How do you sleep?

‘Head out for drinks at 8.30pm? Sure, of course. No problem.’

Frantic mental arithmetic- two hours for drinks, that’s 10.30pm, half an hour to get home, that’s 11pm, half an hour to get settled for bed, that’s 11.30pm, get up at 6am, that’s 6.5 hours of sleep, that’s an hour and a half less than my ideal 8 hours.

‘Can they do 8??’

Sleep panic. The absolute stomach tightening, nausea inducing fear of not getting enough sleep. I used to feel like this every day last year.

My sleep panic was kick-started by a trio of circumstances that left me bleary eyed, sociopathically moody, and relentlessly hungry. Firstly, my job at the time- teaching English at a secondary school- required me to be up and alert very early. Secondly, my boyfriend is freelance and a night owl, meaning his schedule is the opposite of mine, late to bed, early to rise. Finally, like an eight year old at their parents’ dinner party, I hate going to bed. More specifically, I love being in bed, I hate going to sleep. I hate that another day is done, leaving a list of tasks unfinished. I hate that I feel I’m missing out if I go to bed before everyone else. At the time, I also hated my job and wanted to defer the morning.

If something didn't go my way or plans changed suddenly, I would get so frustrated and angry, I surprised myself.

All of these elements coalesced into a near constant anxiety about sleep. I was averaging five to six hours a night during the week, way below what I know I need to behave adequately in public, and I felt terrible, physically and emotionally.

I resented going out and I resented staying in. The junk food cravings broke me by 11am, I snuck countless biscuits up my sleeve in the staff room so that no one would judge me. If something didn’t go my way or plans changed suddenly, I would get so frustrated and angry, I surprised myself. I had never heard myself talk like that. One Friday night, I threw a plate of French fries across the kitchen in a fury. The next morning, after a long sleep, I was stunned, not recognising myself, even more stunned my boyfriend hadn’t walked out.

My solution to this shambles was to quit my job. Extreme. I don’t regret it for a second but not for everyone. Hopefully you love your job, or at least have platonic feelings about it. So, if you don’t want to completely reassess your career and bank account, and you’re also contemplating sweeping fries up from behind the fridge, here are some tips that I’ve found useful as I try to reach healthier sleep.

  1. You need a routine. It sucks sometimes, but it’s the best way to get good quality sleep. So, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, every day.
  2. Switch off. Again, sucks, I know. You want to watch another episode of thingamabob on your laptop or catch up on several hundred 280 character tweets. You can’t. Not if you want to sleep well. Research is now pretty conclusive on this one- screens impede your production of melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone.
  3. Set the scene. Make sure your bed is comfortable for you and that noise, light and temperature don’t interfere with your sleep.
  4. Leave a buffer of time between food/alcohol/coffee, and sleep.
  5. Exercise.

For more info on the consequences of sleep deprivation and the science of sleep try this article on Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, and his new book Why We Sleep.

Photo by Hans Van Den Berg/Flickr

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