Give Sleep A Chance

Give Sleep A Chance May 9, 2012

I suffer from stretches of insomnia, and I have been trying to keep track a little bit to see whether there is anything that I can do to improve my odds of a good night of sleep.  I have also learned that being tired leads to an intense emotional cycle for me.  The other day, I was so depressed and lonely, but intellectually I knew that it was really just being tired that was getting me down.  If I can tell myself that, over and over, I can curtail the other bad choices that might follow the bad emotions — some of that has come from watching an over tired child just not be himself all day and knowing that the only thing that is going to reset the behavior is a good night of sleep, or several!

Okay, so here is what often works for me:

1.  Don’t drink coffee after noon.  When you didn’t sleep last night, it is tempting to cling to caffeine all day long, but you are just setting yourself up for another poor night.  Have one or two cups of coffee earlier in the day and then just push through the tiredness.  Chose water as much as possible for pick me ups later in the day.

2.  Don’t go to bed at 8 pm.  When I am exhausted, I am so tempted to do this, but it leads to waking up at 4 and being up until morning, so again better to just push through a little bit and get a real, regular night of sleep.

3.  Start quieting the house at least an hour before bedtime.  If the TV is off and the lights are lowered as I do my last few chores around the living room, and then I move into my bedroom and take my time washing my face, etc, I am more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep.

4.  Stay away from the computer late at night.  Even when I am overtired, if I think I can do a “quick email check” on my way into bed I will get sucked into the computer for much longer than I planned.

5.  Kneel and pray, even if just for a few minutes.  This is a new habit for me, as my night prayers used to be said while drifting off to sleep, but I think I would try to stay awake for them, which was confusing my body.  Now, I kneel at the foot of my bed, pray 3 Hail Marys and make a very brief examination of conscience and simple resolution for the next day, then ask the Lord to help and bless my sleep.

6.  Read something unexciting.  Two or three pages of a papal encyclical will do the trick — if I read a novel, I fight sleep and even after I put it down the plot will be racing through my head.  No matter what I am reading, I need to turn off the light as soon as I start to feel sleepy, don’t fight it!

7.  Get my spouse “on board.”  He needs to know that sleep for me can be a desperate situation, so I can’t talk to him or be affectionate very late at night — if he wants my attention, he has to get it before 10 pm, and if he wants to read in bed after I go to sleep he needs to use a very low light.

8.  Don’t despair during restless patches.  Someone told me to remember that I am still resting my body, which is good, even if I am not sleeping, and I can’t beat myself up while lying awake at night.

9.  Keep the bedroom at a good temperature.  Especially because I am pregnant, if I wake up feeling hot and sweaty I cannot fall back to sleep, so I have set the air conditioning to turn on if our room is above 70 degrees at night.  It is just not worth the “savings” of delaying the AC until August if I am not able to sleep.

10.  No matter how the night went, get up in the morning and make the bed.  This sets you up for a good night the next night (isn’t it easier to fall asleep in a clean, well made bed?), and also avoids the gross, guilty feeling of looking at an unmade bed all day and just being tempted to curl back up into it.


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  • Juris Mater

    I love reading all the sleep wisdom that you’ve developed through the years, MaryAlice… keep it coming regularly! And hilarious point about reading an encyclical before bed! In my own experience, that’s even more certain than a Rosary to lull me to dreamland : )

  • I’ve also found that I can’t have any thought-provoking conversations in the evening. Even after a night out with good girlfriends, I have a hard time calming down and getting to sleep. At night, I just need to take it easy and think about unimportant, inconsequential topics. This means that my husband and I need to find other times of day to talk about pressing matters, which can be a challenge but is so important.

  • Kathleen

    I recently started doing breathing exercises as a fall asleep. I used to take an hour + to fall asleep and now it probably takes 10 minutes. Breathe in for 6 second count making sure that your diaphragm pushes out and then exhale for 9 seconds. Something about the deep breaths and the counting get me every time and believe me I have had issues in this department! I have been sleeping like a baby the last few months, but I also gave caffeine up completely. It was the worst thing every, but I think that helps too!

  • Kate e

    So true, I have found that if I’m really needing sleep and having a night out that it’s best to head back 30-45min earlier then normal to have a bit of “chill” time at home so I can settle down before bed. So I head home at 9:30 rather then 10. Still get fun with friends but also get a decent night sleep since I’m not trying to hop into bed all excited from the evening.

  • Karen

    Stress usually causes my insomnia. I take 3 to 5 mg of Melatonin when I am having trouble, which is completely natural. I take one with an 8 hour release. It is great because it is not habit forming, nor will it cause you problems later on – like making your insomnia worse or your body needing more of it to work. My daughter, 10, started taking it first (lesser dose) because she would be up till 12 am. Of course we tried all those good things you mentioned above first!

    It has been such a blessing. I was starting to get very worried about my daughter’s health. It is very hard on our bodies when we don’t get the proper sleep. Obviously, it is no fun either. Often we think that high blood pressure, smoking or obesity are bad for our health, yet I don’t think insomnia is treated as an important health risk. This was a great thing to post about! Blessings and prayers for good sleep 🙂

  • Karen

    While having trouble sleeping is completely natural, I meant the Melatonin was completely natural!

  • Elena

    I have suffered with insomnia on and off for years. One trick I have found that helps with getting back to sleep is getting up and eating a light snack. Often times that 3-4am wake-up is adrenalin kicking in as the digestive system works and the only thing that can help is eating.

  • JMB

    For me, the hardest hours to endure after a night without sleep are those from 7 am to noon. After lunch, I somehow manage to get it together and I can coast until bedtime. On those days I usually give myself a lot of leeway – I’m easier on my exercise regime, I allow myself to eat a little more and I try to offer my suffering up to God. It helps to repeat ” being tired will not kill me” , although I did laugh a little when I read that KSM finally caved after 180 hours of no sleep. Well, I thought, I’ve never had to endure that, thank God.