When you can’t fall asleep, try …

You know who didn’t have a hard time falling asleep? … the guy who made the decision to cancel last Sunday’s Giants’ game in Minnesota.  The people that tried to convince him to play on, however, haven’t slept since.  That was a serious dumping of snow and had it buried Manning, Farve or the Viking back-up, it would have given new meaning to Monday morning quarterbacking.  Now, if you are a “catastrophic thinker”, you can lose several nights’ sleep thinking about what could have happened on that 20 yard line.

I am a regretful second guesser, a guilt-filled worrier and occasionally, worst of all, even a catastrophic thinker.  My husband falls asleep before his head hits the pillow and I mean that literally.  It is amazing to behold.  I, on the other hand, spend many a night watching the numbers change on the clock and trying to do the math to see how many hours I can get if I fall asleep … right now.  There are some things that help me when I remember to do them.

1.  Caffeine – if you are having trouble sleeping, you have got to cut back on the caffeine, especially anytime after noon.  It takes about 8 hours for your body to completely get rid of it.  You should not eat or drink in large amounts for two hours before bed.

2.  Wind down – bed is for two things: sleep and the other one isn’t watching TV.  I love to read in bed but if you are having sleeping issues, don’t even pick up your book.  Watch TV in another room or read in a chair.  Don’t rush into bed because of the number on the clock, ease into it as you naturally get more tire.  Only get under the covers when you are ready for sleep or the other alternative.  As you fall asleep, your body temperature drops.  You can mimic this by taking a warm bath or shower before bed.   As your body cools, it can send signals to your brain that you are ready for sleep.

3.  Make a list and keep it by your bed – if you are kept awake by all the things that you need to do tomorrow, write them down before you get in bed.  If you think of something you forgot, pick up the pen and write it down — even if you scribble it in the dark.  Having it on paper releases your mind from worrying that you will forget to get it done.

4.  Count sheep – sometimes this actually works.  The whole idea is to get your mind focused on something calming rather than the chaos of your life.  Your heart rate naturally slows as you drift off to sleep.  If you are stressed in bed, you prevent this natural rhythm change and you can’t relax.  Whatever works to calm the mind, be it prayer, meditation or repetitive thinking can help.  You don’t have to count sheep and you probably shouldn’t be counting lost opportunities or your spending.  At this time of year, perhaps counting your blessings might help.

5.  Do not stare at the clock and do not panic – if you have been lying there for more than 15-20 minutes and you have not fallen asleep, get up and do something.  Don’t clean the house or get on the treadmill but maybe read a chapter, listen to a song or see if you can wake your partner up.  Once you pass the falling asleep sweet spot of 15 or so minutes, change gears.  Thinking about how the time is ticking by will snowball on you and end up keeping you awake even longer.  Just think, the worst case scenario is that you don’t get enough sleep – unfortunate but not the end of the world.  Keeping things in perspective will help you relax.  To quote my wise sister when she was caring for her newborns, “Night is just a dark day.”

Insomnia can be the result of several medical and psychological conditions so if it persists, you should discuss it with your doctor.

I think it goes without saying that your mattress and pillow should be comfortable, your room should be cool and dark and you should at least be able to tolerate the person lying next to you.   I hate my … mattress and we can’t get rid of it because it cost more than my wedding.  The salesman convinced us that it was worth the investment because, 1. you spend half your life in bed (it is actually 1/3) and 2. there is a sucker born every minute.

Tomorrow, tips to look like you got more sleep.  Clearly, I don’t know what these are yet but I am excited to find out and share with you.

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