Monday, March 30, 2015

Sleepless Nights

I always had an easy time sleeping until the night before I turned 29. At the time, I attributed that fitful night of restlessness to jetlag and nervousness. I'd gotten back from Taiwan the night before and I was starting a brand new job the very next day! Unfortunately, that night triggered the insomnia that I've been battling on and off ever since. I started with some of the most commonly recommended practices, with varying degrees of success:
  • Minimize caffeine intake. This isn't super hard for me, since I don't drink coffee. I mostly just drink a cup of hot green tea in the morning for the warmth. I suppose it's because I never had much caffeine in my diet to begin with so when I eliminated the green tea, I didn't see much difference in my sleep quality. 
  • Doing yoga. I was never able to completely "empty" out my mind, as I get distracted easily, so that might be why yoga didn't really lead me to have better sleep. If anything, thinking about "nothing" makes me super restless and bored! I will admit, I have had some great naps during shavasana. ;)
  • Get up after 30 minutes of lying in bed awake. Repeat multiple times per night if necessary. This is challenging and incredibly impractical when you share a bed with a light sleeper. Plus, we both have a hard time falling asleep when we're sleeping alone. I know, we're so cute, it's not cute at all and actually nauseating. :P
  • Sleeping pills - None of the OTC sleep aids worked for me so my doctor prescribed Trazadone. While it usually put me to sleep in 20-30 minutes, it also made me feel groggy the next day. I felt like taking pills was not a good long-term solution to insomnia so eventually I stopped refilling my prescription.
Luckily, I've been on a good stretch for the last few months - hopefully it stays that way! I still struggle with insomnia every now and then but I've tried to develop good habits to keep it at bay. I've found that it can take awhile after adopting the good habits to see my sleep improve. Here are some things that have worked for me:
  • Keep the room temperature cool. Often times, I'm tossing and turning because I'm too hot and I need to stick my arms out to cool off, which then inevitably leads to my arms  getting too cold and needing to be covered up again. It's a vicious cycle that can keep me up for hours. Because I tend to overheat easily, I always keep the heat off at night (something that is manageable in the mild California winters!) and I stay away from heavy blankets. While I may be a bit chilly when I first get into bed, I generate and retain heat well so I'm warm enough through the night. 
  • Keep a sleep log. This tip came from the book Say Good Night to Insomnia, which was recommended by my doctor. I'm not sure this was the original intent of the book's recommendation but somehow, the mental exercise of logging my sleep patterns ended up bringing me some comfort. I realized that after each stretch of poor sleep, a good night's sleep would eventually end that stretch. It was oddly comforting to know that at some point, my body was going to crash and let me rest after all, even if it was after several nights of terrible (non)sleep.
  • Stay up and sleep in an hour(ish) later on the weekends. In an ideal world, I would wake up and go to bed at the exact same time everyday. However, I'm not a robot and I still hope to have some semblance of a social life on the weekends. I was much stricter about adhering to specific sleep schedule when my insomnia was at its worst but these days, I can manage with a 60-90 minute bedtime / wake-up time variance and still have good sleep most, if not all, nights of the week. 
  • Try not to stress about work. This one is probably the biggest factor and yet, also the toughest to eliminate. You can't just pick up and quit your job every time it gets stressful! Luckily I'm in a good place for now, although there are ebbs and flows. The good thing is, the longer I work, the more I feel like I'm building up expertise, so that I can feel confident about the work I produce. If I do stress out, that typically manifests itself in the form of nightmares - which I still consider a good thing because it means I slept! :)
Waikiki, Hawaii, July 2008

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