, you get the drift – that reinforces to my brain and body that I am winding down for sleep time.
- I stopped getting any ‘blue light’ at least 2 hours before bed time, where blue light = TV (that was easy, I don’t have one), computer, tablet, smartphone, LED and fluorescent lights. ‘Blue light’ suppresses the production of melatonin, something we produce that makes us sleepy at night. The upside is I now have a red light bulb in my bedroom which I think is a total hoot for a single girl who lives with 6 cats. NOTE: If you must use a computer close to bedtime then download this handy little app: http://justgetflux.com/. It changes the light from your computer screen to less ‘blue’.
- I closed all the windows in my bedroom to stop any noise from outside. This was hard for me because I love to have a roomful of fresh air, but sleep was more important.
- I closed all the blinds so there was no stray light in my bedroom. I like waking up to sunlight pouring in through the windows, but sleep was more important.
- I started taking a melatonin supplement an hour before bed to help my brain know it was time to sleep.
- I worked really hard on reducing the stressors in my life (that post will be up soon!) so that my brain wasn’t kept awake worrying about or obsessing over stuff.
All of these things helped. I was getting a lot more total sleep, but I was still waking up every 2 hours and sometimes found it really hard – if not impossible – to get back to sleep again. You might find that one or a combination of these tricks is all that you need.
- For me, once I had done all these things and was still a ways from getting an uninterrupted 8 hours a night, I bit the bullet and called in The Cavalry. I hate taking medication that I don’t *really* need, but in this instance, getting back in the sleep game was the most important thing in my life that I could do, so ego be damned, I headed to the Dr. and got some Trazodone, which is actually a non-addictive sedating anti-depressant, but these days it is most widely used for treating insomnia, especially in women. Obviously, Trazodone might not be right for you, so you will need to be guided by your Dr. if you need to go down Medication Avenue until you get your sleep back on track.
I am now getting 8 – 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights.
IT HAS COMPLETELY CHANGED MY LIFE. It made all the other things I needed to work on possible.
Now go get some sleep.