It all started when I was about 19 years old, and outgrew the teenaged ability to sleep and wake without much consideration for the body’s actual needs. Since then, I’ve rarely been successful at sleeping through the night.
I’m sure most of this is because of my type-A personality, and tendency toward anxiety. While I’ve done the lion’s share of the personal work needed to be, for all intents and purposes, a mentally healthy individual, the one thing that never quite stuck for very long was the ability to sleep for more than 5 or 6 hours without waking up worrying about something.
Has the dog been fed?
Did I blow out that candle?
Did I email that client?
What will my contingency plan be if the car breaks down again?
Did I lose an earring at some point?
Where is my cell phone charger?
Even if I can answer those questions, I’ll sometimes doubt the rational (and correct) answer my brain has pulled out, in favour of worrying enough that I’ll finally have to get out of bed to check on that thing I’m worrying about, just to ease my mind.
At my worst, I used to have an answering machine (instead of adopting voicemail like the rest of the 20th century) because I liked being able to call it when I thought my house had been burnt down or burglarized (rationale: if my apartment had burnt, the answering machine would be broken, or if I’d been burglarized, it would’ve been stolen and therefore wouldn’t pick up when I called it). And believe me, nothing feels like Crazy quite like getting out of a boyfriend’s bed at 3:00am and taking his keys to drive across town, because I couldn’t be convinced that I’d blown out a candle at home, and calling the answering machine wasn’t providing enough peace of mind.
I no longer do those things, but my brain is still very good at pulling something out of the grey matter and dredging it up for me to obsess about during the wee hours. I’m currently stuck in a cycle of “Sleep for 3 hours, wake up and worry for 2 hours, sleep for another hour until I have to get up and face the day again.” The prolonged lack of sleep is making me very cranky and unproductive.
So off I trundled to my neighbourhood clinic for some medical intervention. The doctor was wonderful and helpful, and presented my options :
1. Regular sleep-aids, which will leave me with a regular sleeping pill hangover and are habit-forming.
2. A revolutionary sleep-aid that would have me sleeping through the night, waking refreshed and alert, and gaining approximately 2 kilograms (about 4.5lbs) per WEEK.
3. Sleep Hygiene. Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner!
Sleep Hygiene doesn’t have anything to do with showering before bed, instead it’s a systematic way of approaching bed and sleep in order to train my body to know that the bed is for “sleep and sex and nothing else.”
(Aside: why is it that whenever I go to the clinic, and something about my sex life comes up – whether I went in to discuss a pap smear, STD check up, contraception issues, or even this sleep thing (which included talking about sex, at least a little) – I get the hotty doctor, around whom I lose my words and act like a slack-jawed yokel? And when I go in for something like muscle pain or a flu shot, I get the four-million year old doctor that smells like mothballs? The universe is cruel.)
So I now have a set of rules governing my relationship with my bed:
1. I must adhere to a strict sleep/wake time schedule – EVEN ON WEEKENDS! This means that since I need to get up at 6:30am from Monday to Friday, I get to do the same thing on Saturdays and Sundays. I am also officially no fun at parties, because I’m supposed to go to bed at 10:30pm.
2. Bed is for sleeping or sex only. No TV. No Eating. No Reading. No Worrying. No “hanging out on top of the mattress” for reasons other than the two mentioned. This completely obliterates my and Neil’s rituals of watching TV or reading in bed before sleep, and having coffee (and sometimes breakfast) in bed while watching the morning news on TV. Also, Neil similarly injured his coccyx in a snowboarding mishap of his own last weekend, and sometimes laying down is the only comfortable thing for us to do. And the couch is only big enough for one of us.
3. The bedroom should be dark, and no looking at the clock when waking up in the middle of the night. I must cover the LCD display of my clock radio before going to sleep so that I can’t see that it’s 4:00am when I wake up in a fit of anxiety and further freak out about that. This has already screwed me over once: the alarm didn’t go off, and I laid in bed (in the dark room, of course) for a good 20 minutes trying to get back to sleep before getting up and seeing that HOLY SHIT I’M REALLY LATE.
Of course, there have been a few good bits:
If I can’t sleep, I’m supposed to try my best to get back to sleep – and if I can’t, I must get up and go somewhere else in the house and do something quiet – read or watch TV – until I feel sleepy and go back to bed. Usually the knowledge that getting up involves putting on sweats and finding a blanket (it’s pretty cold in our apartment at night – on purpose) and certainly does not involve having another body to spoon with, is enough to convince me to get over my damn self and fall back asleep.
I’ve noticed that when I do wake-up in the middle of the night, it’s far easier to fall asleep without the pressure of knowing what time it is, and therefore how little time I have left to get a “good night’s sleep” I have.
And I’ve certainly noticed that as inconvenient as it is sometimes to have a “bedtime” on weekends, adhering to it makes a world of difference on how well I sleep during the week.
I haven’t been all that good at adhering to the rules as strictly as I should, but when I do manage to follow them for 5 or 6 days in a row, I start to notice a marked improvement. Enough for me to be convinced that there really is something to it all, and it’s not just a scheme cooked up to make me miserable.
It still sucks that now need a very good reason to stay up later than 10:30, and that I have to take my morning coffee on the couch or at the table, instead of still mostly snuggled underneath the covers.
But I have started making some KILLER weekend brunches, and it no longer bothers me that Belgian waffles need to rise for an hour before baking. It’s not like I’m not already up.
So while I’m not all that fun at parties these days, if anyone’s interested in some sort of weekend afternoon activity, I’m SO there. Or give me a call and come by for Sunday brunch. And while you’re over, could I interest you in purchasing an answering machine?