Dreamy Sleep

Insomnia. My friends lament the 3:00 am hour, we joke we should just call and chat, we are bound to be awake. I even stitched lavender-filled eye pillows and gave them as gifts. I thought adhering to a consistent schedule and promoting good habits, i.e. “sleep hygiene” would solve the problem. And on the nights I prowl the dark house in search of warm milk, chamomile tea and restful meditative reading, I found Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep & Dreams by Matthew Walker, a scientist and professor of neuroscience at Berkeley for a little help. I wanted to know what he had to say about how to get a good night’s sleep and why as hard as I tried, I still wasn’t getting my Zzzz’s.

“Why has sleep become so difficult?

Our sleep deficit has many causes: Our busy, noisy world, blue light from screens that keep our brains alert, stress and anxiety, aging, on and on. Walker, the scientist makes strong the case for the importance of good quality and sufficient sleep to promote health, fight disease and protect the brain from memory loss. Walker offers tips for better sleep that don’t always sync with the reality of our lives and habits. Caffeine, alcohol, bright light, noise and a schedule that undervalues sleep in favor of the “to do list” all contribute to our sleep deficit. And as anyone who has tried to keep these rules know that it won’t mean we will get a good night’s sleep. Walker’s evidence for its merits contribute to my anxiety over stretches of poor sleep.

I have had periods when my busy mind can be quieted, and does not come alive at 3:00 am on cue. I owe these more restful nights to a few things.

The hard part is to keep it in perspective. Perhaps we need to accept the fact that there will be nights that sleep is difficult, and we won’t get our quota. We might be a little foggy the next day, but it isn’t a catastrophe! Giving into a nap won’t help, it just inhibits our sleep drive, making it harder for the next night. You might make your room cooler and darker, get soft sheets and earplugs. Cut down on caffeine, spritz your pillow with lavender, or get the app; calm.com or try headspace:guided meditation and mindfulness. And take comfort in knowing you are not alone, someone you know is tossing and turning and counting sheep out there along with you.

4 thoughts on “Dreamy Sleep

  1. Debra, I have found these books to be very helpful for the issue of sleep and insomnia: “The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night” by Guy Meadows and also “The Effortless Sleep Companion” by Sasha Stephens. I started to read “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, the book you mentioned, but had to stop reading it quite quickly because it increased the pressure for getting good sleep, which for me, I knew would backfire. The books I mentioned above take a much different approach. Also there’s a chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark” about sleep that I found helpful as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for these ideas and references. I will check it out! I felt the same way about Matthew Walker’s book. The stakes are too high! And those thoughts are not helpful in promoting rest.


  2. You offer an important reminder, namely, we aren’t alone in that small hour (or two or three) when we are wide awake and either staring at the ceiling or roaming our house. I like the idea of a sisterhood sharing my experience. I thought waking at 3 a.m. was my new normal until the weather turned cold and I began burrowing under covers. My sleep pattern has dramatically improved. That’s one good thing, for me at least, about winter.


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