Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to sleep.

Every spring and fall I stop sleeping.

I mean, obviously I do get some sleep or else I wouldn’t be able to function, but I go from my near-princess-like levels of nine to 10 hours a night down to a scant three or four, and that’s if I’m lucky. And those three or four are interrupted at near-hourly intervals.

It partially has something to do with the change in season, it partially has to do with my medication (and all the related fun nausea and mood swings that come out of that), and it partially has to do with stress. Regardless of where it comes from, it sucks and it’s pretty much the worst.

This year, I decided to fight back. I started taking Gravol before bed, hoping its effects would knock me out. No such luck. Then I graduated to SleepEze-D, which knocked me out, yes, but left me feeling exhausted the next day, not to mention kind of stupid and off-kilter. I suspect as well that it may have had some sort of interference with my brain drugs.

Finally, at both my mother and partner’s insistence, I tried melatonin.

Melatonin is a revelation. Your body produces it naturally to help with your circadian rhythms (read more about how it works here), but for those of us who have trouble sleeping it is luckily also available at the pharmacy.

I chose the melatonin in strip form, which actually comes sealed in a light-proof pouch similar to photographic paper. At night, I turn out the lights, fumble in the drawer for the strips (which are in a container not unlike minty breath strips), and pop one. The Jamieson ones say they are “chocolate mint”, but I think that might be code for “minty chemicals”.

I take one of those, and ten minutes later I am lulled off to la-la land, and I sleep through the night.

Another thing that helped was when I stopped using my bedroom for non-bedroom activities. I used to watch movies, work on my computer, read, sew and craft from bed. Since I cut all those out, I now associate my bed with sleeping, so when I get into it my body is ready.

I asked for some input from friends across the internet on how they deal with not getting enough sleep. Susan Murphy of Jester Creative (@suzemuse), in addition to recommending melatonin, says she reads when she falls asleep. When I asked her what she reads (because I have a problem with getting too engaged in books and then not being able to put them down), she says she reads blog posts. This may not be for everyone, as the light from a computer screen may be stimulating, but I think when I next have trouble sleeping I will be trying this out! I can see how because they are short little bites they make it easier to put down.

Sheila (@beaty_boop) recommends warm milk or tea with some honey in it. Additionally, she says when she can’t sleep she’ll try some brief, intense exercise before her warm beverage (push-ups to exhaustion, for example). Personally, this isn’t something that works so well for me, the raising of my heart rate makes it harder for me to drift off.

Sheila also recommends establishing regular sleeping and waking patterns over the course of the week to fool/train your body, depending on how you look at it.

My friend Geneviève tells me that she no longer has trouble sleeping–if anything, she has trouble not sleeping. She started going to the gym regularly last November, and every day that she does she passes out at 9:00PM and wakes up the next day feeling absolutely terrific.

So there you have it. Some ways to get some sleep. Have any thoughts of your own? Leave them in the comments!



  1. If it doesn't sound crazy, concentrating on one's own breathing is a somewhat effective CBT method for me.

  2. http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2010/01/fourteen-tips-for-getting-more-sleep-and-why-it-matters.html

    I found some of these tips helpful. I also sometimes take Calms Forte, available at many health food stores.