In the Wee, Small Hours of the Morning…

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Do you know of whom I am jealous? Those people who possess the magical ability to fall asleep easily– the people who can sleep on planes/buses, the people who can sleep sitting up, the people who can sleep through anything. I am most definitely not one of those people, and the older I get, the worse it gets.


Over the years, I have (unintentionally) made it worse. I have created such an elaborate bedtime ritual that were I to actually fall asleep at 10 p.m., I would have to be in bed by 8:30. Jojo calls it, “The Leigh Vandiver Beddening Process.” I do my evening ablutions, floss my teeth, stretch my hip muscles, read my Kindle, turn on the sound soother, make sure the fan is on, and fluff both my body pillow and my regular pillow. I cannot sleep without doing all of these things. I wouldn’t consider it compulsive… but it is quite elaborate.

I have always been an avid reader… and 95% of my recreational reading is done before bed– that has always been the case. Normally, it soothes me and takes my mind off all the day-to-day garbage. Generally, I read until my I can no longer keep my eyes open and then I go to bed (having to re-read the previous page the next night). Here lately, though, I am noticing that I am having an increasingly harder time falling asleep due to the suspenseful nature of my reading material. This never used to be a problem, but now I can’t sleep if the main characters are in peril. I just keep reading and reading until it’s 4:00 a.m., or later. I have had to cut myself off of certain types of books and find that reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is about the right speed– nothing super exciting happens, there are clever turns of phrase, and it is mildly entertaining; “mildly” being the operative word.

Since I’ve been funemployed, it has gotten worse– for the obvious reasons. Without a set schedule, and with horrible self-discipline, the problem has gotten worse. I keep odd hours and frequently watch as my East Coast friends check-in on Facebook having woken up for their day while I am still up from mine. I have many friends with unconventional jobs and therefore unconventional schedules. I know how wack-a-doo abnormal sleeping habits make you. I’ve tried to re-establish a schedule– going to bed when Josh does. [You could set a clock by that kid and his sleeping schedule. He is one of those lucky ones. I even joke about how even when we would throw parties, he would fall asleep on the couch in the middle of a conversation if it was after 10 p.m.] I’ve also tried setting the alarm clock progressively earlier each day to ease myself into a better sleeping schedule. But, there is nothing more frustrating than lying in bed in the dark being unable to sleep– especially if the person next to you is sleeping soundly. And the more determined you are to fall asleep, the harder it becomes. Math is definitely not my strong suit, but I am a whiz when it comes to figuring out to the minute how much sleep I will get if I  fall asleep at that exact second. How many times have you looked at the clock in frustration and thought, “if I fall asleep right now, I will get four hours and twenty seven minutes of sleep”? And the sad thing is, no one EVER falls asleep right then.

And although I strive for good general hygiene, I guess I have poor sleep hygiene. “Sleep hygiene” is the term the medical community uses to describe the habits people have to fall asleep. Here are some “Good Sleep Hygiene” practices, according to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems, if someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember, chocolate has caffeine.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

It’s all pretty much common sense. I guess I’m just a rule-breaker: I love naps, reading in bed, and there is a t.v. in the bedroom (though it really only gets used when I am folding laundry). Naps and reading bring me such joy– but are they worth the weird hours? If anything, it’s that I love sleep too much. I know once I get a job again, that things will even out and return to normal. Or maybe it is one of those things where if you love something, you have to let it go… and if it was yours to begin with… etcetera etcetera etcetera. I’ve taken all the pills, had my sleep studied, but still this lingers. I guess I come by it naturally as many members of my family are weird sleepers.

What do you think? Do you have good sleep hygiene? Do you have any tricks or thoughts? Isn’t hygiene a weird word? It is when you write it several times! As always, let me know!

At her finest


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  1. I struggled with insomnia for years, until I quit smoking and the problem of getting to sleep disappeared. (Duh, nicotine is a powerful stimulant. It still amazes me I never put two and two together at the time). Now I rarely have trouble dropping off but wake up 2 or 3 times a night due to hot flashes (which come with a dose of adrenaline for added fun.) My keys to getting a fullish night’s sleep anyway are: 1) I always take the opportunity of a hot flash to pee. It saves having to get up later, and since that’s always the last thing I do before going to bed, it sets the Mood; 2) I always have a kitty purring on my chest. Nancy likes to come and sit on me if I’m awake to pat her; 3) I try to visualize the dream I was having before I woke up (a technique borrowed from our friend Christina, based on a journal entry she put up about getting back to sleep after waking up to feed her baby. According to her, sleep studies have shown that visual rather than verbal thinking facilitates sleep. Works like a charm for me.)

    My other advice: You really probably should give up the naps. (I rarely nap, but when I do, I can’t get to sleep on time either). Try some light exercise when you feel the need to drowse, like a walk around the block, or maybe the hip stretches that are probably making it harder for you to get to sleep in your current bedtime routine. (Tip borrowed from Elementary, in which Joan Watson presented squats as her go-to method for pulling all-nighters).

    Get up when Jo-Jo gets up, too, no matter what. Then stay up all day and go to bed when he does. You may have a few nonproductive days, but it should end schedule creep.

    Keep some kava on hand as a last resort. It’s not good for your liver and should be used sparingly (no more than once a month, probably), but it’s the one herbal remedy that worked for me every single time. It’s a root you can usually find at health food stores. I would steep one tsp in one mugful of hot water for a kava tea. No, you will not have to get up to pee later if you drink it at bedtime, it’s just that good.

    Also, definitely read something more boring. May I suggest Charlotte Bronte’s Villette?

    • Sheila- These are great! I’ve never heard of kava… though it sounds pretty intense. I totally believe the bit about visualization of dreams… and actually, after waking up after nightmares, I very intentionally try to visualize something different. The hip stretches are actually more yoga than vigorous, but now Imma do squats when I need to stay up! I wish Elementary were on any streaming outlet… that is one show I want to watch. And Villette for the win! It’s free in the Kindle store! Boring in a good way, right?

  2. I can tell you’re my niece! I’ve got almost the same thing you do as far as sleep habits go. One thing that’s helped me recently is Melatonin. I have a bottle w/ 5mg tablets which I have found to be a little strong, so I cut them in half. I think a third would probably be enough but I can’t seem to cut them that small. One thing that has helped me with the getting up is Danni, my new little dog. She goes into her crate perfectly and sleeps all night- BUT about 6:15 she starts these ear-piercing howls! Yikes!

    • Really, B-dawg… I blame you completely. If only you hadn’t inspired my undying love of reading. Sheesh. Thanks.

  3. Villette is indeed free on Kindle. It’s one of the first ones I loaded up when Jo-Jo gave me his Kindle, and I’ve been kind of half-heartedly clicking it on and off ever since. It’s Jane Eyre’s distant, pallid, French cousin, so I’m enjoying it in a way, but I don’t know if anyone else who doesn’t love that book would. It can’t be beat for slack plotting, though! (Unless you’re going to go full Proust or something).

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