I used to be that enviable person who could sleep anytime, anywhere. In university, I would regularly fall asleep in my first class after lunch. When travelling, I would be able to fall asleep on planes, trains, and automobiles, making travel companions über-envious. And then mental illness came along and it was a whole new ballgame. I rely heavily on my meds for sleep (quetiapine and mirtazapine), although at this point I’m not taking anything that functions solely as sleep medication. I also try (at least sort of) to practice what I preach when it comes to sleep hygiene. Here’s a bit of a personal report card on how I’m doing, based on the American Sleep Association‘s sleep hygiene recommendations.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule
I’m pretty good at this for the most part. I go to bed ridiculously early (think 6pm) and wake up around 3am. It’s weird, but I’ve always been a morning person and somehow it works for me. Things would get thrown off when I worked night shifts, but I was able to figure out a way to time my meds that would get me sleeping a half-decent amount.
I used to love napping, although it’s a pattern I’ve gotten out of. I generally have an energy lull after lunch, and it’s especially nice to lie down if it’s summer and the sun’s streaming in. I often don’t actually sleep during my “naps,” and it’s more of a calm rest break.
Don’t stay in bed awake
This can be a tough call. Sometimes staying in bed awake works out and I will get back to sleep, which makes me a little reluctant to get up if I’m still feeling sleepy. Usually, though, I can tell pretty quickly if I’m up and there’s no way I’ll be getting back to sleep. And then there are other times when I just feel like lying there zoned out rather than getting up and facing the day. In the end, I think it’s important to get to know your mind and body and recognize what they’re telling you. If you’re feeling agitated about being awake, that’s probably a good sign that it’s time to get up.
Don’t watch tv or read in bed
Fail and fail. I don’t actually have a tv in my bedroom, but I do watch tv on my laptop in bed. Reading in bed used to be one of the quickest ways for me to get to sleep, but now I do most of my reading on my laptop, which doesn’t serve the same purpose.
In one of my little idiosyncrasies, I’ve divided my bed into the sleeping side and the awake side. I spend quite a bit of time in my bedroom, mostly because that’s where my darling guinea pigs’ cages are. All of my awake stuff happens only on one side of the bed, and napping and sleeping happen only on the other side. Perhaps it’s a bit silly, but in my own strange way, it’s how I incorporate the sleep hygiene idea that the bed should only be for sex and sleep. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have a partner in the picture, because it would throw off my system.
Avoid substances that interfere with sleep
I’m usually pretty good about this. I rarely have caffeine in the later part of the day, and if I’m having any alcohol it’s usually a little after lunch.
This is definitely an area where I could do better. I find that in winter I exercise less because it’s wet and gross outside here in rainy Vancouver, and being outside just makes me feel miserable. I never liked going to the gym to work out, and dance classes were my exercise of choice for a long time. However, dance classes became too difficult because of a combination of a few different effects of depressions. Now, it’s just walking, and psychomotor retardation from the depression makes even that challenging.
Establish a good sleep environment
I live in a very quiet neighbourhood, so there’s no bothersome noise to interfere with my sleep. I keep my bedroom cool and dark. My phone is usually at my bedside, but no one calls me and I have notifications for everything turned off, so it’s really not an issue. I have an old-school alarm clock so I don’t have to reach for my phone to check the time.
Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine
I don’t have a set routine necessarily, but I take my meds half an hour before I plan to go to bed, and keep things pretty low stimulation for that half hour. Bedtime used to be one of my favourite times of day, a time to escape from the real world into peaceful oblivion. Over the last couple of years I’ve had surges of worry about the future right before bed but I’ve gotten used to that, and it doesn’t last very long.
So, that’s my attempt at sleep hygiene. I’m not doing great at it, but I think I’ve found the happy medium that works for me. And after all, rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?
How is your sleep hygiene? Do you do things the way you’re “supposed” to?
Sleep Better: The Little Book of Sleep is a mini-ebook that covers a range of strategies, both medical and non-medical, to give you the tools you need to get the best sleep you can. It’s available from the MH@H Store.