See that cute photo at the top of this post? That’s one of my two cats, peacefully slumbering. The way he and his brother do… all the fricking time. (Except in the middle of the night, when this one wants to groom me during one of my hot flashes. Yeah. Fun.)
As much as I feel awful when I have a wakeful night, and as much as I say I want more sleep, it wasn’t until I recently read Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time that I finally identified one of the core issues that was corroding my sleep. And it wasn’t my age (mid-life), my breast cancer treatment (which is causing chemical menopause), or the chronic pain in my knees and ankles from sports injuries – although all three can definitely be major contributing factors to chronic insomnia.
I simply wasn’t valuing sleep enough.
Let me explain. In her book, Huffington spends quite some time talking about how North Americans pride themselves on their sleep deprivation, and devalue healthy sleeping habits, which include going to bed around the same time every night, avoiding the use of electronics / screens (including televisions) while in bed, and allowing yourself enough time in bed for a good night’s sleep.
I recognized that was failing big-time on all of these.
As much as I may have, in the past, said that I wanted a good night’s sleep, since my late teens I have been all-too-willing to sacrifice sleep to the “higher good” of productivity – be it studying for an exam, finishing an essay, or – once I started working in the nonprofit sector – finishing a project, meeting a grant deadline, or working on my own creative projects or volunteer work outside of my full-time job.
If I need to get something done by tomorrow, I will give up sleep to get it done. And feel smugly self-righteous about my choice. Look how hard I work! See how much I’ve accomplished?!
(I just remembered a compliment that my (Scottish) paternal grandmother once gave me. I had spent part of the summer between my first and second university degrees cooking for a tree-planting camp in Northern Alberta, waking up at 4:00 a.m. every other day to make the camp’s breakfast, and she told me that I “must be made of good stuff to get up that early in the morning.” Enough said.)
I also think nothing of staying up late to do something that I enjoy – be it finishing a good book, watching a movie on Netflix, or working on a new drawing or blog post. In fact, when my life is busy I feel downright cheated if I don’t have time to do the things that I love doing. Add to that the healthy dose of FOMO (fear of missing out) which fuels my social media activity, and it all equals a daily to-do list that requires 20 hours to fit everything in. No wonder I was only averaging four hours per night, and desperately napping during the day!
When I recently recommended Huffington’s book to a friend, she wondered if it said anything that she didn’t already know. I told her that for me, the solutions weren’t the point. The point was that Huffington scared me enough to seriously consider giving up all my guilty pleasures: watching Netflix and YouTube in bed, reading books on my Kindle late into the night, and doing my Facebooking and creative writing (in bed, on my iPhone) in the early morning hours when I couldn’t sleep. Scared me, by making me realize that the consequences of continuing these bad habits could be deadly.
So I vowed to try.
I set myself a “cut-off” time each night for my iPhone use. I set myself a regular bedtime – which meant I would be in bed, with the lights off, by that time. I wouldn’t pick up my phone in the middle of the night when I woke up. And I would use my brand new Fitbit to help me track my progress at getting a better night’s sleep.
That was the plan, anyhow.
This is the third 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.
Photo: Cat napping, July 2016, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow