Oh, the glorious hours of the quiet night when most people are sleeping!
The silence of the house. The darkness, save for a small light on my desk, that surrounded me. The stillness was my paradise: It was the perfect time for me to write. I had an isolated space where it was just me alone with my ideas and thoughts. The words would flow into me with the force of a tidal wave. I couldn't write them as fast as they appeared.
There were no dogs barking. No phones ringing, beeping, or chiming. It was perfect.
While I floated harmoniously in my spa of creativity each night, my husband slept. In fact, he had already been asleep for hours -- but I didn't realize it. I was in a state of bliss."That's ok, we have different sleep needs," I told myself (and him). "I'm a night owl. My words are nocturnal."
I slowly began to realize that waking up late was ruining my day. I slept until 9 a.m. My morning allergies kept me encased in a grey foggy cloud. Like a rock star on tour, I couldn't function until 11 a.m. I blamed it on my ADHD. That's how my brain is wired. I can't help it, stop it, or rewire it. But as the days began to move faster, I became less and less productive. And before I knew it, 11 a.m. would turn into dinner time -- and I had accomplished nothing.
My life wasn't working, even though I tried to convince myself that it was. I wanted to be more productive and creative during the day. I wanted to be on the same schedule as my husband. I wanted to spend the sweetness of the night chatting with my husband about his day as he listened to stories I told him about mine.
As much as I tried to deny it, I had to give up my nightly nirvana. It wasn't an unfair compromise that I felt forced to make. It was a decision I made to improve my marriage, my daytime productivity, and my life. Sleep and I had to enter into a new relationship, one where I would stop resisting it like a 5-year-old being told it's time for bed. It was time to fall in love with sleep again.
What a lovely thought! How sweet, but how was I going to pull it off?
The first few nights, I panicked. I lay in bed trying to stop my mind from overflowing. After all, my brain was trained to start working at 10 p.m.! Yet here I was, fighting the very sensation I had come to love. I knew I had to come up with a way to slow down my hyperactive mind and figure out how to transition into an earlier bedtime. My goal was 9:30 p.m. It seemed like an impossible finish line to cross, but with the determination of a marathoner preparing for a race, I started training.
First, I needed a routine. Just the sound of the word makes me cringe -- but I wasn't quitting now! I started getting in bed earlier, and little by little, each night got easier. Gradually the time spent between getting into bed and falling asleep became less and less. By the end of the week, I got into bed and was sleeping by 10 p.m., rather than lying in the darkness for an hour.
A miracle had occurred! I never thought it would be possible. Perhaps I'd been more fatigued than I thought, and talked myself into ignoring my body's needs so that I could indulge in my creative desires. Before I knew it, I had established a new routine.
I used to think sleep was about getting a required number of hours at night, but then it jolted me awake like a nightmare: Sleep determines how I spend my day. I had been so busy focusing on getting my sleep routine right that I forgot how much my sleepless nights were affecting my days. After two weeks, I was drinking smoothies instead of coffee, staying awake and indulging my creativity well after lunch, and not cancelling weekly workouts with my trainer.
Finally, I documented the sleep-training schedule that enriched my marriage, made me stronger, more fit and increased my productivity. Here it is:
Before bed:1. Start my bedtime routine early.
Some nights I have to leave dishes in the sink (soaped and rinsed). But if I stay in the kitchen, I'll be there for hours; sneaking a little sweet snack, or taking one more (hour long) glance at Facebook.
2. Keep a notebook -- not my Notes app -- close by.
I have one on my bathroom counter next to a nightlight. That's where I catch floating ideas that I don't want to lose.
3. Dim the lights on devices.
I have a hard time saying goodnight to my phone. (I know, looking at screens right before sleep is a no-no.) Some people sleep with theirs. I refuse to be one of those, but it's not easy to break away.
4. Take your iPod to bed.
Soothing music, breathing exercises, and spiritual songs are magical and can distract your mind from subconscious thoughts or uncontrollably obsessing about situations you have no control over.
If 10 p.m. rolls around and I'm still not ready to hit the sheets, I'll do a few restorative yoga stretches to take the tension out of my body.
6. Take a deep breath.
Programs that use breathing exercises can help heal anxiety, calm negative thoughts and get you back to sleep. Yoga uses pranayama. QiGong is a mind-body healing practice that uses breathe to achieve physical and mental balance. And of course, there's the ancient yet ever-so-current method of meditation to heal your overactive monkey mind.
7. Find your best sleep position.
Did you know that each position affects your body differently? For example, if you have gastrointestinal issues such as slow digestion, reflux or heartburn, lying on your left side will ease the discomfort and allow for better digestion. If you suffer from serious reflux, your chest and neck should be elevated. If you snore or have sleep apnea, you should avoid sleeping on your back. And if you suffer from back discomfort, try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees to take the stress off your lower back.
8. Brain dump and let go.
If there is something that will stop you from snoozing (no calling or texting at 4 a.m.), write it down on your notepad and take care of it in the morning. Clear your mind so that you don't wake up three hours later worrying about what you should have done.
In the middle of the night:
11. Breathe, Listen and Stretch (BLS)
Unless your skin is crawling from anxiety, stay in bed as long as you can and follow the BLS routine to get back to sleep quickly. Practice a soothing breathing exercise. Listen to your favorite music on your iPod. And if you're still unable to fall back asleep, keep a yoga mat on the floor nearby and relax into child's pose.
In the morning:
12. Always start your day with a stretch, gratitude, and a smile.
It sets your mood for the rest of the day.
I'm happy to say, sleep and I are in love again.
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