I may have been a little glib on the sleep thing yesterday. I didn’t mean to be.
You know what happened last night, right? How I went to bed nice and early and then… couldn’t sleep?
Sigh. Also, grrrr….
Not sleeping is one of my LEAST favorite things. Yours too, probably, unless you’re at that age where being out late is a new thrill.
But it happens. A lot, honestly. What I should have mentioned yesterday is that it’s pretty rare for me to sleep through the night. I wake up every couple of hours for water, or because my hand is numb from being squished under my pillow, or because I’m tangled up in a blanket. Usually I can doze back off again in fifteen minutes or so, but not always.
When that happens, here’s what I do (not that I think this will necessarily work for anyone else, but it helps me to have a Oh, here’s what I do when this happens… plan so I’m not just lying there in bed tossing and turning and getting frustrated about missing sleep):
I get up and go downstairs. I usually check my phone (while thinking of all the experts who say this is the absolute worst thing I can do. But then I remember that I’ve never seen an article chronicling how well THEY sleep, and in light of this important missing piece of research, decide not to worry about it.)
I grab some water and decide not to worry that it might make me need to go to the bathroom later.
(Notice the theme here: whatever it is, refuse to worry about it…)
Sometimes (like last night) I’ll take some ibuprofen if I’m sore from working out or have a headache from all the pollen floating around right now. It probably doesn’t do a thing for my sleep, but I’m game for the placebo effect. Then I tell myself, In twenty minutes this will kick in and I’ll go back to bed.
I pick a book that is interesting enough to distract me from my frustration at being up at this hour, but not so intriguing that I’ll be up all night turning pages to find out what happens. Self-help and memoir works well for this. They tend to be less urgent.
(Two nights ago when I couldn’t sleep, I read a bit of The Beautiful No, by former Oprah producer Sheri Salata, which was interesting and funny. Then last night I read three chapters from Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North, which all of my women friends should go out and buy immediately. This book is TREMENDOUS. It almost kept me up past my 20 minute ibuprofen kick-in time because I was excited about how well suited I am for life in my 70s. It is NICE to read pages that makes aging seem like a wonderful opportunity. If I get the chance, I think I’ve got what it takes to excel at old age!)
Then, when my twenty minutes is up, I go back to bed. This time, I make sure to pick my headspace: I make myself notice how soft the mattress is and how much I love my squishy pillow. I think about Bergie lying over on her bed in all her chubby fluffy wonder, and aim to emulate her state of bliss. And I pancake, relaxing all my muscles until then flatten them out into a puddle, like batter. Then, whether I feel it or not, I tell myself, This is awesome.
And while I know this all sounds suspiciously like “Sleep Hygiene,” here’s why it’s different: it doesn’t involve special products. Water, books, ibuprofen, the couch, the dog, the bed? Those are all things I have around the house already. That feeling of being so happy/relieved/grateful to crawl into bed after a long day? I’m pretty sure people have been doing that since God made day and night (and people). Our bodies don’t always do what we want them to do when we want them to do it. It helps me to remember that the answer might not be something new…but rather just hanging around in the circumstances where sleep is likely to kick in.
Last night it worked. But on nights when it doesn’t, I have a Plan C. I call it Vacation Mode. You know that feeling when you’re on vacation and you can lie in bed for a few extra minutes after you wake up? Where lounging is the thing you’re supposed to do. I love that. So if it’s 3am and there’s no sleep in sight, I set my internal dial to LOUNGE, and do my best to calibrate my thoughts along a vibe of grateful enjoyment rather than the omigosh-I’m-so-tired-I’m-going-to-feel-like-crap-tomorrow punk rock mental churn that can so easily take over. Because you know what you don’t do when you’re on vacation? Stay in that churn. And here’s the truth: How often, during a stressful day, do I wish I could just lie in bed and do nothing? THIS IS MY CHANCE!
Making lemonade from lemons, for sure. But whatever, it works.
My point with yesterday’s post wasn’t to brag that I’m so great at sleep. I’m pretty average at it, actually. But I’m realizing that sleep is not an add-on, nice-when-you-can-fit-it-in part of life. It makes a huge difference in my capacity to handle stress, to be creative and not give up on things that are difficult, and (most importantly) to like my life.
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: how many of us fundamentally don’t like our lives.
That seems like an overcome-able challenge, so I’m working on it.