Insomnia and The Snooze Button

Button by Sean McGrathLast week I had a rotten case of insomnia. I did everything I could think of – I had my favorite sheets on the bed, my favorite comfy pjs, I went to bed at reasonable times… all for naught. Each night the same thing would happen: my head would hit the pillow, I’d fall fast asleep beautifully, and then at 1:00AM BING! I’d wake up. And not just a quick “need to pee” wake up – I was wide awake for the rest of the night. Since I am regularly getting up at 5:00AM to work out, that meant I was getting roughly 3 hours of sleep a night. I’ve written before that I’m one of those people who needs at least 8 hours of sleep, so it was a bad situation. Fortunately, I was able to function pretty well, considering, but I was getting to the end of my rope.

My best gal Cee suggested taking an allergy med at night. My boyfriend Julian suggested getting away up to my cabin for the weekend, and a coworker suggested lavender oil. I took all three of them up on their advice.

Cee noticed that I was getting a sore throat and suggested that since we are having a particularly wet autumn (and I am very allergic to leaf pollen and mold) that my allergies might be kicking in at night and keeping me awake without my really knowing it. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try taking my allergy med at night, and sure enough, the next night I did get better sleep. Whether that was from the allergy med or my insomnia just finally letting up, I don’t know, but either way I appreciated the sleep.

Julian knows that the cabin is my place to rest and rejuvenate, and by the end of a week with very little sleep, he thought I could use some time away. The cabin is also awesome for naps. (What is it about cabins and couches and naps? They just go together.) Anyway, I think he was right. I went “up North” and pretty much spent the whole weekend relaxing, reading books, taking long walks and longer naps. It was perfect! Just what I needed.

I also have a coworker who is getting into using essential oils. She suggested rubbing a little lavender oil between my palms and then inhaling it before bed. I figured it couldn’t hurt – and I already owned lavender oil – so I gave it a shot. I have to say, I did find it soothing. I felt like the night I used it my sleep was very peaceful. I liked it.

So, I’ve started getting my sleep again. Then yesterday I read this article over on fitisafeministissue.com: Snoozing the snooze button, that’s my resolution for this week. It’s a great post about the perils of using the snooze button, with links to other anti-snooze button articles. This is the part that got me: (From Why Your Snooze Button is Evil)

Research into the science of willpower finds that we wake up with a robust supply of self-discipline that is then depleted by decision-making during the day (see my related post, Can You Learn Willpower?). The snooze button turns the simple act of getting out of bed into a willpower-sapping episode of trench warfare. I’ll give you 9 minutes if you promise not to take so long in the shower. I’ll give you 9 more minutes if you don’t eat breakfast. Eventually, your ability to invest that willpower in meaningful tasks later on is shot.

Here’s something I noticed – when I first started getting up early, I was pretty energetic about it. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to leave a nice warm bed, but still, I was able to get up fairly easily. Lately though, it’s been a real struggle. I thought it was a combination of the novelty of 5:30AM boxing classes starting to wear off and my insomnia. (Even though I was wide awake, I still hit the snooze, trying to get a just a few minutes of sleep.) But reading that bit about willpower… something in that really rang true to me. I decided to join the author of the post in making a resolution not to use the snooze.

Today was my first day, and as weird as it sounds, it actually was easier to get out of bed. It’s so counterintuitive, but it worked. (At least this morning, I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes.) I set my alarm later – closer to the time I actually get up when using the snooze and when the alarm went off, I laid there for a minute to wake up, then got out of bed. No hitting the snooze. I was able to get my stuff together and was out the door in no time – and I felt a lot less groggy. Maybe it is just because I’m mostly caught up on sleep, but whatever it is – anything to make a morning easier – I’ll take it!

 

Photo credit: Sean McGrath via flickr

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Lake Dreams

lilypads

Dreaming of the lake

Last weekend I went up to the lake. I have a small cabin there, not much of a place – one bedroom, one bath, but all mine with 80′ of shoreline. It is, in a word, heaven.

Here is a breakdown of my typical day last weekend:

  • Get up at 7:30AM. Dress in walking gear and grab the dog. Hike a nearby rail trail with him for an hour.
  • Get home, eat breakfast.
  • Change into swimsuit and shorts, go take the kayak out before the lake gets too busy.
  • Get home, change into comfy clothes and take a nap.
  • Get up, grab a cup of coffee and read an old fashioned murder mystery while sitting by the lake.
  • Put on work clothes, clean up sticks and rake leaves for 45 minutes.
  • Back into comfy clothes, take another nap.
  • Get up, have lunch.
  • Back into work clothes, another 45 minutes doing yard work.
  • Head in for a glass water and a snack, then go sit by the water and read.
  • 6:00PM change into walking gear, take the pooch out for another hour hike on the trail.
  • Change back into swimsuit and head back out on the kayak once the “no-wake” time starts at 7:00 for a final quiet paddle around the lake.
  • Get into comfy clothes, make and eat dinner.
  • Have a glass of wine while reading more of my murder mystery.
  • 11:00PM go to bed.

When I am at the cabin, I change clothes a lot. I reuse them – I only have one pair of old jeans and a t-shirt for raking the lawn, one swimsuit for kayaking, and so on, but there is a lot of switching of clothes.

I also get a lot of sleep. I usually stay up later than I do when I am home, but I also get up later (as long as Hermes lets me. Sometimes my pup doesn’t quite understand weekends.) I always manage to get several naps in. There is something about laying on that couch – windows open, breeze coming in of the water… it is just too perfect not to nap.

A mayflower on the hiking trail. Hermes in the distance.

A mayflower on the hiking trail. Hermes in the distance.

Most importantly, I am active. It wasn’t always this way. I used to get there and my only movement was from the couch to the lawn chair and back again. But now I find I want to do things. I love being on the water and hiking with Hermes. It seems like this is the kind of life I should be living. Oh, I know I have to work in there somewhere – the bills won’t pay themselves. But now that I have more things that I like to do, and I have more energy to do them, it feels right. I makes me happy.

There is another side to all this, though. I call it “re-entry.” Eventually I have to come back to reality. My life is very, very good and I have many things that I love here, but there is also all the stress and problems of everyday living that pop up. Suddenly I have to check my email and return phone calls. There are angry customers and annoying coworkers to deal with. There is a distinct lack of a kayak. I am very hard to live with following a cabin weekend. “Grumpy” is probably the kindest word I can use.

It eventually passes, but it is a good reminder of what I need more of in my life. I don’t need a big house, fancy gadgets or a nice car. I need a spot on a lake, a boat to paddle around on it, and a good place to walk my dog.

 

Why the zzzzzzzsss are so Important

I write a lot about sleep, so I was fascinated by this infographic from the Huffington Post about sleep. (There is a lot more information on the website: Here’s A Horrifying Picture Of What Sleep Loss Will Do To You.)

Huffington Post Sleep

 

Not getting enough sleep is one of those things that I struggle with. I tend to be really effected when I’m shorted. I need at least 8 hours of good rest a night otherwise I am really, really grumpy. After reading this article, I have even more reasons for trying to get to bed on time!

Lost Dreams, Found

Sleeping with the animals“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”

 – Werner Herzog (1942 – )

I am using the Lift app to build some daily habits. One of those habits is getting enough sleep. I’ve written before about how I do best with a full eight hours of rest. It isn’t easy, what with being busy at night and trying to get up and exercise in the mornings, but I’m finding that using Lift helps me stay on track. It pushes me to think ahead and plan out when to be in bed and when to set the alarm.

I haven’t hit the full eight every night. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but in the last month that I have been working on it, I have gotten more consistent rest than I have gotten in years. And I’ve discovered something interesting – I’m dreaming again. I didn’t realize it, but I had lost my dreams. It wasn’t until they started to come back that I realized they’ve been gone.

I am known for having epic dreams; dreams with plots, characters, special effects and even the occasional musical number. These are full color, massive dreams, and dreams that I can (to some degree) control. In these dreams I am other people – men, women, children, even animals or beams of light. These are to the “went to work naked” dreams what Beowulf is to the Roses are Red poem. I’ve been having them since I was child, but I haven’t had one in a long time.

They are starting to come back.

Oh, I’ve had some dreams – I wrote about one I had about kayaking recently, but they’ve been simple, short dreams, not the monsters I have known in the past. The last few nights however, I’ve been getting glimpses of big dreams. I’ve had some that were loosely looped and hooked together like a child playing with yarn. I’ve had some that started to take me deep down into the brine, before letting up. It appears that my epic dreams come only under certain conditions, and one of those is copious amounts of sleep. A month of good rest isn’t quite enough, almost, but not quite. It will take more. I’m getting there.

With the resurfacing of my dreams, I feel creativity stirring inside of me. I think the two go together. Again, I haven’t missed it, I’ve been focused on other things, but I find myself thinking about drawing again, making things, building projects, at the very same time I’m starting to dream again. I can’t help but think they are connected.

I wanted to get more sleep for my health, but I think it is doing far more for me than I ever anticipated. It makes me look forward to night.

 

Photo credit: “Sleeping with the Animals” by Jonf728 on flickr

Water Dreams

Kayak summer by Ted SakshaugLast night I had a crazy mixture of wild dreams. They were so vivid they woke me up roughly every hour, on the hour. I’d get up, get a drink of water or use the restroom, and then try to get back to sleep, only to be shot back into another vivd dreamscape.

The last dream, right before the morning alarm went off, was actually awesome. I dreamed that a friend of mine and I ran into each other at a fitness shop/gym and were both looking for some ways to increase our strength. We were talking to a saleslady about what to get, when a another salesperson came up and said, “If that’s what you guys want, you need to try our kayak slide.”

You know how some shops that sell boats have a small pond that you can try them out on? Well, this gym had a kayak river course. The goal was to get through it as quickly as possible. It was a cross between a full scale river and a video game (There were also animated penguins – don’t ask me where they came from.) It was great! I was flying down the river course, all the time knowing that I was fairly terrible at it, but having a blast. I knew I was going to sign up for a gym membership to this place immediately, and I was going to conquer that course.

Then I woke up. The dream was so vivid that for a moment I actually wondered if I could still kayak. A glance at my phone, and the weather app which was predicting snow, quickly shot that down. (I am sure there are folks that kayak in wet suits right up until the water freezes, but I am not that hardcore. (yet.)) But I had a new resolution.

This spring, I am buying a roof rack for my car.

I had money set aside for a rack awhile ago, but when my dog ended up having to have emergency surgery, all my extra cash went into helping him get better. That was fine, goodness knows I want my dog to be healthy more than I needed a roof rack, but now that he seems to be doing okay, it’s time to replenish those funds. I am determined in the next six to seven months to save up for a roof rack that will carry my kayak and my bike – the two summer sports I adore.

It isn’t a gigantic expense, but it isn’t exactly cheap either. I’ve priced out some of the components and I’m looking at several hundred dollars. I’m okay with that, I know exactly what I want and I want it done right, so now all I have to do is put aside the cash. To that end, this week I am going to get out my old budget. I used to use a budget religiously, but the last few years I have gotten away from it. Since I have some goals for 2014, (the roof rack being just one of them,) it’s time to figure out where I can pinch a few pennies.

In the meantime, I am going to hope I have that dream again, because man, that was fun!

 

Photo credit: Ted Sakshaug on flickr

8 Hours, 8 Wonderful Hours

Hotel BedSleep, blissful sleep.

I know several people who can get by without it, but I am not one of them. For me sleep, and lots of it, is a necessary part of my life. This is why I’ve made it one of the daily habits I am working on using the Lift app.(Incidentally, Lift is a free app and I don’t get anything for telling you about it, I just like to share what I am working on.) 

Recently, I was talking to my mother about sleep. I was feeling overwhelmed, and it made me wonder how she did it all – a full time career as a teacher (which involved tons of at home work), raising two daughters and dealing with all their various activities, plus keeping up with all the house and yard work. (Don’t get me wrong, my dad was in the picture, he just didn’t deal with any of that stuff.) It is far more than I have in my life, and I am constantly feeling overloaded. How did she pull it all off? Her answer? She gave up on sleep. She said that during those years, she rarely went to bed before midnight and frequently stayed up even later. She was up again at 6:00AM. She said she got used to it after awhile. I suppose she had plenty of time to acclimate. If it started when I was born and ended with my little sister turning 18, that’s roughly 26 years of getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night.

I don’t know how she did it.

I have friends that get by on lower amounts of sleep too. Some who only need 5 hours or so at a time, others who frequently pull “all nighters” to finish up projects. I wish I could do that, but honestly, even if I get just 7 hours of sleep for a few nights, I’m a wreck. You can see it in my face. As I’ve gotten older, my eyes have developed these charming deep, dark, puffy circles that pop out at the first blush of lost sleep. More than that, you can see it in my personality. Lack of sleep makes me fuzzy headed, ornery, frustrated, snappish, confused, and basically, and all around terror to be around. I frequently pity my coworkers. (Well, afterwards, once I have had some sleep, that is.) It takes a toll. There are those people who are just a little sleepy when they don’t get a good night’s rest – not me. It completely changes my personality and I really dislike who I become. And I don’t recover quickly, it takes several nights of good sleep to get me back on track.

It doesn’t help that, by nature, I am an evening person. Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to work 11:00AM – 8:00PM. I loved that shift. My prime time for productivity is that 11:00 – 2:00 slot, so I came into work ready to go. I could head to bed around 11:00PM and get up around 9:30AM. I got lots of sleep so no one ever threatened to burn me at the stake. (That schedule was rotten on my social life, but man, sometimes I miss it.)

Now I work 9:00AM to 6:00PM. In order to get up and get the dog walked and do all the other things I have to do in the morning, plus get out of the house on time, I have to get up at 6:30AM. On strength training days I get up at 6:00AM. So, in order to shoot for 8 hours, that means I have to be in bed with the covers pulled up by 10:00 – 10:30PM. It seems like it should be easy, but it isn’t. There is always so much to do!

I’m working on it though. I honestly believe that as long as I work in the traditional workplace with a set schedule, I have to make sleep one of my top priorities, just for my own health. I’m hoping the Lift app will help me start taking it from a goal to get in bed on time, to a habit.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Photo credit: Hotel Bed by Sean MacEntee on flickr

Sleep… zzzzz…..

Sophie sleeping by Peter Hunter on flickr

Sleeping babies are so cute when they sleep. Ever notice that isn’t the case with adults?

I recently heard a fantastic TED Talk by Russell Foster: Why Do We Sleep? (video below) that got me thinking about sleep.

Actually, I don’t need a great TED talk to think about sleep – I am already a bit obsessed with it. I have to be. I know there are people who survive on lesser amounts, but I’m one of those folks that needs a good, solid eight hours of sleep a night. When I don’t get it, you can really tell – it’s in my personality: I am agitated, short-tempered and slow-witted. You can even see it in my face. I am extremely fair-skinned, and after as few as just two nights of short sleep, I get deep, dark, puffy circles under my eyes. I do what I can with concealer, but it is pretty obvious to anyone who looks at me.

Yet, getting enough sleep is hard. I have a set time I need to be at work in the morning, plus I need to walk the dog, get a decent breakfast and get ready for work. (You really don’t want to see me if I haven’t eaten breakfast!) Lately I have also been adding weight training and even the occasional run to my morning routine.

sleeping stone by jo-marshall on flickr

A sleeping otter holding a stone! Animals are also adorable when they sleep.

So logically, I should just go to bed at the same time every night, but life doesn’t always work out that way. Frequently there are necessary and important social things I want to do… like spending time with friends or catching up with my boyfriend. Even the weekends don’t help much. I am still up early – the pooch’s bladder doesn’t understand why two days of the week are different from any other day. The only upside is that sometimes on the weekends I get to crawl back into bed after our walk, (which I looooove). It’s such an awesome treat to grab an extra hour or two of sleep that way, but again, it depends on how busy I am if that is going to happen or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I have another journal where I track my weight, exercise and sleep. I find it useful because it reminds me when I am running low. I know it sounds strange, but sometimes I kind of forget how a week has gone. All I know is that I am blurry eyed and ornery. Then I glance back at the journal pages and can see in a glance that the problem is lack of sleep. It helps remind me to do something about it.

Even Hermes is cute when he sleeps.

Even Hermes is cute when he sleeps.

I do have a couple of techniques I use to sneak in a few more precious Zs. Sometimes, I have to skip working out in the morning. It isn’t my favorite choice, but there are times I dearly need those precious minutes of sleep. I’m more likely to go that route if I know I can move my workout to a different time that day – go for a run after work instead, for example. Another technique is taking a nap in my car on a lunch hour. I know it isn’t elegant, and in fact, it’s a little embarrassing, but if I can find a quiet shady spot to park my car, I’ll throw the seat back, set the alarm, and get an extra hour of rest in. If I am particularly crabby at work or have a big project to work on and feel like my brain isn’t working, it’s the best way to shake off the sleepiness and function again. Finally, I also try to prepare and make up for lost sleep by getting to bed really early on days when things aren’t so busy. It’s a great concept, but not that practical in real life since I’m never not busy. The absolute best thing is to just head up to my cabin for a weekend. That resets all my buttons. I spend the whole weekend just relaxing, napping and restoring my mental health.

The in the talk below, Dr. Foster talks about how sleep effects us. I’ve also read some compelling articles that getting enough sleep is important for weight loss. However, just knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to do. How about you? How much sleep do you need? How do you try to insure that you get it?

Photo credits:

Sophie sleeping by Peter Hunter on flickr

Sleeping Stone by jo-marshall on flickr