Recently I read an article titled, “The Myth of the Eight Hour Sleep” which discusses a very old sleep pattern where people slept for 4 hours, woke for 2, and then went back to sleep for another 4 hours. This made so much sense to me – I’ve slept that way on and off for years. The article discusses how the advent of artificial lighting in the past 225 years has changed the sleep patterns of humans. In the late 1700’s people began abandoning the pattern of a first and second sleep, in exchange for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
After reading this article, something shifted in my brain, and I no longer felt the pressure to sleep eight hours through the night. I felt like my sleeping habits weren’t so abnormal after all. Allowing myself permission to be awake for an hour or two in the middle of the night removed the pressure to get right back to sleep.
Lately, I’ve actually slept much better. I’ve never had much of a problem falling asleep; it’s staying asleep that has eluded me. Here are a few tips that have been helpful:
• Keep a pad and pencil handy. Before going to bed I write down any thoughts or things I need to get done the next day. I also find that some of my best ideas develop as I’m sleeping. When I wake up in the night, I worry that I won’t remember the thought or idea, so that keeps me awake longer. When I take a minute to write down my thought, my brain has an easier time relaxing and falling back to sleep.
• Dim the lights. I like to dim the lights throughout the house at night – I have dimmers on all the light switches, including the bathroom lights. If I have to get up in the night to use the restroom, I can turn the light on very low. A little night-light can also accomplish this.
• Have a pre-sleep routine. No matter what is going on in my life, I must wash my face and brush my teeth before going to bed. If I skip this step, I just cannot sleep and have to get out of bed and perform these tasks, no matter how tired I am. It’s a ritual that helps me relax and helps me feel better when I get in bed.
• Keep the bedding clean and make the bed every day. Climbing into a fresh bed is one of the great pleasures of the day. My husband turns down the bed every night – I love this simple pleasure.
• Have a set bedtime. If I find myself exhausted at 9:00, I can easily fall asleep. But, that is also a guarantee that I’ll be awake at 1:00 a.m.. If I can hold off on going to bed until 10:00 or later, I have a better chance of sleeping restfully throughout the night.
• Keep the bedroom cool. If you have a tendency to be cold, keeping the bedroom cool may be counter to your desire to crank up the heat. When you are cold, it makes it harder to fall asleep. I understand that setting the thermostat at 69 or lower may seem too cold, when you are feeling frozen. I suggest wearing socks to bed to keep your feet warm and even using a heating pad for a few minutes to warm the bed and your feet before you fall asleep – but remember to turn it off. Once you get warm, you can keep covered to stay warm. I know I sleep so much better with the thermostat set at 69 or lower. Many people are more warm blooded, so 69 may not be cool enough.
• Have several layers of coverings on your bed. When you first get into bed, covering up with several layers of blankets feels like pure heaven. When you have several layers, you can adjust your coverings during the night to match your heat requirements.
• If you wake up, do whatever it is that makes you relax. If it’s counting sheep, turning on gentle music, reading, or even watching something boring on tv, I say do it. Just try not to think about only having three hours left to sleep before the alarm is going to go off - don’t put pressure on yourself.
I hope these tips prove helpful to you. Relax; close your eyes; sweet dreams.