To Sleep, Perchance to Wake Up at 3 a.m.
The other night I had to have a talk with my mom about bedtimes.
No, she was not admonishing me for staying up too late, like she used to. It was the other way around.
I am not going to apologize for wanting to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. But she is a 93-year-old night owl, and makes me feel guilty. She likes to stay up to watch the 10 p.m. news, and would probably stay up to watch Stephen Colbert if we let her. Then she sleeps soundly until 11 a.m. the next morning.
I, however, don’t. Every morning at 3 a.m., I wake up – and I can’t go back to sleep. I have been plagued by insomnia for the last few years. Sleep experts have said that if you can’t go to sleep within 15 minutes, you should get out of bed and do some light reading, work or meditation. Don’t work in bed – beds are for sleep and sex only.
Since I was engaging in neither activity last night, I thought I would be polite and not bother my husband, and moved to the living room to open my computer, like I’ve done countless other nights. It’s not my fault that the dogs woke up, thought it was time for their morning treat, and started barking. Or that I thought by putting a load of wash in the dryer would be a good idea (our dryer is indoors and sometimes loud). And I certainly didn’t intend for a dish to fall from the dish drainer onto the counter. Within a few minutes my sleepy husband came roaring out of the bedroom to rip me another one for being so thoughtless at 4 a.m. So much for being polite.
So now I was stuck with insomnia, a cranky husband and the thought rolling through my head that this insomnia has got to stop.
There are severed risks due to chronic insomnia. According to the National Institute for Health, insomnia can increase your risk for mental health problems as well as overall health concerns. Some of physical issues include stroke, asthma attacks, compromised immune system, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. If that wasn’t enough, chronic insomnia also leads to depression, anxiety, and confusion and frustration.
Yep, that’s me.
But it can be worse. Lack of sleep can also lead to more car accidents, on-the-job mishaps and at worse, suicide attempts. If we get less than four hours of sleep a night, our abilities and natural thinking are reduced by 30 to 40%, according to Kaiser Permanente.
In fact, it’s the same as being under constant stress. If our mind is constantly being assaulted by the unpredictability of sleep interruption, it can change dramatically.
Certainly, there are many everyday stressors that can keep us up on occasion, and the coronavirus hasn’t helped. Some medical professionals even have a name for it: Covidsomnia.
However, there are ways to sleep naturally through the night without popping an Ambien or 15mg of Melatonin. In fact, some doctors are warning against taking too many sleep-inducers, as that’s more sedation rather than real sleep. And the whole idea is to get your Circadian rhythm to get in sync.
There are ways to help to sleep through the night, according to Kaiser:
· Keep a regular sleep schedule: go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day;
· Don’t drink caffeine less than six hours before you go to bed;
· Don’t eat or exercise less than two hours before going to bed – both stimulate your system;
· Alcohol doesn’t help, whether you pass out after a hard night or sip a glass of wine before bed. While alcohol is a depressive and may make you relaxed, it wears off and does not provide the healthful sleep you need;
· Different-toned lights on your electronic gadgets don’t help, even blue lights. The dimmer, the better;
· Smells can help, such as lavender and chamomile. I suggest essential oils rather than candles – I once burned down my bedroom with candles. So much for romance;
· Lower temperatures help. That seems counter-intuitive to me because nothing feels better than snuggling in a warm bed. But sleep studies have proven time after time that 65 degrees is an ideal temperature for sleep; Instead, take a warm bath or shower before bed;
· Background noise like the TV or your favorite playlist don’t work well, and neither do night lights. Sorry scaries. The darker and quieter, the better;
· Try meditation, prayer, a body scan or any other mindfulness practice if you can’t sleep. You’ll be surprised how relaxing it can be;
· Try not to take Zoom meetings or do other work in bed during the day – it will unconsciously tell your brain that bed is fair game for anything;
· If you wake up at night and can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing, or take care of work that’s nagging at you or watch a rom-com. Bed is not the place to worry.
· And finally, to my utter disappointment, Kaiser says not to take long naps. I love my naps, but they should be only, at max, between 20-40 minutes long. And only if you need them.
Surprisingly, that goes against our brain’s natural rhythm. Our body is wired to takes naps. In the morning, our brain secretes serotonin and natural melatonin. In the early afternoon, the serotonin decreases and the melatonin increases – that’s why we get tired at work at about 3 p.m.
Latin countries in Europe and South America have figured this out, and that’s why the siesta is still a common practice. Of course, the U.S. works too hard to shut down business for a couple of hours in the afternoon, no matter that it makes sense with our body’s natural rhythm and we’d be more productive if we did.
One thing that is helping me is getting a handle on my sleep apnea. I was tested by Kaiser and told I had moderate to medium apnea, and fitted me with a CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure) mask. It’s not very sexy, but my husband says it’s better than my snoring.
I am hoping to get my insomnia under control soon, and my circadian rhythm working like Carlos Santana. I will feel better, physically and more importantly, mentally. Sleep shouldn’t be my enemy.