Lay Me Down to Sleep

Lay Me Down to Sleep

A short blog post to myself, as I prepare to sleep, describing how I’m bypassing my desire to stay up late.

I decided this month that I really want to have a more regular schedule, which for me means going to sleep at the same time every night. As a freelancer, it’s possible to work until I drop, then sleep until I wake, it’s made it difficult to schedule meeting times. Usually I can do the equivalent of a U-turn in the middle of my sleeping pattern and make a meeting, but occasionally my alarm system fails and I miss a meeting by a big margin. This happened a few Thursdays ago, and it was the last straw. I’d experienced the joys of early waking some years back, but it’s not those pleasures that I’m seeking. This time, I just want my periods of wakefulness to be predictable. It’s one less thing to worry about as I labor to build my own personal empire.

The trick to waking up early is going to sleep early, and that’s really where my challenge lies. The reason I stay up late is for one of two reasons:

  1. My mind is racing, and it doesn’t want to turn off. It craves more input.
  2. I haven’t accomplished anything that feels “meaty”, and I don’t like ending a day on that note.

Dealing with the first challenge was easier than i thought: I just did what my parents did to me when I was a little kid and put myself in bed. Although the first weeks were tough, the pattern is slowly starting to settle in and I’m naturally thinking about sleeping around 10PM.

The second challenge, though, is harder to deal with. Which is why I’m writing this blog post at 11:45PM; I’ve been wanting to write a post for some time, but have not been sure what to write about first. There’s a lot on my mind at the moment.

But I digress. The way to deal with the second challenge, I’ve found, is to accept that some days aren’t going to be as productive as others. And that right now, establishing the sleep pattern is the most important behavior change I want to make. So…I’m going to suck it up, get into bed, and close my eyes. I’m going to be thankful for what the day has brought me, and then I’m going to empty my mind of thoughts. This emptying of the mind is becoming quite the handy trick, incidentally, when I’m finding that I’m stuck. It’s sort of like a concentrated form of procrastination, when the mind is so overwhelmed by the number of possibilities that it can’t choose what to do. Instead of doing that, I tell each thought NO before it forms, actively refusing to engage it. Willful blankness of mind, devoid of intent or reflection, just existing in the present until sleep comes.

10 Comments

  1. Thanh 9 years ago

    Yeah I used to be in the same boat as you. If I felt like my day wasn’t productive I would refuse to go to sleep early. Instead I would try to do something useful to make myself feel good and then go to sleep, not realizing that I would compromise on sleep which is the worst thing you do for yourself.

    I started to accept that certain days just aren’t going to be all productive. Which is fine. What I do now is try to be as productive as possible before noon hits so that I know for certain I’ve hit all my big targets. The rest of the day I can live care free and feel like I can go to sleep at night with no guilt.

  2. Lynn O;Connor 9 years ago

    In the class I teach in cognition, emotion and personality, I had a guest speaker a few weeks ago -she is a sleep researcher. I learned something you probably already know, but I didn’t. To increase your melatonin (which you need to fall asleep), all you have to do is be in the dark for about 30 minutes. I had never done that –I was always at my computer, with lights on all around, and couldn’t fall asleep until I literally “passed out.” Since I heard that lecture all I’ve done is quit using the computer within an hour (even better, within 2 hours) or so of when I want to fall asleep, then about a half hour before I want to sleep I get into bed, with a tiny light that only shines on a page I’m reading, and I start to read and fairly quickly I fall asleep. When I think of all these years I didn’t know that, about the need to be in total darkness (well this tiny light that only illuminates one page is exception) in order to produce melatonin. Anyway you may already know this. If you don’t, try it –it really has made a difference for me.

    Lynn

  3. Author
    Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Thanh: How long have you been doing this, out of curiosity? Do you still feel the impulse to stay up late anyway and just override it?

    Lynn: I didn’t know that! That’s great to know!!! WOW!

    • Lynn O;Connor 9 years ago

      Let me know if it works for you. I has worked for me, amazingly well. Now of course there are still many days/nights that I don’t WANT to go to sleep, I want to stay up doing whatever. But that is not a problem of insomnia. I can’t believe how this simple thing, that I didn’t know, the body’s own cycle and routine going by natural occurring things (like it gets dark at night) –so I need to be in total darkness and melatonin rises naturally (and it doesn’t take anything like 30 minutes for me, it happens relatively quickly, but she said it takes about 30 minutes to get the full amount of melatonin) –just think about it and how it makes sense. Hunters and gatherers didn’t have electric lights going all the time. When it gets really dark, up goes the sleep chemical. Remarkable isn’t it, what we did not know.

      About vitamin D, almost all of us are chronically low, and the docs have recently discovered this. I am getting mega dose of D once a week (by script). I can’t say that effected my sleep, it didn’t. But I imagine it effects mood and multiple health issues. On the sleep front, nothing worked until I heard that sleep scientist and she changed my whole bed time routine overnight. Vitamin D deficiency –Problem is we are never outside, or if we are outside we’re covered with “sun screen” which keeps us from manufacturing vitamin D ourselves. Its another thing that is like sleeping in the dark –we suffer from what I think of as “nature deficiency.”

      Try the darkness experiment, and let me know how it goes!

  4. dagolden 9 years ago

    I finally kicked my caffeine habit completely and it made a huge difference in my ability to get regular, restful sleep. (The week of near-migraine headaches was painful but worth it.)

    I still do occasionally find myself with the “mind racing” problem, but I find that if I give myself time during the day to think and journal (versus always focusing on “doing”) then I have less of it at night.

  5. Nollind Whachell 9 years ago

    Agree with Lynn. I usually try to get away from the TV or computer a 1/2 hour to an hour before bed, even preferring to slightly dim the lights in the room I’m in. It helps you to “transition” between the awake and sleep state much easier.

    If, however, you can’t do this all the time, like when I have my online game night with friends, you will find yourself lying in bed with your head and eyes racing. What do I mean about eyes racing? What I’ve noticed is that if I’m lying in bed and I close my eyes after watching TV or using the computer, that activity usually continues “visually” for me. For example, if I’m playing a video game that has a certain visual pattern to it and then I close my eyes in bed, I still see that pattern / movement going on. It’s the same with those visual eye tricks where you look at a dark pattern and then close your eyes and in turn see a light pattern visually.

    To get around this eye racing effect when you’re lying in bed and trying to get to sleep, I just keep my eyes open for a while and stare at a fixed location on the ceiling. After a while, this seems to reset my visual cortex and slowly phases out the visual patterns I’ve previously been seeing. After a few minutes or more, I just test to see if the visual pattern is gone by closing my eyes. If it’s still there, I open them again. If they’re gone, then I keep my eyes closed.

    Another thing that I find that helps in getting to sleep easier is rhythm. For example, my wife has a hard time falling asleep, especially if work is stressful. I can tell when she’s thinking about things in bed because she barely breathes at all, since she’s so lost in thought. And to me, this silence is unnatural so I have a hard time falling asleep myself. So what I do is start breathing deeper and becoming more aware of my own breathing, ensuring it’s calm, rhythmic, and relaxed. Usually within a few minutes, I can hear her start breathing and thus I know my breathing rhythm is helping her to relax because it sounds natural and relaxing.

    If that doesn’t work for her though, I usually get up and pull out all the stops by massaging her head, hands, and feet. This usually relieves a ton of tension plus helps draw her mind away from the thoughts racing in her head. Usually after 15 minutes or so, she’s noticeably more relaxed and pretty much falls asleep within a minute or two. For yourself, don’t count out even just massage your hands or feet yourself. For example, if you’ve been walking around all day, there can be tension built up in your feet, so even spending a few minutes on them can help you relax a bit and help you fall asleep.

  6. Elise 9 years ago

    Hey Dave,

    Kicking caffeine might be a good thing to try. I wrestled with it for a long time, but in my case (since I don’t even like coffee or even tea, much, unless I’m feeling under the weather) I just drank diet soda, which is full of really terrible chemicals. I found that sticking with something bubbly helped. Polar seltzer fits the bill: comes in quite a few flavors, it’s cheaper, AND it’s even made locally!

    Finding some sort of rhythm for your sleep, even if it’s not quite a standard one in terms of the 9-to-5 world (I say this as something of a nightowl myself) is important. If you have no strong circadian rhythm, or break the rhythm sharply, that’s a recipe for elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a nasty stress hormone; elevated levels of it will tend to predispose you for heart disease and other stuff that you just don’t want …

  7. Brad 9 years ago

    Give your television the boot mate, that’ll make all the difference. Ive gone without television for a while now and I find it greatly improves productivity, sleep, etc.

  8. Author
    Dave Seah 9 years ago

    I haven’t had accessible cable TV for years! Unfortunately, the computer more than makes up for it.

  9. Mike Chabot 9 years ago

    I started using f.lux a while back to automatically change the tint of the computer monitor from blue to yellow when sunset arrives, to help with the issue of artificial computer light disrupting sleep. I really like the program. It is free.

    http://stereopsis.com/flux/