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Sleep Hygiene the Secret to Happiness

Posted by on May 18, 2011

Night Owl vs Early Bird the battle rages on

When I was single I’d stay up until midnight or 1am. This felt natural to me. The times I attempted to go to bed earlier were filled with tossing, turning, and circular thoughts – like a dog chasing its tail endlessly without satisfaction. I had the good fortune to be able to sleep in late and arrive at work by 9:30am and had no trouble staying later to make up the difference. This helped to quiet the early birds at my office. I always slept well, had deep dreams, etc. But I do have awful memories of staying at my grandparents place and waking up to the clanging of pots and pans, and occasional vacuum cleaning. My oma would bang on my door if I slept past 8:30 or 9am. She was German and full of unwritten routines.

My mom, also a night owl, often argued with my grandmother about sleeping in or staying up late. In these heated arguments she transformed into what I imagine she must have been like as a teenager: lippy and obnoxious in defense of her routine and need for sleep. Her zeal made her come across as a spoiled princess. I was embarrassed for her and I knew this didn’t bode well for earning any understanding or respect from my grandmother, nor would it curtail my gram’s sleep interrupting habits. But I was glad that being awakened this way made her as angry as it made me. We became sleep allies.

woman sleeping

Slumber sweet slumber

My grandmother’s disdain for our sleep/wake habits made me quickly decide that early birds were a haughty bunch with their, “I’m up with sun and getting stuff done while you sleep in like a lazy bum” attitude. That irritated me. We were highly productive between the hours of 9pm and midnight or 1am while the lazy early birds were deep in slumber. I did some quick arithmetic. Given that we only slept an hour later than them during the week and they went to bed 3-4 hours earlier than us, we were in fact 2-3 hours more productive than them. But they were too busy sleeping to be aware of our accomplishments. And God forbid we stay up late and paint, wallpaper, or clean.  Instead of waking up and appreciating our work she’d scoff with her midwestern twang, “Whaaaaat? You did ALL THIS until 2am? WHY?? I would have helped you in the morning! That’s silly.” The fact that sleeping got her OUT of doing the work and was a gift from us to her never crossed her mind. We were the cuckoo night owls and she quickly wrote off our work as though we had “cheated”. This triggered the beginning of my early bird averse behavior.

Careful selection of life partner with similar sleep habits helps

Turns out women are twice as likely to have insomnia. I pulled this from the National Sleep Foundation:

Myth: Men and women are affected the same way by insomnia.

Fact: Insomnia is nearly twice as common in women than in men, and women are more likely than men to report insomnia to their healthcare professional. A woman’s sleep is uniquely influenced by menstrual cycle, biological life stage, stress level, health, mood, parental status, work hours and other life responsibilities.

Throw a loud, snoring, partner with an opposite schedule into the mix and a woman is totally screwed sleep-wise. I know, that’s my scenario. My partner puts early birds to shame. He belongs on a farm, rising at 4 or 4:30am on a regular basis. He’s ready for bed by 9:30 or 10pm. It’s all fine if you have certain things in place to combat these differences. But a house with over-the-top acoustics and a few flying squirrels crashing in the attic above the bed can drive a person insane. And studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases anxiety and anxiety increases insomnia. The vicious cycle can quickly spiral into something that impacts the sleep habits of the entire family; think early a.m. crying jags that devolve into pillow fights and screaming.

These are my techniques for coping:

  • squirrel exclusion (That’s what they called it. No more squirrels in the attic.)
  • getting in bed by 10:30 or 11pm
  • reading to get drowsy
  • saffron capsules: 1 in am 1 prior to bed (they’re anti-anxiety)
  • custom cut cotton ear plugs, cut to fit every third day (thanks for the suggestion Patti!)
  • a Marcal sleep sound machine in the hallway
  • a down pillow to put over my head (to combat snoring)
  • willingness to leave the room and sleep in another one
  • a silk sleep mask filled with loose filling to relax my eyes when I get angry because I can’t sleep
  • rising roughly at the the same time daily (within 30 minutes)

Okay, so I’m not exactly “low maintenance” when it comes to sleep. But you have to take steps to ensure decent sleep, and I learned the hard way. I’ve also found that the more I feel love and true appreciation for my partner, the better I sleep. So a bit of cuddling, back rubs, or head scratches before bedtime can go a long way toward making you relax. Give or receive, both help. Try it and let me know if any of this gets you closer to your dream slumber.

If you’re interested this is  the report by the sleep foundation.

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