Aaaahhh…sleep. Isn’t it delightful? Photo by Tori Egherman CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

What I learned about sleeping after decades of sleep anxiety

If you’re tired and anxious and not sleeping, you’re not alone. You probably know that yourself and don’t need a statistic to tell you this.

I spent much of my childhood and decades of my adulthood with sleep anxiety. My parents still seem traumatized by my difficulties sleeping as a baby, and that was half a century ago.

As a result of my difficulties sleeping, I became an avid reader of sleep research, trying different experiments on myself. I wish I had access to the original source material, instead you will have to trust my memory and my own one-person experiments in sleeping.

1. Cold feet make it hard to sleep

This turned out to be one of my biggest problems! My feet were cold. At night they took two hours to warm up, which is how long it would take me to fall asleep. This was easily solved with socks. Discovering that cold feet impacted sleep was a small miracle.

2. Just believe!

A good night’s sleep is as much about believing you’ve slept well as it is about actually sleeping. Isn’t that odd? So if you can convince yourself that you’ve slept well, then your body often believes you.

3. Sometimes you are asleep when you think you are awake

I know, that’s odd as well. After cold feet, not realizing I was sleeping was a cause of exhaustion during the day. I was sleeping, but I felt awake.

I now listen to a podcast (one in particular most nights) every night. If I don’t know where I am in the story then I know I’ve fallen asleep. If I do know, well good. I’m enjoying someone reading a bedtime story. So sue me.

This isn’t very sociable and can be quite annoying if you are sharing a bed with someone… but I’ve found a way to make it work (headphones).

4. Don’t share a bed

Many people sleep better alone. They just do. It’s not you…

5. Reread a novel or watch a movie

Lying in bed can be restful, so do this in the comfort of your own head: review a book or a film that you love. It’s great exercise for the brain and can keep the thoughts that prickle away.

6. Revisit every house you’ve ever lived in

All these imagination games are fun and help calm an anxious mind.

7. Stay in bed

Lying still is still restful. Don’t get up.

8. White noise

I grew up in quiet areas, with crickets and birdsong. Now I always sleep with a fan. I need the white noise to erase the random dog barking and drunk fighting and Harley revving by.

9. Don’t worry, be happy

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably tried all sorts of meditation tricks. If you’re like me, none of them worked. If I put my anxieties into a bag, they break out. If I imagine a blue sky, it’s quickly filled with junk. On top of that, I can become so worried about becoming anxious and not sleeping that I magnify the negative impact of my interrupted sleep patterns.

Over the years I have taught myself to stop worrying about worrying. My slow success has done wonders for my sleeping.

10. Back to the bedtime story

After a certain political event that made me think the world would not still be here in 2018, I was comforted by Alan Bennet reading Winnie the Pooh. His voice, combined with the sweet stories of the bear and his friends kept me sane and rested.

Now, after nearly two years of listening to bedtime stories every night, I can barely sleep without them. My brain can go into destructive overdrive without my bedtime stories.

A familiar story in a familiar voice does wonders for me each night.

11. Go to sleep when you’re tired

Simple enough advice, but few follow it. We push ourselves past tired, anticipating that desirable second wind. If you’re like me, ignoring your sleepy signals can result in being too tired to sleep. Learning to sleep when I was tired significantly improved my wakefulness during the day.

12. Is everything okay?

It turns out that I have an oddly long uvula that can cover my windpipe when sleeping, making it difficult to breathe and making me snore like a freight train. If you are tired during the day or snoring at night, you might have a problem that prevents you from getting enough oxygen at night. Try to figure it out.

My problem could be solved by learning to sleep on my side instead of my back. It’s an inexpensive solution to what can be a very dangerous and expensive problem.

*For more conventional suggestions such as “Go to sleep at the same time every night,” check elsewhere.