I have had sleep problems since 1988. That’s the year my mother became ill and I became her primary caregiver. As a single mom I was the obvious choice in my family to do the job, but between caring for a young child and a seriously ill mother, I developed poor sleeping habits that have plagued me since then.
My neighbour knew I couldn’t sleep so when she read the notice in the newspaper searching for candidates for a Sleep Disorder Clinic, she came to me immediately. “You have to sign up”, she told me. I called the number, was accepted and made an appointment to be hooked up to electrodes as they monitored my sleeping patterns.
The first night at the clinic, after telling the interns how bad my sleep pattern was, I fell asleep in record time listening to them talking to the other patients. The sound of their distant voices lulled me to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. I never fall asleep that quickly, but the day I was being tested for a sleep disorder I was out like a light. True to form however I woke up around 2 a.m. and they told me the next morning that I didn’t fall back into a deep sleep the rest of the night.
After my second visit to the Sleep Disorder Clinic (this time I was awake most of the night) I was ready for the verdict. The very good-looking intern told me that I did not have a sleep disorder, but that my sleeping problems were related to being off schedule. Just like a baby...I had gotten my days and my nights mixed up while taking care of my mother.
He gave me tips on how I could get myself back on schedule. One of the things he stressed was that my bed only be used for sleeping and sex. (Did I mention how good looking he was?) He also suggested that for two weeks I go to bed at midnight and get up at 6 a.m. He was sure I would get tired enough that I would get back to a normal sleeping schedule. I have now been going to bed at midnight and waking up at 6 a.m. since about 1995. I just don’t seem to require more than five hours of sleep, although at times I wish I could have more, especially when I have to get up and go to work the next day.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but here are some tips that I have found help me. If you are experiencing sleep problems you should see your doctor:
- As my young intern friend said, make your bedroom a sleep zone. No reading in bed or watching t.v. as it may have the opposite affect and stimulate you to wakefulness;
- No caffeine. I am especially sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. I can’t even have caffeine in the morning or it will affect me, but definitely having caffeine in the evening would be a no-no;
- Don’t go to the gym just before bedtime. You should exercise, but do it earlier in the day as exercise will actually wake you up;
- Take a warm bubble bath before bed to help soothe the stress of the day and wind down to prepare for a good night’s sleep;
- Listen to white noise. Either a radio turned on, but not tuned to a station, or I have a special machine that plays white noise and automatically shuts off after an hour.
- Accept what is normal for you. My normal is five hours and it works for me. When I try to fight it and get more I only end up tossing and turning and feeling tired all day;
- Make the weekend yours. Don’t overbook yourself. In order to make it through the week you should not plan too many things on the weekend. Sleep in, relax, do something enjoyable on the weekends.
Sometimes not being able to sleep becomes a stress in itself. Seeking help may be the first step to a better night’s sleep.
Here are some interesting Sleep Facts from the Sleep Disorders Center.