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.
- A visit with a sleep specialist, a therapist who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for Insomnia– CBT-I
- The book Goodnight Mind: Turn Off Your Noisy Thoughts and Get a Good Night’s Sleep by Colleen Carney & Rachel Manber.
- Keeping a nightly sleep log
- Consistent bedtimes and wake-up times
- Writing down my worry list
- Meditative breathing
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.