Counting Sheep

Tick tock, it’s three o’clock… you know where your mind is?  It’s not asleep, and you’re tired of sheep…..

The Sheep Dog - AMc - 2017

The Sheep Dog – 2017

Anyone who has ever encountered the insomnia monster at some point in their stress-filled lives please raise their weary heads.    You know those dark nights of the soul where all the angst in your little corner of the world converges on your poor befuddled brain in an agony of what-ifs, and you even start to worry about worrying.

Okay Book

Worry Journal

After a few nights of this nonsense, you’re waaaaay overtired, much too tired to sleep and then you start to worry about never ever sleeping again, and how are you going to function the next day on two hours sleep when it’s already three o’clock and all you’ve done is toss and turn for hours, and it’s already starting to get light just as you nod off and the alarm clock shrieks from across the room, and you rise feeling like something the cat dragged in.    Whoever invented daylight savings time should be fired.    It’s bad enough that it’s getting light earlier in the morning, and the returning birds are twittering up a storm because they’re all excited about spring, and I’m excited too but I just don’t want to spring forward.   As a former shift-worker, I’m not the best sleeper anyway.  My circadian rhythm has been irreversibly damaged by years of flipping between days and evenings, but that lost extra hour seems to throw my delicate system all out of balance.   Like many people I sleep better in the winter, when we can all hibernate like the bears in their caves which are warm and dark, no black out curtains needed.   Now that I’m retired sleep isn’t as crucial as it used to be, as I don’t have to get up in the morning, or if I do I don’t have to be as alert as when I was working, but the world does not function on a 2-10 am sleep schedule.   The world is full of morning people.   I used to be one of them.  So it was with great interest that I read The Sleep Solution by W.Chris Winter.    What would a blog be without a good book, so here’s some bibliotherapy for insomniacs.

The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix ItThe Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good read for anyone who struggles with insomnia or shift work. The author is a neurologist and sleep specialist physician. Not sure that I learned anything new, other than we sleep more than we think we do, even during the worst night of insomnia, because sleep is an inborn instinct, which is nice to know when you are trying to muddle through the next day. Nobody dies from lack of sleep, (unless I suppose you are in a car accident), and you always do manage to get through the day. It was an interesting perspective, and certainly lessens the worry associated with getting to sleep, which can be a vicious cycle. It’s a bit scientific but written in a humorous style which makes a dry subject entertaining ie it did not put me to sleep…..although I might have had a short nap on the swing…

The key advice I got out of this book is, a) your body craves sleep, it is a basic human drive, so we do sleep more than we think we do even on a night when we swear we didn’t sleep a wink, and b) we always function the next day.   This is a simple concept, but somehow reassuring, and helps to break the worry cycle which is the worst part of insomnia, the worrying about not sleeping.  Take the worry away, and you can sleep like a baby, well not quite, but it’s a refreshing idea.   Of course, the book delves into the usual sleep hygiene routines, exercise, limiting caffeine, nothing new there, as well as chapters on sleep apnea, shift work etc.  The author says no one ever died from insomnia, but that’s where I disagree.   Studies show that accident rates are always higher in the week after the daylight savings shift, as are heart attacks.   They have also shown a link between insomnia and obesity, diabetes, dementia, addiction and cancer.  The WHO has now labelled shift work as a probable human carcinogen.   Lack of sleep decreases natural killer cell levels by 75% according to some reports.  (It’s enough to make you get that worry journal out!)  Unfortunately, we have become a sleep-deprived society.

Meditation can be a useful tool to promote sleep.  I once took a six week meditation class and while I did not have any luck meditating (lack of practice), a more experienced classmate told me she could nod off after five minutes.   I was impressed, but she had been meditating for years.   What did work for me was a meditation tape.   The best part of the class was the melodious voice of the instructor, so I bought her CD, and listen to the insomnia meditation (13 minutes), if I’m having trouble winding down.   Or if I wake up too early (those pesky birds), I will put it on again with my ear buds, and get a couple more hours of deep restful sleep.  (Why is the most restful sleep always towards dawn?)   The tape is almost like a form of hypnosis, her soporific voice counting to ten and then back down again is so relaxing, and there is music in the background, so it’s like a lullaby for grownups.    One day in class she suggested we chose a special song so our bodies would learn to associate that song with relaxation.     She played, Shenandoah by James Galway, and I left feeling like a jellyfish.   I never listen to that song in the car however, driving while a jellyfish would not be a good idea.

Speaking of music, the song Count Your Blessings from White Christmas, is a lovely visual aid to falling asleep, when you’re tired of those stupid sheep…..seriously, has counting sheep ever worked for anyone?     (I apologize for the Bing Crosby again but I grew up on his music).   Old Bing just might have been the inspiration for those gratitude journals which were all the rage.   I tried a gratitude journal once but found it only made me worry about losing my blessings, but it may work for some (more optimistic) people.

If you struggle with insomnia it’s good to have a bedtime routine, so your body knows it’s time for sleep.    A cup of tea and a snack is a relaxing way to unwind.   Bedtime snack

TV and electronic devices can be overstimulating, so turn them off an hour before bed, especially those bright blue light cell phones, which I’m sure will some day be found to cause eye damage.   Low lighting is restful.   Reading is good, unless it’s a suspense novel you can’t put it down.   I jot down a few lines in my five year diary as a summary of the day.   Reading a few pages of an inspirational book can also be a reflective way to end the day.   

There’s something about the smell of lavender that is so calming.  Spraying the room with lavender pillow spray can become a sleep routine association and this can work well if you travel and are staying in hotels rooms with stale air.

Lavender Spray
Lavender Pillow Spray

A more portable option is putting a lavender sachet under the pillow for sweet dreams.

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

Lavender also reminds me of France, a country that has an appreciation for all things lovely, and that is known for taking long lunches mid-day, with plenty of expresso after you are fed and rested.   Try and get lots of sleep, because we’ll be spending April in Paris.   Unfortunately, jet lag is a whole other story….

Quote of the Day:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

What are your secrets for getting to sleep on those dark nights of the soul?