2018-03-20 The Sleep Equation

My mind is swarming with thoughts I want to explore further. My to-do list is busting at the seems. I’m trying to get back to a balance with my elements of harmony but I’m struggling because my internal instincts seem to be overriding the choices I should be making. Last night I met with success on several fronts and so before trying to tackle that to-do list, I want to acknowledge that success… .

I went to sleep at 10:30 and slept all through the night to 6:30 when my alarm started singing “Say” in my ear. I used to think that sleep was the first step in getting back a healthy life. It is, but it is just part of the bigger equation.

I know for certain poor sleep night after night has contributed greatly to my health issues in the past. I’m fairly certain I’ve written at length about trending short nights and the correlation with my inability in the waking hours to finding success in all other things. A few three and four hour nights is something a person can bounce back from relatively easily, but string those out for weeks or months and everything starts to crumble. Again, I used to think if I was able to course correct that, everything else would start to fall back into place. I have found, however, that it’s not that simple.

The underlying reason is that a good night sleep is itself a moderately complex equation. There are several variables in play ranging from straightforward to seemingly elusive. On one end of the spectrum is routine and choice. That’s very direct and mostly subject to other factors that are controllable. I know if I want to get 8 hours of sleep, and I have to wake up at 6:30 to get the kids up and moving, I have to plan to go to sleep at 10:30.

I know that if I elect to read or write later than that, I’m sacrificing sleep. I also know that another factor is a person’s ability to fall asleep, so if I choose to be on my laptop or whatever, right before bed, I may lay awake with my “thinking” brain not able to be lulled into the state required for sleep. Some buffer time to “wind down” is ideal.

I’m pretty fortunate because I’ve not really had issues falling asleep. It seems as though no matter what I’m doing, and despite my mind potentially spinning on something, I’m tired enough I can fall asleep fairly quick. It’s always been this way and I’ve never really struggled with it. I think just being so active during the day, physically and mentally, helps.

My issues in the past centered more on waking up at 2 or 3 or 4am  and not being able to go back to sleep. This is where things get more complicated. Try as I might to fall back asleep, often I was just unable. And lying awake thinking about another short night and how tired I was going to be the next day only made things worse. It becomes a thing out of direct control.

It’s because of this that I no longer think that the first step back to a happy, healthy life is to restore sleep. And believe me, I’m wanted it to be that easy. I turned to OTC and prescribed meds to get that good night sleep, but being a person who is averse to that as “fix”, I wasn’t willing to stick to any sort of regimen for long.

I tried melatonin, Benadryl, doxylamine, and Xanax and different combinations of these at time. I experimented a lot late in 2016 and early 2017, trying to find what would work. Some things might work a few times, and then they wouldn’t. Xanax works reliably, but again, I don’t want to take it every night. Ideally it would be reserved for some one-off night when I just could not go back to sleep.

The key for me is being able to quiet my mind. I’ve tried meditation, and that’s worth delving into more I think, but I just could not seem to get over the hurdle of the mid-night insomnia regardless of what I tried. The answer, for me, lies in the waking hours and other factors, like eating habits, exercise, and satisfaction.

Again, diet and activity is largely within my control. I can limit caffeine or alcohol and get a fair account of exercise each day. These are choices, but satisfaction is somewhat intangible. You can’t just choose it. It’s a bar you have to raise, and that might be a very slow process.

In fact, if you think of a beam or board with holes in the ends that are “threaded” into two poles, one being sleep and one being how you feel in general, you can’t raise that beam without pushing up on both ends. In essence, no matter how hard you push up on the sleep side, it won’t go very far. You have to inch your way up on both.

It is because of this that I no longer think sleep as the first step. It’s still part of the first step but it has to be multiple changes over time that lead to success. It’s not a quick fix; it takes time and it can be slow and frustrating. It took me a year and lots of tough life changes but little by little, I have elevated both sides of my existence and my insomnia is now under control.

Now, I’m sleeping through the night almost every night and if I have an issue, I can use some med if need be. I’m tracking my sleep, so I can see the progress which is also helpful. I know that if I had a week where my average sleep dips too low, I need to make some adjustment and put a priority on making better choices.

Last night I got just over 8 hours according to my Fitbit. It’s great. Even more telling is that even though I have a lot going on my brain doesn’t immediately kick into analysts mode until after I’ve been awake for a bit. That’s the real magic!

I’m totally deep in the thinking weeds now though, and have to go work on pushing up on the other side of that equation.

Happy Tuesday Math Brain,
~Miss SugarCookie

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