I don’t have a very good relationship with sleep. In fact, I’m stuck in a dead-end relationship with sleep and we’ve hated each other for over 20 years. It’s a relationship out of necessity. I’ve tried curing it with drugs and therapy, like you would with any bad relationship, but none of that seems to work.
There are a few things that do have a positive effect though. I’m not going to profess that there’s a cure. I write advertising copy for a living, so I know how to lie, but that’s not what this is. The truth is, insomniacs will probably always be insomniacs. This is a relationship that lasts for life, until death do you part and until your final sleep is a defiant and eternal one (God, that was dark). But these tips can help you to win the fight on occasion.
Get a Mattress Topper
The day I finally got a mattress topper is the day I discovered that I could have my own hotel bed without forking out $200 a night for the pleasure. These things are amazing. They feel great and if you have a cheap mattress, they are perfect.
A good mattress topper will transform a mediocre mattress. If you’re sick of hearing tips that revolve round spending a few grand on a state-of-the-art, NASA-made mattress crafted by the hands of virgins and approved by morpheus, then just buy a mattress topper. I’m not a mattress or sleep expert, but I know what feels good and this is it.
If you do get yourself a new mattress, make sure you shop around to avoid spending the earth. You can get some very good memory foam mattresses online these days from sites like Foam Nights and countless other specialist providers.
There are some days when I won’t sleep a wink. It’s not pleasant (based on the occasional mumbled messages they receive at stupid-o-clock n the morning, many of my acquaintances and freelancing clients think I have a drinking problem). The next day I will avoid napping, partly because I feel like crap afterwards, but mainly because if I do so then I know that I’ll sleep like a log (or a normal human being) that night.
Napping is a great way to refresh yourself. But it’ll also mess up your cycle. If you feel tired, tough it out. Doing so will mean you’ll sleep easier that night. You’ll probably freshen up in an hour or two and get that second wind that will carry you through to the nighttime, at which point you’ll flop on the bed and be unconscious before you hit the pillow. Or, if you’re like me, suddenly wake up as soon as the light goes out.
Only Use Your Bed to Sleep
If you work from home, as I do, then it’s easy to get into a habit of going to bed early and working while you’re in bed. I do it myself, often annoying my sleeping partner with the constant tapping of the keys. But I know that every time I get into this habit, I sleep less.
You should save the bed for when you’re ready to drop. Don’t watch TV in bed, don’t work in bed. Just sleep. Or do other things …
Don’t Use Your Phone
Speaking of which, one of the best habits I’ve ever gotten into is reading just before bed. The main benefit of reading in bed is that it tires you out and prepares you for sleep. I often read until I can’t make much sense of the words and until I find myself dropping off, with my dreams crossing over into the fictional world i’m reading about.
It’s bizarre, but it’s kinda fun. It’s a great way of shutting down. And that’s coming from someone who writes and edits for a living. My job is basically to stare at words all day, yet when I stop doing that for work and start doing it for pleasure, my brain relaxes and I begin to shut down. If it works for me, then I’m sure it will work for someone whose medium isn’t the written word.
One of the worst things you can do is to use your phone. So, whatever you choose to read, make sure it isn’t on your phone or tablet, with the constant distraction of Facebook in the background.
Change Your Thought
The reason I’ve always struggled to sleep, and the reason many others do, is because my brain doesn’t shut down and the nighttime seems to be the time when I think the most. I can shut down for most of the day, burying my head in my work, but as soon as the light goes out I’m consumed by all kinds of random questions:
“I am at the dentist tomorrow, is it possible to die from a check-up?”
“That insurance salesman may have been onto something. 32 or not, I think I need a last will and testament. Best do it before I go to the dentist.”
I’ve tried to just stop those thoughts, but that’s not easily done. Instead, I discovered that thinking about random, non-stressful things works best. There’s no effort to stop thinking, none of that, “I’ve done really well, nearly 5 minutes without thinking a single thing, oh, wait … “ to get you down.
So, rather than focusing on work, life and all the things that will kill you, just run through a story in your head. Make up a song. Play out a daydream or two. It’s a great way to drift into sleep. And if none of this works, then you know why I’m an insomniac writer and not a sleep expert who sleeps like a normal human being.