My Sleep Hygiene Is Excellent. So Why Can’t I Sleep?
Sadly, I know I’m not the only woman stuck on the 3:00 a.m. shift.
Every night for the past week, I’ve had a hot date at 3:00 a.m. sharp. It’s not with my husband. It’s not even with another person. The date for which I’m sometimes early but never late is with an inanimate object glowing red on my bedside table: my alarm clock.
Did I say glowing red? Glaring red is more accurate.
At 3:00 a.m., my eyes are puffy, and my limbs are heavy. But my mind, well, my mind is rarin’ to go. I am busy! At 3:00 a.m., I have thoughts to think, problems to solve, possibilities to consider, options to weigh and plans to make. Heck, I’ve got articles to write. I spent several pre-dawn hours last week working my way through this little nugget. That’s how efficient I am!
Except I’m not. My nocturnal productivity occurs strictly in my mind. I do all my mental pacing, tracing and racing from the confines of my bed or from the couch in my pitch-dark living room. The one place I never go is downstairs to my office, where, I suppose, actual productivity might take place. Why? Because I’m Too. Darn. Tired.
You know what happens after a night of cerebral activity? My brain, so alert, so active, so astute between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., has turned to sludge. Each morning, my head is filled with thick, goopy, sticky, impenetrable gray matter that has been rendered utterly useless by insufficient zzzs. Did I just pour salt in my tea? Check. Is my sweatshirt on backwards? Yep. Did I burst into tears when my husband asked if I could take his shirts to the dry cleaner? You bet. Don’t even ask me what TV show we watched last night, which book I just read or what time my kids’ soccer games are this week.
To be clear: I have excellent sleep hygiene. That’s the technical term for going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, abstaining from alcohol, shutting off the screen an hour before bed and taking slow, deep meditative breaths to help me drift off into Dreamland. Most nights, I check in there briefly before surfacing in Awake-Land like a kid who just touched the bottom of a ten-foot-deep pool and now is quickly running out of breath.
I’ve tried prescription medications, herbal remedies, essential oils and progressive relaxation techniques. I’ve put a tiny speaker under my pillow so I’ll be lulled by the ambient sounds of the rainforest. I’ve counted backwards from 400 by sevens so many times I know the numbers almost by heart. Every night, I stuff my ears with foam plugs and make my husband wear a nasal strip to minimize his snoring.
Somehow, I’m still awake.
I used to sleep well. I remember telling people, “No matter what’s going on, I can always sleep!” What happened? For starters, motherhood. That’s what happened. I don’t think I ever fully reset from the surges of adrenaline I experienced when my boys were babies and slept an arm’s length away. A mere sigh from the crib and I was ready to face any foe –T-Rex or otherwise — that wandered my way. I suspect motherhood led me to master the middle-of-the-night to-do list. Sure, I was bone-numbingly tired caring for a newborn, but since I was already awake …
Or it could be hormones. As a woman of a certain age, estrogen may ebbing and flowing throughout my body just as it did during my (sleepless) two pregnancies. But truthfully, I think the problem lies somewhere else. Specifically: above my shoulders and between my ears. For now, I guess I’m stuck in a familiar pattern of insomnia that won’t quit no matter how much I exercise, how little I drink or how long I suffer without sleep. At some point, it will pass. One day, I remind myself, I’ll jump out of bed before my alarm goes off, excited and energized for the day ahead.
A girl can dream — well, sometimes — right?
Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.