I am an insomniac.
I cannot remember the last time I went to bed and slept until the next morning, without waking up constantly; tossing and turning; throwing the duvet off me; pulling the duvet up when I get cold; getting up for a glass of water; or going to the loo because of drinking water during the night.
I have tried many things over the years to sleep better, but most things have counter effects which makes me toss it out.
Some of the things I have tried include:-
I am horrible with sleeping tablets. I normally don’t have a problem falling asleep, rather, I have a problem STAYING asleep. It is not uncommon for me to fall asleep before I manage to turn the first page of my book (or click the page down button on my kindle), but then I would wake up at 01:00 or 02:00 wide awake, unable to sleep.
Once, I decided to take a sleeping tablet on a flight to London as I had a long day of work ahead of me and needed my sleep. (Let me not get started on trying to sleep on an aeroplane!) I had it all worked out. I was flying business class (yeah, even then I cannot sleep properly), so I took the tablet just as we took off, which of course would give me enough time? In fact, it didn’t and I woke up with the air hostess trying to wiggle the plate of unfinished food out from under me. But STILL, I kid you not, I woke up at 03:00 (or 05:00, depending on which clock you were watching) and could not sleep again!
If I do manage to get a full night’s sleep, because maybe I take a stronger sleeping tablet, then I will wake up groggy the next morning and feeling like I didn’t sleep at all.
Toggle with the timing…
Of course I have tried to go to bed later. At one stage I was so tired that when the kids went to bed in the evenings (this was when they were small and I could force them to go to bed at 20:00 every night), that I would creep into bed with a book, with the intention of catching up on some reading, and would be fast asleep at 21:00. And wide awake at 01:00, tossing and turning for hours.
On the other hand, going to bed later just seem to delay that dreadful wake up hour by a couple of hours. So, now instead of waking up at 01:00, I would wake up at 03:00, which is definitely worse, because I will toss and turn for an hour, fall asleep and then wake up with a start when the alarm clock goes off, as I am rudely awakened from my REM sleep.
I am sure you are asking what I think about when I am tossing and turning. It is definitely worse when I am stressed out at work and inevitably I will wake up thinking about a potential problem or solution or something that I was working on in my subconscious. And I was told that you should wake up, write it down and go back to sleep. However, waking up and switching the light on and actually writing something down is a sure way to get me wide awake. The next moment I would be sitting down and writing whole essays, making detailed to-do lists and thinking up other things that come to mind. As if my 02:00 mind thinks it is cleverer than my 08:00 mind.
Amend my eating/drinking habits
I have tried to cut out coffee after lunch time, before lunch time (incidentally, coffee doesn’t seem to keep me awake in the morning so how can it keep me awake at night??). I have tried to drink a glass of warm milk, or no warm milk. I have tried to eat a piece of cheese before I go to bed, or in the middle of the night when I sometimes wake up hungry. I have tried drinking a glass of wine, or avoiding alcohol. Makes no difference whatsoever. The only difference is that after a couple of glasses of wine I may wake up with a headache in the middle of the night, so I take a headache tablet in advance when I exceeded the recommended-not-to-exceed quota, or in simple terms when I range from tipsy to drunk. Better safe than sorry!
Counting sheep or something similarly dull
I get bored pretty quickly, so trying to count sheep, or doing something boring, like reading the Economist to lull me to sleep, does not work, because inevitably my mind will wander. In fact I find it better to read an interesting, but not gripping book. Interesting enough to keep my mind occupied, but not too interesting as to keep me reading until 01:00 in the morning.
Some pre-sleep exercise (affectionately named sexercise)
Of course a release of hormones such as induced by this type of late night activity does stimulate sleep and is a sure fire way to fall asleep, but like a person who sleeps next to a railway line, it takes me a fairly significant amount of time to get used to someone sleeping next to me. I know this is weird, but I will wake up if someone next to me turns around. My kids know that I only allow them to sleep with me on weekends and on special occasions; otherwise I prefer to sleep alone. I get irritated when the cat walks around on the bed, or wake up when one of the kids get up in the middle of the night, so just imagine a snoring or farting partner? In fact, I sometimes snore myself when I sleep on my back and that wakes me up! Definitely not a short-term solution.
So, what to do?
There are a few things that worsen the midnight insomnia spells. It definitely is worse when I am super stressed at work or panicking about something. And something insignificant like stressing about doing something on time will become a huge issue in the middle of the night. I will wake up with a start from a dream where I missed my aeroplane, because I forgot something at home, or neglected to check what time I had to check in the night before I travel, probably because I still need to pack. So, maybe get a bit more organised can help?
And the whole cellphone/social media thing has not helped either. I know I should switch off my phone at night, but I don’t, so sometimes in the middle of the night when I wake up and glance at my phone to see what time it is, I will look at my emails, and sometimes (horror face!) read an email. Or check my Facebook news feed. Or read a message I missed when I fell asleep. And the longer I stay awake, the more difficult it becomes to fall asleep again. Eventually, I will switch on the bed light and start reading…
So, maybe a suggestion for this year and in the furtherance of my sleeping habits, is a list of light reading, engaging enough to take my mind off things, but please no page-turners!
Alternatively I must just find a way to chop off my head every night and stick it back on in the morning, although I have visions of The Witches of Eastwick as we speak…:-)