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Friday, May 24, 2013

Invite Mr. Sandman Over for a Night Cap!

If you hare having sleep issues, or are feeling physically tired lately-- this is for you! :) (Just as a disclaimer, I am not writing this for new parents' that are not sleeping because they are up at night with a new baby-- unfortunately, that is something that will only get better with time... haha). 

For those of you with children, you know firsthand just how important and valuable "nap time" is in your household. For those of you without children, you may or may not get to bask in the glory of taking the occasional nap for yourself. Being twenty-five, I can say that I am sadly having to say goodbye to the days of taking naps regularly. Granted, I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a nap in between the ages of five and fifteen-- but as soon as I turned sixteen, I began to remember just how excellent they were. So from then until now, every single time I am home in the afternoon and get an opportunity for a siesta, I grab it by the horn and hold on tight!

Are you having difficulty falling asleep at night?
Of course, it is extremely rare for adults to get in a good nap during the day. Whether it's due to work (usually the case), having to take care of children, or cleaning up while your children are napping, it isn't exactly common for two hours to open up every day for us to say, "YES! My naptime is here!" So what does that mean? Hit up Starbucks for a caffeine boost? Sometimes, and only sometimes, that is the best solution - we are all guilty of relying on heavy amounts of caffeine to keep us going on certain days. But is that really the solution? Definitely not :) All I know, is that in this day and age, we expect a lot out of ourselves, and sometimes keep ourselves awake by worrying that we didn't do enough in the day. I honestly blame it on our overly busy schedules, not getting enough quality sleep, and too much sugar/caffeine. All of those things combined together are a recipe for sleeping disasters :)

I was talking with a friend this evening over a coffee date, and she asked me how much sleep I usually get each night. I told her, like with most other people, it depended on the occurrences of that day. Did I get up early? Did I have a lot going on that day? Did I happen to snag a nap at some point? All of this matters, because it affects how I feel come 10:00pm every night. It's 11:04pm right now, and I am more alert now than I was this afternoon. Our bodies are kind of funny like that :) The reason that I am awake right now is because I got to squeeze an hour nap in between 4:15pm-5:20pm, which is not common but always welcome! But for me, this is not the norm. And obviously, everyone's schedule and internal clocks are a little different. 

Generally, most adults should strive for at least seven hours of sleep every night. Be honest with yourself, here and now-- do you get anywhere close to that much every night? I know for myself, at this point in my life, I absolutely need to aim for those seven hours. Why? Because on days like today, I really start to feel it come 3:00pm. After my afternoon class finished at 2:30pm, I went to the school library and wrote a quick paper for about 30 minutes. After I finished my paper, I began to feel like there were rocks weighing my head down-- I could barely keep my eyes open. I was going to try to wait around to hear from a friend to see if we could hang out, but I had to listen to my body and go home; it needed a nap. So I went home, walked through the front door, and crashed on the couch with my cat.

I think that's the problem that most sleep-deprived people have... it's a matter of listening to your body, and doing what it is telling you to do. When we are hungry, our bodies are telling us "Okay now-- it's been a while since I've had a good meal. Give me something, here!" And if we are thirsty, our bodies are telling us "Come on-- things are getting dark upstairs. Just drink some water already!" So when our bodies are telling us "Seriously, I am barely functioning right now. Go take a nap... or at the very least, go to bed early tonight!" We should proooooobably listen. Not just so we will feel better, but because better sleep literally improves our qualities of life. Don't believe me? Here's what WebMD says:

"Lack of sleep can take a toll on nearly every aspect of daily life. Research has linked sleep deprivation to car accidents, relationship troubles, poor job performance, job-related injuries, memory problems, and mood disorders. Recent studies also suggest sleep disorders may contribute to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes." (WebMD). Granted, this is all probably information that you have gathered from experience, or have already heard or read about. But just think about it: if you are nodding off during the day, or having a hard time concentrating, it's probably due to your sleep quality. 

When I lived on campus at Moody, I can remember having a couple of roommates that had a hard time getting to sleep every night. To me, it made absolutely zero sense whatsoever. There was one in particular, a perfectly lovely girl, who literally took up to two hours to fall asleep every single night. She slept in the same room as me, but I never really noticed her struggles aside from what she told me. The three of us roommates would generally go to bed within the same two-hour window; somewhere in between 11:00pm and 1:00am. The funny part was, this girl was usually the first of the three of us to go to bed. She would go to bed at 11:00pm, I would usually go in around 11:45pm, and our last roommate would come in sometime shortly thereafter. My sleep-deprived roommate would occasionally tell me things like, "Geez Melissa, you were out like a light within 30 seconds last night!" to which I would respond, "How would you know? You were in the bedroom like an hour before I was." And when she told me it took her up to two hours to fall asleep most nights, I began to realize just how lucky I am.

Maybe you're a person like my old sleep-deprived roommate. Perhaps it takes you a long time to fall asleep most nights. If that is you, my deepest sympathies are with you. I can't imagine what it's like to lay down and want to sleep and not be able to. But I can't help but wonder, and partially know-- those types of problems are generally linked with some sort of anxiety. I won't get too far into that though, because there are lots of ways to rid yourself of anxiety. But when it comes to sleeping instead of feeling anxious in your bed, there are a few tricks that I am going to list. But on the other hand, perhaps you're like me and can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, but you are choosing to stay up too late and are obligated to wake up early. What's a girl to do?

As with all  lifestyle changes, you have to try to be consistent with choices and actions in order for something to become a habit and be effective. Here are some tips we can all follow in order to getting some better sleep:

1.   While you are awake, try to do as much face-to-face interacting with others as possible. Whether that means going out for a walk and saying hello to your neighbors, or meeting up with a friend for dinner, try to do things the old-fashioned way and give your phone and computer a break :) Introverts and extroverts alike, interacting with people either drains the heck out of you, or fulfills what your brain needs and allows you to release all of that talk you have stalked up. Talk, laugh, enjoy. I guarantee by nightfall, you will be more tired than if you spent the evening in solitude.

2.   Granted this one is probably a given, but try to limit the caffeine intake after 3:00pm. I say this as I have a half-full Intelligentsia cup sitting right next to me :) But remember, I currently have zero sleep problems; caffeine  never affects my sleep patterns. That is EXTREMELY uncommon and is probably not the case for most others reading this. Try to stick with water after 3:00pm, and don't feel too badly if you can only have decaf when you're out on a coffee date with friends. The truth is, there is still some caffeine in decaf, just not nearly as much. Definitely not enough to keep you wired at night when you should be asleep. So trade in your coffee mug for a glass of water; our body will thank you.

3. Put your computer down earlier, turn your TV off sooner, hang up the phone with your boyfriend before midnight, and call it a night before you "want" to. Am I suggesting to become a granny and go to bed before 8:00pm? Absolutely not. I understand that girls just wanna have fun . But there really is no sense or betterment for yourself to stay up and watch an entire season of a show, and miss out on like two hours of sleep that you actually need. If you have to get up in seven hours, remind yourself that what is going on online is not nearly as important as your health and well being. Your body needs you to let it rest, and your brain needs it EVEN MORE. Staring at screens all day is already not good for us as it is, try to wind yourself down by taking a warm shower or reading a few pages of a book instead. 

4. If you are lying in bed and can't fall asleep because you are too caught up in your thoughts and this is causing you anxiety, calm down... Here is a trick that I learned on 20/20, and I swear it works EVERY TIME for me if I'm not asleep in ten minutes. Okay, so you are lying there tired, but not asleep. Your body is caffeine-less, your computer has been turned off for over an hour, and all you want to do is sleep. No problem. Stay lying down, but fixate yourself on the notion that you will be asleep within the next 5-10 minutes. One ligament at a time, slowly raise each one (one at a time) for about 20 seconds each, let it go limp, and allow it to drop on your bed. I know it sounds weird and crazy, but by doing this, you are allowing the blood to flow smoothly to each ligament during the "hold", and when you "drop", your brain recognizes the drop as "tired". 

For example, if you are lying there and ready to do this exercise to help you get to sleep, lie flat on your back, pick up your right arm, outstretch it upward (like you are raising your hand asking a question), and hold it for 20 seconds. Don't over concentrate on anything else. Instead, think of it as stretching your body one ligament at a time. Drop the first arm onto your mattress, and do the next arm. Now do your legs, one at a time. While keeping your head down (and your ligaments have all been done), pick up your neck/head and do the same thing - hold it off the pillow for about 20 seconds, and then slowly let it drop after 20 seconds. You can shift maybe once or twice to get comfortable, but you will more than likely feel less anxious and more ready to sleep at this point. Give it a try, it only takes a little more than a minute of your time.

5. If faith plays a part in your life, pray as you are lying in bed. Your mind will settle if you are just talking to God, and it will eventually put itself to sleep. I find that if people are thinking about finances, work, school, family, sadness they are experiencing, etc., they have a MUCH harder time falling asleep, because they can't come to terms with what they are worried about. Through prayer, you are saying, "I am not going to worry about these things, so I am going to give them to You". Your body will respond to what your spirit and mind are saying. 

6. Make sure the room you are in accommodates your sleep style. For me, I sleep best with a fan/white noise of some kind, a little bit of light (the door has to be open but the lights in the apartment all must be turned off), and check the temperature of the room. Obviously, take care of all of this before you lay down. The littlest things keep us awake sometimes. 

7. If you have a noisy roommate who comes in late, snores, slams things on accident etc... Have a loving talk with her. Let her know that you are having a hard time sleeping lately, and tell her how she could help. Earplugs are okay for some people, but I have never been one to use them. Again, keep the idea of a white noise machine in your room if you have a roommate. Splitting bills down the middle is GREAT - being kept up at odd hours of the night due to snoring or weird waking hours is not. Work something out where everyone can compromise, and everyone is getting the sleep she needs.

8.  Avoid doing exercise right before bed - even things like yoga. Exercise is meant to boost your energy and give you endorphins, which is great for you - but not right before bedtime. Try keeping these types of activities in your nightly regimen: 
          a. taking a warm bath/shower
          b. watching a little TV (as in, probably not more than an hour or so)
          c. reading (this is a sure way to get me to go to sleep, haha!)
          d. curling up with your pet if you have one that doesn't live in a fishbowl

9.   Try to list out whatever it is you may be worried or anxious about on a piece of paper, and write one possible solution for each thing underneath it. I wouldn't recommend keeping this close to your bed, or you may be tempted to check it every few minutes. But writing things down and saying, "I have a possible solution for this problem that I will be looking into either tomorrow or very soon-- things will be okay!" will more than likely give you a little peace of mind for the night. Just laying there and focusing on things that can't be fixed in the moment can become draining, and they definitely can have an affect on your sleep. 

10. Last but not least, try going to bed a half hour earlier than you usually do. If you are accustomed to going to bed at 11:00pm, try going to bed at 10:30pm for the next week or so. If your body needs the sleep, it will eventually say, "10:30pm! I'm so happy you're here! Let's do this!" Staying up late was something we wanted to do when we were kids. Now that we're adults, we all actually WANT to sleep. This is just one way of controlling your body's needs. I understand that it is not possible to always sleep in an extra half hour, but it is normally doable to make our bedtimes a little earlier if needed.

With all of that being said, invite Mr. Sandman over for a night cap tonight. Ask the man to sprinkle his dust in your eyes, curl up in your favorite position (I'm the type that starts off on my side, then flips to my stomach once, and ends up on my back with my arm draped over my eyes and my one leg curled up like a ballerina on my side all within a matter of five minutes), and start counting those sheep. Sleep is a need that we all must meet in order to be our best selves for the next day, so don't deprive yourself of it any longer. Goodnight to each of you!

- Melissa Mancini, pre-counseling student 

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