Lately, several people I know have been talking about sleep – or lack thereof. I can definitely identify because I’ve been very sleep deprived for much of my life. I’m not sure where it all began, but I do remember being about 8 years old and having the feeling of needing to urinate frequently in the night. So I’d get up and make multiple trips to the bathroom before I could get to sleep. This started making going to be pretty challenging.
In addition to that, I had sleep apnea – I was a mouth breather as a child and had to force myself to learn to breathe through my nose when I learned in school that it was better for some reason. I woke myself up a lot at night, not realizing I had stopped breathing for periods of time.
These experiences led me to feel like sleep wasn’t that important. In college, I could get 4 – 5 hours or less of sleep and feel okay the next day. I never drank coffee and always had energy. I didn’t realize at the time that it almost didn’t matter how many hours of sleep I got because I woke up multiple times at night anyway, gasping for breath. I didn’t realize this because I tended to fall asleep pretty quickly (after my trips to the bathroom!) and I thought I slept well.
Some Tips from Mom
A few things helped me over the years. My mother taught me a trick when I was in high school and I’d have nights where my churning thoughts over the years. She told me to say “thoughts” and see them leaving my body and dissolving into the air. And for exams the next day, she taught me to only read all the material the night before, without trying to memorize it. Then to visualize myself happy and doing really well on the exam. That and Silva UltraMind pretty much got me through college without having to study much – which is a testament to power of mind.
Low Level Anxiety – The Big Inhibitor
Over the past year, I’ve become aware of a low level anxiety about going to sleep. I wondered for a long time why that would be. Did something terrible happen to me as a child that I have blocked out? As I paid attention to this, I realized that it was more about the settling down part. The constant up and down of feeling like I had to urinate as soon as I would lie down was frustrating. In addition to that, I’d have this feeling of a full mind, full of thoughts. There was no peace.
An Unpopular, Though Effective Solution
By accident this year, I learned something that really helped. This is most likely not the most popular technique, but consider trying it if you’ve tried other things and are still searching for a solution. Turn off the television. What??? Okay, there are a couple of options here. The best one I’ve found is to turn off the television completely, which would have seemed impossible to me at one time in my life – but when I moved to Saba, it changed everything.
Tiny Island Lessons
Saba is a tiny, third-world style (in some ways) Caribbean island about 15 minutes flight from St. Martin. It is a beautiful, healing, mountain of an island with 1,500 residents living a simple, happy life. The rhythm of the island is early to bed and early to rise – with lights going off on the whole island by around 9 – 10:00 pm. Without the glare of city lights, the stars poke out of the darkness in all their glory. It’s likely you will get a call or a visit at 7:00 am, so there’s extra incentive to get to bed early! And…there’s no television. Well, there is, but you’d have to have a satellite or pay for cable that doesn’t really work too well.
Joel and I decided we’d conserve our money, since high-speed internet is outrageously expensive there and we had to have that, plus a variety of phone options and backups to do our international work. We didn’t know if we’d have to give in and get cable, but we thought we’d at least give it a go.
Less Noise, More Peace
What happened was unbelievable to me. We didn’t miss TV. In fact, I started to feel so much more peaceful. The noise was gone. As a fan of some of the reality TV shows, I realized the messages I was getting through those shows – not to mention other TV shows and commercials – was negative. I started to go to sleep earlier at night because Joel and I would listen to soft music or talk for a few hours before bed. There was a gentle, winding down that I had never experienced before.
Not A Place, A Habit
It’s not like I had to be in Saba to have that experience – it’s just that it allowed me to notice what I had not noticed before. When I arrived back at our home in the US for the spring and summer, I decided to limit my television. What I noticed when I watched it is hard to describe, but let’s see how it goes. It felt like being bombarded with noise – in a way that almost felt “sick.” You know how you feel when you’re sick? That’s how it felt to me – like it was affecting my mind and body. I didn’t realize this before Saba because I was so used to TV that I didn’t know what it was like without it. Now, Joel and I never watch TV, unless we put in a DVD or pick a movie to watch on HBO. We mute all commercials and talk during them instead – rather than looking at the TV. It’s made a big difference in our lives.
How Much We Try to Fit In Impacts Us
Now that I’m busier with work, I find that I stay up really late – full of excitement to do my ghostwriting, keep in touch with the blogging community and e-mails and develop new plans for my business. I stay up later than I’d like, but I am grateful that I have the ability to sleep later and still get the sleep I need. I value sleep more than ever.
- Turn off the TV – try it for a day or a week. Or just turn it off at least 3 hours before bed – see how that works.
- Read calming, gentle books before bed – Stephen King or fast paced books tend to create a wakefulness in your mind.
Soft music and conversation on light topics can be really helpful.
- Create a “winding down” experience before bed, where you do your favorite, calming actions – deep breathing, gentle stretching, anything that works.
- Talk to an herbalist or specialist in Chinese medicine about herbs that might work. I took passion flower and wild oats tinctures together and they really helped.
- Watch your thoughts throughout the day – and pay attention to your inner body. See what those thoughts are doing to your body and mind. Choose to let the anxiety-producing thoughts go. Play with this – it gets easier with practice. It can take years of practice, but even the small steps are worth it.
- Eat animal protein meals at lunch, between 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. Most people don’t digest protein well, so it can be taxing on the body to have protein meals at dinner — which can impact sleep. Grain meals for dinner tend to help with relaxation and are easier to digest.
- Give yourself at least 3 hours to digest dinner before going to sleep. Your body needs energy to digest and it slows down when you sleep. It takes time for your body to digest, so giving it the time it needs can allow a more peaceful rest.
- Both hunger and fullness can impact your ability to sleep. Before recovery, if I binged and purged in the evening and went to bed on an empty stomach, I was guaranteed to be up much of the night, starving. Many times, I’d have to get up and have some light snack, just to be able to sleep.
- Consider room temperature — if you are too cold or too hot, it can impact your ability to sleep. I found that socks in bed were a big help for me on cold nights. With low thyroid, it’s common to have cold hands and feet — even though they may warm up during the night, you may find it helpful to wear socks and warm your hands up before bed. A warm bath or cup of tea can really help. Changing my blankets in the summer to light layers really helped me find the right temperature — and allowed me to adjust as necessary.
- Consider light – a totally dark room helps. Light blocking curtains are great if you have light coming in from outside. If you have any light from your clock, your computer or a night light, use eyecovers. Your pineal gland in your brain picks up the light and that’s a signal to wake up. The same is true if you turn on the bathroom light upon waking to urinate.
- Late night computer use — this is my vice. Your pineal gland will pick up on the light and signal the brain to stay up. It will shut down melatonin production, which you need to sleep. If you’re turning off the TV, consider turning off your computer earlier in the night.
- Take care of your adrenals – we need healthy adreanals to sleep and yet, eating disorders and addictions — along with stress — harm the adrenals. Consider ways you can reduce stress in your life in order to help heal your adrenals.
Sleep – A Recovery Reward
I will say that as I swung into recovery, my sleep always improved – and as I swung out, it got worse. One of the benefits of recovery is gentle sleep – and for me, the absence of the nightmares I used to have. Recovery and my sleep apnea mouthpiece have allowed me to get more sleep than I have ever had in my life. Even prior to getting the mouthpiece, I could feel the peace of sleep in recovery. It is this experience that helped me see how pervasive addiction is. Our minds are powerful – when they are plagued by fears and anxiety, it affects everything in our lives. The good news is, we can learn to harness the power of our minds – with dedication and practice – and each small step brings great rewards.
Here’s a post I did last year on my Caribbean blog: The TV Experiment
What Are Your Ideas and Tips?
Please share below — I’m sure we could all benefit from a dialog on how to get a better night’s sleep!
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