Sleep is getting a lot of press. Ariana Huffington has a new book about it and Fitbit has a new sleep habits program. I am getting less sleep than ever.
I think I need 7 hours of sleep a night to function well for the 4 days a week I work 9-5 (the other day, I work 1-9). Seven is an arbitrary number. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to aim for eight.
On weeknights, I usually get 6 hours of sleep, and I always feel tired during the day – not all day, every day, but I do have a severe after-lunch/afternoon meeting crash.
On weekends I go to bed late and naturally get about 7.5 hours of sleep without any effort.
I get up at 5:15 and work out for an hour, four times a week. A few times lately I’ve had to hit the snooze alarm, skip the workout and sleep an extra hour so I can function better. But then I feel sluggish because I am used to that morning hit of movement!
My weekday morning routine goes like this:
- 5:15-5:30 get up and ready
- 5:30-6:30 workout
- 6:30-7:15 shower and chat with Rom before he leaves for work
- 7:15-8:00 coffee, breakfast and Internet
- 8:00-8:30 make lunch and get ready for work
I work 9-5 and I walk to and from work twice a day (home for lunch) and I’m also on my feet a good part of each day, so I’m fairly active.
After work, I have 90 minutes before Rom gets home, so I go for a long walk if I skipped the morning workout, or cook dinner when it’s my turn.
I rarely stay up late for anything except computer use. Sometimes I cram the end of my book club book the day before the meeting, but otherwise it is solely screen time that keeps me up. It could be blogging, budgeting, listing, editing photos or suddenly deciding I have to check the next day’s weather at 11 p.m. There is always one more thing I could check and always new content waiting for me. I draw the line at screen time in bed and don’t bring a phone or tablet bedside, but I cannot lie: sometimes my retinas have been knocked for a loop by 4 hours of computer use before bed.
One of the reasons I’m prone to so much computer use in the evenings is that after being up for 14 hours (from 5:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.), I’m not really fit to do much else! After being active all day, I can’t read a book or watch a DVD without crashing. That limits my evenings to home-based activities like taking walks, gardening, grocery shopping or decluttering. I can go out in the evenings if it’s not something sedentary (a movie or lecture usually leaves me in zzzs). But computer use can keep me awake indefinitely.
I have a bedtime routine – I just put off doing it! Fitbit’s article about sleep habits helped me realize that when I’m groggy and want to sleep, rousing myself to do the bedtime routine actually makes me feel more wakeful again, and messes with the cycle. In particular, washing my face (while essential after the day’s sunscreen) completely resets my clock and makes me feel wide awake! If I brushed my teeth and used my new Waterpik earlier, I would stop snacking earlier, too.
I have to be honest: any problems I have falling asleep are usually due to co-sleeping. When I go to bed, I am exhausted and ready to go to sleep immediately. When Rom goes to bed, he needs a lot of time to wind down. He likes to chat, and he uses his iPad in bed for hours. I’m not sure if I’ve said how chatty Rom is. He talks as he goes to bed and he talks as he wakes up with no regard as to whether I am sleeping or trying to sleep. He must assume that if I’m asleep, I just won’t answer – not realizing that every time he speaks, he wakes me up. He is just hardwired to talk. He deals with this by watching videos and listening to podcasts for hours in bed. The light from his screen keeps me up even when it’s under the covers! Any kind of light prevents me from falling asleep – but natural light does not bother me in the morning. I’m glad I don’t live above the Arctic Circle!
We have heat pumps in the house which require all the bedroom doors to be open for air circulation. The cats get active when we go to bed and I can hear them playing in the hallway and kitchen. They come and go from the bedroom and although they’re not allowed on/in the bed, one of them always comes to visit me in the middle of the night (like clockwork). She walks on my pillow and nuzzles my face! I get up and put Gigi out and close the door for the rest of the night.
I have to use the bathroom once during the night. Cutting back on drinks before bed does not help. On a good night, I can combine this with the cat exit wakening 🙂
I have hot flashes. It’s been 2 years now. I wake up with them about 3 times a night and it can take a while to cool off and get back to sleep. This after a whole lifetime of always being cold, to the point of wearing socks to bed!
Happily, I don’t have any trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep due to worry. I have had those times in my life, but I ‘m very thankful I’m on an even keel now. If anything, I probably slept more when I had more worries, as an escape.
So, what to do? The usual advice is to stop caffeine, exercise and computer use earlier in the evening (or go to none in the evening).
I drink half-caff coffee from 7 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Sometimes I have a cup of tea in the evening. It had never affected my sleep, but I should experiment. Maybe that has changed because of the menopause thing. I am not actually willing to give up coffee, but it’s the taste I like, so I could switch from real to decaf at mid-day and see if it makes a difference.
I am concerned about cutting back on computer use at night. What else could I even do that would keep me awake?! I suppose I could limit use by setting a timer, or just do necessary tasks (such as bill paying), but it will be very difficult unless I adopt some new hobbies. I could force myself to do all the housework, but how motivating is that?! As an empty-nester, I do have a lot of free time, and I don’t want to feel like I’m inventing things to keep myself busy. On the other hand, I think night time computer use is a real problem and I should wean myself from it.
The other usual advice is to set a bedtime and stick to it, maybe even 7 nights a week. I have decided to start with 4 nights a week, set reminders and see if I can force myself onto a schedule. This will also mean doing my bedtime routine early, let’s say an hour before bed, so I can relax afterwards and not feel jolted back awake by that flurry of activity.
I should note that napping doesn’t work for me. Ever since I was 3 years old, I haven’t napped. I could never fall asleep during the day. Now I can, but I feel much groggier when I wake up than I did before the nap, and that effect lasts for an hour or more. To me, it is not worth it.
To be good, I will make a doctor’s appointment and get checked for iron, B12 and thyroid function, just in case.
Over all, I am disappointed that being fit and eating well have not prevented sleep problems and I’m sure a lot of it is down to ageing 😦 On the plus side, I do have the ability to sleep later on non-work days, and my current situation doesn’t compare to the fatigue I’ve experienced at other times of my life (like new baby exhaustion). Also, I am comfortable with my life and I don’t have the kind of unease that creates an underlying weariness about the world.
I only have a couple of weeks before my next vacation, but it would feel good to be rested up before I go, so I’m going to give all the good habits a spin.
If you’ve had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, what advice or habits have helped? And what advice do you keep getting that you find useless?!