Monday, March 8, 2010

Sleep

I am not a great sleeper. I never have been. I think too much, worry, make lists, toss and turn and wake during the night several times. It has gotten better in the last couple of years, but I am no champion snoozer and never will be. Al, on the other hand, can fall asleep with the lights on in the 5 minutes it takes me to brush my teeth and come to bed. I have never understood that, and sometimes it makes me so mad...

In my experience, a lot of women have trouble sleeping. I think we are by nature planners and worriers, and the quiet time we get to ourselves is, unfortunately, the time we should be shutting down and trying to relax. A lot of exhausted women tell me they purposely stay up late so they can have some time to themselves, after the kids are in bed. This may mean going to bed at midnight or later, after being on Facebook for an hour and watching a grown-up show on the DVR. I have read studies that computer, cell phone and TV screens emit a kind of light that inhibits the release of melatonin, the chemical that helps promote sleepiness. I am a definite breaker of this rule, I can't go to bed without checking my email one last time! But I feel the difference if I do shut down the electronics earlier.

I think my sleep has gotten better in the last couple of years because I've changed my habits. I have a more regular schedule, waking up early even on the weekends (unfortunately this is more because I can't seem to sleep in, not because I don't want to!). I also journal most nights before bed to try to get a bunch of worries out of my head and onto paper. Then I can close the book and hopefully shut the drawer on the racing thoughts. I also like to do a gratitude practice, and a lovingkindness meditation. I admit this sounds cheesy, but it really helps me keep things in a more positive perspective, especially if I've had a lousy day!

I lie in a relaxing pose (usually supta baddah konasana is my favorite, but legs up the wall would be great, too) and simply think of things I'm grateful for, like fuzzy kittens, not having to make dinner, healthy kids, whatever. Then the meditation. There are many versions of this you can find, and I've incorporated the phrases I like best from several versions. "May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be loved." Then I repeat it once for someone I love, then once for someone I feel neutral about (the guy at Starbucks, the woman in the elevator), then once for someone who isn't getting my love at the moment (the guy that cut me off in traffic, the kid that bullied my kid). Lastly I repeat it for All Beings. Try it. I find it very peaceful and I do think it has made me kinder and more tolerant.

So it still takes me a long time to fall asleep, and I may be awake at night ruminating or singing another damn Lady Gaga song in my head at 3am, but that's not as often anymore. I get concerned about the epidemic of insomnia I see at work, and the number of people that want a sleeping pill. I hope some of these behavioural techniques can help others since they've helped me, even though I am still trying to improve myself. Maybe they carry more weight because I do struggle with insomnia, than if I had perfected the instant drop off like my dear husband!

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