What Every Insomniac Should Know

Posted on September 8, 2011

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As I venture into the kingdom of old farts I’ve found a thing even more precious than a new Harley or Rogaine. Sleep. I used to take sleep for granted but can’t do that anymore. I’ve also found a day after sleeping well goes a lot better than a day without.  I’ve found the following helps with getting that sleep.

What Works

Exercise

There’s nothing better for sleep than being completely, totally, absolutely bagged – I’m talking about barely able to get off the couch and and crawl to bed – and it doesn’t really matter how the body gets there.

Reading

There’s something about reading that helps the mind let go. It doesn’t have to be Canadian Tax Law, a mystery novel will work, eventually, which brings me to…

Patience

The body gets used to a rhythm and when that rhythm’s disturbed the result is sleeplessness. Just as it took a malign influence – I’ll get to those later – to create the problem over time, it takes time to solve the problem. The cure won’t happen over night. According to the BC Health Guide a visit to the doctor is needed only if the problem lasts a month.

A bed

The bed should be comfortable and in a dark, quiet, cool place with plenty of fresh air.

Meditation

Which is not trying to be ‘one’ with everything’ as the joke about the monk and the pizza goes. Meditation is a practice that trains the mind to stop thinking which -believe it or not – is healthy and helps the body sleep. Meditation is a practice; it takes practice for it to work.

What Doesn’t Work

Work

Work disturbs the rhythm life, forces the body out of bed, makes the mind want to do and say all kinds of things it cannot do. For most of us quitting is not an option, so an adjustment must be made. I’ve found the following helps:

  • slowing down and then getting in bed early enough for a refeshing sleep
  • doing something at the end of the work day to end the work day – I’m trying ten minutes of meditation
  • trying to keep a sense of humour throughout the work day
  • throughout the work day listening to the body, being aware of stress and easing through stress using breaks, controlled breathing, whatever works. Stress accumulates through the day and makes it hard to sleep at night.

Alchohol

Like work, booze messes with the body’s rhythms and cycles. Even two drinks a day for long enough for the body to get used to alchohol’s seditive effect makes it hard to sleep.

Drinking to get to sleep messes up the body even more. Alchohol’s seditive effect only lasts a few hours and then the body bounces and won’t fall back to sleep.

Alchohol  can help the mind relax, or not. It’s a loose cannon. If a mind is stressed, alchohol can amplify the stress.

Sad to say, as the body ages it loses the ability to tolerate alchohol. If I’m having problems sleeping I avoid alchohol altogether. For my body right now, two or more drinks for two days in a row is enough to affect sleep. For me, it’s a choice between enjoying happy hour all weekend or being refreshed in the morning when I go back to work.

Anything with a screen

Blackberries, Computers, iPhones, iPads, Laptops, NetBooks, NoteBooks, PS3s, PSPs, TVs, XBoxes. There’s something about visual stimulation that excites the mind and makes it over-protective of the body. The result: the mind won’t let go and allow sleep.

Fear

There are people who’s job in life is to scare the crap out of everyone else – it sells newspapers. They like to have a number to scare everyone with and when they’re scaring people about sleep the number is 8.  A body doesn’t need 8 hours of sleep, or 7 hours, or 6 hours. It needs enough sleep to feel refreshed in the morning.

The medical profession

Unless the imbalance in a body’s rhythm goes on for long enough to cause depression, or the body’s dealing with a dependency on drugs or alchohol, doctors can’t really do much.

For one kind of insomnia – waking up in the middle of the night – there are no pills. That’s because taking a sleeping pill at 3am can lead to stumbling in front of a bus at 9am. Sleeping pills can help with falling to sleep initially but they become less effective over time and the body will grow dependent on them. They can even make falling to sleep harder in the long run.

Finally

I’ve found my self awake at 5am, a work day ahead, wondering if I’ll ever sleep again. When that happens I get angry. The thing I have to remind myself is, it will pass. That’s the time to read a book and be patient.

There is a way to tell when the mind and body will soon allow sleep to come. I think of them as messengers from the subconcious – thoughts, and people even, who have nothing to do with waking life. It’s like a waking dream. Even if I don’t fall asleep when the messengers come it usually means sleep’s not far behind.

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Posted in: Life