The problem with sleep (Guest post)

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Guest blogger Michelle Lynne Goodfellow, who has written about her breast cancer and her love of aikido, is now in search of a better night’s sleep. 

The problem with sleep? There are a few problems, actually.

  1. I should be getting at least seven hours per night.
  2. I’m not.
  3. This has been going on for a long time.
  4. Cancer treatment and recovery? Not helping.

Here’s what my typical night looks like:

  • Into bed around 10 pm.
  • Watch a movie or some videos on Netflix until I fall asleep around 11.
  • If I don’t fall asleep, keep watching stuff or surfing the Internet until I fall asleep, midnight or later.
  • If I still don’t fall asleep, take a Gravol (or part of one) to make me sleepy.
  • Wake up at 2:30… Or 3:30… Or 4:30… Wide awake.
  • Think about some stuff. You know – friendly, cheerful stuff, like “how am I going to get all those projects done?” Or “what should I have done differently in that situation that went horribly wrong?” Or “what should I do to make that relationship better?” That stuff.
  • Pick up my phone when the cacophony inside my head becomes unbearable. Which is most of the time. Watch some more movies or surf the Internet. Catch up on my Pinterest.
  • Maybe fall back asleep, 10 minutes before my alarm goes off at 5:30.
  • Go back to bed after feeding my cats their pre-breakfast snack. (Cat owners will understand; the rest of you? Never mind…)
  • Maybe get another hour’s sleep before getting out of bed for good at 6:30.
  • Or, if I’m lucky and don’t have urgent work to finish, try to sleep for another hour.

Lather, rinse, repeat – pretty much 365 days of the year.

I know it’s a problem. I know I should be getting more sleep. (If you haven’t already heard, sleep impacts body weight, heart disease, cancer, work performance and ability to “operate large machinery,” i.e. drive cars safely – among other things.

My sleep has been like this for a while. (Here’s a humorous blog post that I wrote – wait for it – 9 years ago about my insomnia.)

It got really bad when I started working in the nonprofit sector, when I couldn’t turn of my mind at night from worrying about my overwhelming workload and task lists. On a good night, I will sleep between six and seven hours. On a bad night…  three or four.

I also know a lot of the things I could be doing to improve my sleep. (You probably know them too.) Like having a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Turning off my devices before bedtime, and making my bedroom an electronic-free zone. Keeping my bedroom dark and cool. Avoiding pharmaceutical assistance.

After my cancer treatment (during which time I let myself do whatever I wanted, because I could sleep around the clock if I needed to), I really struggled to regain a regular sleep schedule. And because my work schedule is currently quite flexible (I can get up and work at 4:00 if I can’t sleep, and then nap in the afternoon), it’s been harder to motivate myself to make the changes I need.

My worst sleep-depriving habit is my smartphone use all night long. I have an iPhone that I use for everything – email, social media, taking and editing photographs, reading (on my Kindle app), writing (I started the first draft of this blog post on my phone), podcasts, music, surfing the internet, watching YouTube and Netflix…

And most of those, I love to do in the middle of the night. Sometimes that’s the only time I have in my day to catch up on my reading or viewing. (Wah!)

But recently I felt like I was hitting rock bottom, and needed to do something to address my worsening sleep deficit and fatigue. I was dragging through my days, emotionally cranky and unhappy, and relying more and more on afternoon naps and weekend sleep-ins to take the edge off my fatigue.

I kept coming across references to Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, and finally broke down and bought it because I knew that it would inspire me to change. Huffington is adamant about nixing nighttime electronics:

So I’ve begun to make some changes. I don’t like them, but hey – first-world problems. I really, really, really want better sleep.

This is the first in a series of posts about changing unhealthy sleep habits. Future posts will include:

  • Sorry, it’s past my bedtime
  • White-knuckling the early morning hours without sleep aids
  • Fitbit, my friend

___

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

Illustration: Crayon and collage on paper, September 2005.

 

About Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

I'm a writer, artist and maker who creates adult coloring pages and pretty clothes.

5 thoughts on “The problem with sleep (Guest post)

  1. Jean says:

    Same challenges…except my habits are different. I don’t own/use an iPhone at all. My sleep doctor (yes, he’s done research with the university and consulted for athletes…) said no computer screen exposure 2- 4 hrs. before bed. …which I broke over 5 months ago.

    There is a sleep regime where if you sleep for only 4 hrs. ..then you try to go to bed at 2:00 am to wake up at 6:00 am..to get your body started. It feels like hell for awhile…then you gradually increase sleep by going to bed 1/2 or 1 hr. earlier..ie. 1:00 am. etc. There is a book by a Canadian researcher that does help make it work. I will try to find it later..

    If one cannot sleep, is to get up and do something non-screen, repetitive or read a book for an hr. or so outside of bed. To use your bed only and only for sleep.

    Anyway, I find it helps me to do light yoga/Pilates stretching 1-2 hrs. before bed to relax. This on top of some cycling (to and from work/shopping) etc.

    I used to sleep straight through for 7-8 hrs. Now it’s 4-5 hrs. and fall asleep maybe for 1-2 hrs. more if it’s a good night for me. Still that’s progress compared to 18 months ago where I didn’t sleep at all for 2-3 days, then 3 hrs. on 4th night. I was scared for myself to even bike to work.

    I drink warm milk about 1-2 hrs. before bed..it acts as a natural relaxant for me.

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  2. My sleep used to be so much better when I would read an actual book before bed. Now that I’m married again, we watch TV together before bed….usually with one or both of us falling asleep in the living room before a show is over. However, I watch TV laying on the floor, so my body kind of suffers along with my mind.

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  3. Tracy I says:

    I’m so looking forward to your future posts on this issue. I was going to say that all that TV watching right before sleep could be an issue. I am also not great on that (if the recommendation is to put the screens away an hour before). I actually sleep pretty well and usually get enough, but I have something to recommend anyway, which is the Insight Timer meditation app. If you go into the guided meditations and click into the “playlists” tab, you will get a bunch of categories. One of them is “sleep.” There are some excellent meditations there, including the “healing darkness” one and the “peaceful sleep meditation.” Both are just over 30 minutes and I am never awake at the end of them. Of course it doesn’t work for everyone and different ones might appeal to different people. But it’s a free option and there’s nothing to lose. Good luck with your sleep makeover!

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  4. Courtney says:

    One technique I’ve adopted during bouts of insomnia is listening to podcasts on a small iPod shuffle (i.e. the one with no screen) instead of lying in bed, berating myself for being awake. I use the shuffle because there’s no screen involved – even a peek at my phone bothers me in the dark. I just put in the earphones and press play. Of course, like all sleep techniques, it only works sometimes. Good luck getting your sleep back!

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  5. Courtney K says:

    One technique I’ve adopted during bouts of insomnia is listening to podcasts on a small iPod shuffle (i.e. the one with no screen) instead of lying in bed, berating myself for being awake. I use the shuffle because there’s no screen involved – even a peek at my phone bothers me in the dark. I just put in the earphones and press play. Of course, like all sleep techniques, it only works sometimes. Good luck getting your sleep back!

    (apologies if this posts twice)

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