5 things that got me out of sleep hell, and 5 that didn’t

Lots of voices I pay attention to have been preaching the better sleep gospel for a while, placing it right up there with nutrition, exercise, human connection and stress management on the wellness priority list.

It wasn’t until I hit a prolonged crappy stretch myself though that it really popped me in the nose just how profoundly sleep impacts daily happiness, much less long-term health.

After a bunch of experiments to get out of the bad way I was in, I’ve managed to pull the nose of the sleep plane up and wow, cruising altitude… with all its fluffy clouds and blue skies…is SO much better.

So I’m glad to share this rapid fire inventory of 5 things I tried that worked best, along with notes on 5 that didn’t do as much.

First, a quick recap of the crappy stretch, case any of it rings familiar…

In the midst of a bunch of life stressors (a mix of work and personal things that all seemed to egg each other on), I was rarely getting more than 5–6 hours a night, often less.

I’d wake up multiple times and worst of all… STAY awake often for hours at a time. It seemed the second my eyes would flutter open, a bunch of exaggerated worries would rush in like shoppers at a holiday sale, setting my mind racing on all sorts of amplified questions… “what’s going to happen, what if, why didn’t I”.

The resulting impacts ranged from general foggy-ness to low mood, anemic energy at the gym to, on some bad nights, a sort of anticipatory dread as the inevitable sleep fight approached. All in all, just a really big drag for me and no doubt the folks around me.

So I got into big time experimentation mode and here’s the recap of what’s gotten me to a reliable 7+ hours a night, and a lot less waking up.

Hope it helps. Other ideas welcome. Sleep’s a process. I’m in a better mode now, but always looking to find and share new stuff.

The 5 with biggest impact:

1. Trade afternoon coffee for evening tea — I used to love a big dose of java in the late afternoon. I’ve swapped that now with herbal tea. Still get the ritual and mental break, but now a longer break from caffeine before sleepy time.

2. Less booze, earlier — evening vino (or a wee dram as my Scottish brothers and sisters say) is an awesome part of the unwind at day’s end. But I’ve found I run better if I have one glass less, and imbibe no later than 8ish. Booze helps you fall asleep but it also makes you more likely to wake up, pee, etc. in the 2nd half of your night.

3. Reading (less blue light) before bedtime — aside from all the sciency stuff about less blue light from screens…big reasons I love this one… I’m reading more (like Black Swan Green, funny/sad, Brit-humor) which is fun and good for my brain. Also means I’m spending less time with my stupid phone. Recently layered on a pair of Swannies blue light blocking glasses to fuel that end of waking hours descent into sleep. Digging so far.

4. Quiet mind practices — this work to get out of your head and put some distance between you and the thought river flowing by has lots of bennies in terms of daily presence with folks in your life. But I’m finding it also really helpful for fighting the “wake up and worry” tendency that used to keep me up for hours. Two biggies for me… meditation (using Headspace, reading stuff like 10% Happier, Real Happiness), and 5 Minute Journaling.

5. Bedroom to sleep chamber mods — dark and cool… that’s what helped us. We got curtains, close doors to rooms where add’l natural light will peak in next morn, set the Nest to a lower temperature (mid-60’s) and rock ceiling fan.

The 5 with littlest impact:

1. Sleep tracker app — tried one of these for a while. Was interesting at first to see the curves and stuff. But ended up just confirming the crappiness, and not really actionable. Plus made me more, not less, connected to my stupid phone at bedtime.

2. Computer app for blue light — cool idea for your laptop to turn down the lights a bit after a certain hour in the name of better sleep. But for the most part just encouraged me to stay pecking away at the screen later than I should (and more separated from the peeps in my life) and was a pain when in different time zones on travel. Blue blight blocking glasses above proving a better fit for me.

3. Wake up light — idea behind this is great…. more natural waking, without the brain slammer of an abrupt alarm. In practice I found it less helpful. Not as needed in summer months when mother nature’s doing that work. And in winter, more of a full room wake move so tends to lock you and your partner into same time whereas a quiet alarm might not. Still use it for the better alarm sound options, but not sure I’d buy again given the price.

4. Melatonin/Benadryl — I’m not against an assist every now and again. And in a couple of desperate spots I did find that a Benadryl knocked me out. But I’d wake super groggy and doesn’t tackle the underlying sleep foes. Melatonin just didn’t work much for me.

5. Counting and flexing — In the depths of my wake up for hours stretch, these two came up a lot when I looked for tips on getting back to sleep. Counting sheep, or burpees, or whatever didn’t work for me any better at 46 than at 6. And the flexing deal where you go from feet on up, flexing muscles along the way, just made me more alert, and feel sort of like a dufus to boot. Been better for me to not get into these stretches in the 1st place.

Oh and one more thing that doesn’t help… 3 kids, a dog and a cat…but all so worth it (except for perhaps the cat).

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