On Sleep

Lately, I've been thinking about sleep. Sleep has often been complicated for me. When I was young, I was afraid to fall asleep. I thought once I closed my eyes, I could die. One of my parents had to read outside my bedroom door. Surely they could vanquish any demons of death that would dare to try to enter my room. In addition, I listened to Broadway musical recordings as I tried to go to sleep. Anyone who could sing and dance would be a righteous defender of my life. Some of the songs were so beautiful, it was hard for me to imagine that anything bad could happen while they played.

As I grew up, I decided that I was an early morning person, and I didn't need much sleep. In college, when they told me that in order to have a show on the radio, I would need to take the 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM shift, I readily agreed. Sleep was a mere footnote, something around for my convenience, not something I cared about much at all.

Then, when I started my work life, I noticed that there were days when I would feel extremely tired, and no amount of coffee could save me. (All through these years that I declared I couldn't care less about sleep, I drank tons of coffee.) On those days, I would say it felt like I had been run over by a truck. It was hard for me to be around people. I felt like I had no skin. It was hard to function. Around 3:00 in the afternoon, I would feel particularly exhausted. But, even though I knew all of this, I didn't examine or try to change my sleep life.

Things got worse. I was working at home now, but I was still going to bed late and waking up early. I was waking up to an alarm, but I had grown so accustomed to this regime, that I often woke up before the alarm rang. This helped reinforce my notion that this is when I wanted to naturally wake up. Since I now worked at home, when I would grow that exhausted, I would now often take a nap, but it was difficult because I had scheduled my work in such a way that it was difficult to reach my deadlines if I also had breaks in my day.

I was dating my now husband then, and I started falling asleep when we watched TV at night. It could happen any time after 9:00. I would feel wide awake, and then all of a sudden I would be asleep. When I went to movies, even matinees, I had to start taking in a cup of coffee with me that I could drink throughout the show. Otherwise I could easily miss things. At this point, I could drink coffee at 8:00 at night and still go to sleep.

I think the first big change in my sleep happened after I started taking anti-anxiety medication. All of a sudden, I was sleeping to 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning. I would often get up in the middle of the night where I would read until I felt tired, then I would go back to sleep. I didn't set an alarm. I could se how much better I felt during the day. I made allowances in my schedule so that could happen.

I could see a big difference in how I felt during the day. I no longer felt tired in the afternoon. I had a consistent flow of energy for my work. I felt more grounded in my emotions. I felt more creative for my writing. It was all good.

But then I started considering taking a job out of the home. I would have to be on a schedule. I might have to be there early in the morning. If that was what I was going to do, I wanted to do it in a way where I continued to feel refreshed and revived each day.

At this point in the process, I learned a great deal. The first is, worrying about falling asleep is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If I'm scared that I won't sleep, I often won't. So I tried other things. For a while, I took melatonin. That worked, but not on a regular basis. I drank valerian tea. That didn't seem to help me fall asleep, but once I did, I slept deeply. I decided to not read on my phone any more in bed. (I don't like to read from hard copy or paperback books because I don't want to have the light on while my husband sleep.) First I tried audiobooks. I love audiobooks, but I found that I would fall asleep while listening to them, and then I would have to go back. I also found it self-defeating in another way. I was trying to stay awake to hear the stories, and I would get mad at myself when I fell asleep. So that was not the best plan.

I tried listening to music. Sometimes that works. Other times I've gone back to old music that I've loved as a teenager, thinking that the old familiar favorites would be fun to fall asleep to. But I've found that some of those old favorites no longer hold up, and I am wide awake, wondering how I could have fallen for that before. But I've discovered some Pema Chodron lectures on YouTube. I like her voice. I like listening to what she has to say. I figure if I fall asleep, my subconscious will pick it up, and it will just be furthered embedded into my brain. I'm happy with this solution.

But why is this in a writing blog? Because I believe sleep is so important to us all, maybe especially writers. You have to pick up the pen each day and write that story. Don't you want to be at optimal levels for such a task? For me now, sleep falls under self-love. I want to take care of myself that way. If I do that for me, I have more to give to others and to the world. That is what I want to do, and sleep is a n important part of that journey. Three cheers for sleep!