The problem with sleep? There are a few problems, actually.
- I should be getting at least seven hours per night.
- I’m not.
- This has been going on for a long time.
- 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.