Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Insomnia, and how to stomp it like a bug

It is staggering (though sadly, not stupefying, which would solve the problem) how many people can't sleep when they want to.  Insomnia has many causes, and few preventative measures that aren't pharmaceutical, and even those are no good at 3am when the only alternative to sleep appears to be giving up, turning your light back on, and finding something constructive to do.

how to stop insomnia
This isn't just any retro reading lamp: skip to the end for the story!

And because I'm giving a lot of thought to this particular problem at the moment, today's topic is

How to stomp on Insomnia (even if you can't kill it.)

Avoiding having insomnia happen to you is the subject of maaaaany many websites and articles.  All I have to say about prevention is this:

Everybody goes to bed with good intentions toward sleep.  Sometimes also with a book. Make sure it's not a good book.

I speak with authority on this matter because the other night I stayed up till 5am reading a novel even though one of its Amazon reviewers said she stayed in her hotel one day on vacation so she could get to the end of it.  Seriously? when you've got a totally book-worthy flight coming up in a few days?  I can't believe I interpreted that remark as 'Oh, this one sounds good' and not 'Noooo! I literally will not be able to put it down!!'

(I will not tell you the name of the book.  It's too dangerous and anyway, it's already a bestseller so any publicity here is a drop in the bucket.  e-mail me if you really have to know.)

Now, here are some ideas for what to do when you can't sleep:

1. Get up and go to the bathroom.  This is old and ordinary advice, often extremely effective, and yet super easy to forget when you're exhausted.   Post it in glow-in-the-dark ink over your bedroom door where you can see it if you have insomnia a lot, just in case you forget too.

2. Get up and get something to eat.  (not something that will give you heartburn or anything though.)  You will be sad in the morning if you were trying to diet, but if it's a choice between a healthy weight and a healthy sleep, and it isn't happening every single night, go for the sleep.  Even if you don't eat something sleep-inducing, it's sometimes hard to get to sleep if you're hungry.

3. Smartphone rule: the greater the number of apps on your phone, the farther it should be from your bed.  Especially if one of the apps is for reading e-books and you have some Kryptonite best-selling hotel-staying-in novel on it.

4. Are you a knitter?  Don't count sheep, count stitches.  Dream up the softest yarn and the blandest  colour and imagine you are knitting row after row of plain stocking stitch.  Nothing can bore you to sleep faster.  Same tip applies for crochet, hand stitching, hand spinning, brushing out the dog's fur, you name it.

5. Try telling yourself a bedtime story.  Here are the rules: it must be long, it must be detailed, it must feature places and people you love (or would love, if they were real) and it must be peaceful.  For example, you are in a car knitting while somebody you like is driving you to a wonderful holiday destination.  You pass some trees that look like ducks and laugh about it.  You stop at a charming roadside cafe for the best snack ever - insert your snack of choice here - and take goofy pictures of each other at the table.  As you pull out on the road again, a beautiful vintage gleaming turquoise Cadillac passes you.  Imagine your conversation.  Imagine every bit of the landscape you pass.  Imagine all this is endlessly fascinating - HA - and you will be asleep loooong before you reach your vacation spot.

6. Too hot?  Open windows or turn on the air conditioner or splash cold water on the back of your neck.  Or, worst case, run your sheet under the cold water tap and wring it out, then sleep under that (I once lived in a second floor apartment under a 1920s tar roof with no a/c, so yes, I've tested this.)

7. Too cold?  Put on some socks and more blankets and maybe even a sweater and/or hat.

8. Too itchy?  Even though you are tired, get up and put some lotion on your skin, and/or bug bite cream.  Sometimes I think this is just a sugar pill kind of fix, but who cares if it works?

9. If you've got the next day's to-do list running through your head don't lie there trying to remember it all.  Sit up and write it down, telling yourself you are now free of every item till morning.  More will probably crop up as soon as you lie down again, but eventually the flow will stop and your brain will be empty and then... maybe you can sleep!

10. Just uncomfortable?  Getting desperate?  Think about getting up and changing to fresh sheets or at least a new pillowcase.  I am pretty sure there is no more effective means of fluffing a pillow than to squish it into a fresh new pillowcase, plus it's possible that the effort involved in changing the sheets will wear you out completely.

11. Breathe.  Listen to your breathing, breathe deeply, breathe slowly.  Imagine the breath flowing all the way out to your fingers and toes on the way in, and taking all your stress away with it on the way out.  After a while this gets about as dull as the story idea or imaginary knit stitches, so if the relaxation doesn't do the trick the boredom might.

12. Try white noise!  I sometimes resort successfully to the sounds of rain falling on running water, even though it eventually wakes me and sends me back up to #1 on this list.

None of this working?  Start at the top and work your way down again (though probably the potential in a second set of fresh sheets won't be as attractive as that of the first.)  And if you're still not asleep within one hour of the moment your alarm will go off, you can always get up and brew some coffee or tea and try to make a start on the day.  Clear away all the little problems and tasks now, so you can get to bed earlier tonight.

Okay, go have a good day and a great sleep tonight, and I'll see you tomorrow!

ps: that reading lamp?  an exact copy of the one I had hanging off my headboard when I was a kid.  It might even be the exact one, not even a copy, because I found it at a thrift store in a town very near where I grew up.  Got the same burn marks and everything.  And yes, I know I'm not supposed to be accumulating new things right before a renovation and move, but... could you have turned down the exact copy of your childhood reading lamp, when you've never seen another since?


Leslie said...

I start my list of gratitudes when I'm having trouble sleeping and it works like a charm. In minutes I'm no longer fighting sleep, I feel good about life and I'm out "like a light."

Mary Keenan said...

Now that is a great idea Leslie - thanks so much!!

Laurinda said...

There's an app called Twilight, & it casts a red shade over your phone (or tablet) You control when it comes on, & how strong the color is, but it neutralizes the blue on the screens that wake our brain up. So it helps you start feeling sleepy earlier, when we need it. I do most of your other suggestions- they're great!

Mary Keenan said...

ohhh Laurinda - I will go get that app immediately! What a great solution for bedtime e-reading. thanks!!