Raise your hand if you have trouble getting asleep and staying asleep.
But I just turned around my entire sleep experience, and I'm going to share it with you. Now, let's remember that despite this nice lab coat, I am not a doctor. And let's also recall that everyone's unique chemistry is totally weird, so what works for me might not work for you. So check with a doctor or at least the Drug Interactions page on drugs.com before suing me, mkay?
My main problem has always been that I have trouble getting my brain to quiet down at night. I'll just lie in bed, listening to my heart beat increasingly fast, pretty sure I'm about to die while running through story ideas, wardrobe changes, and to do lists in my head. Then I wake up at 2am and can't get back to sleep. And it sucks.
So here's what I did:
1. Wean yourself off sleep meds.
For a long time, I've taken Unisom Sleep Tabs, about half of one a night and a full one at cons. It allowed me to catch up on all my sleep debt from having kids, but as time went on, I felt increasingly addicted to it while knowing that it wasn't good for me. So I weaned myself from a half to a quarter, and now I'm going from a quarter to an eighth. So remember that if you use meds to sleep, you won't want to go cold turkey.
2. No writing/art after 5pm.
Yes, if I'm on a hardcore deadline, sometimes I have to break this rule. But now that I wake up between 6 and 7, I have two extra hours of sharpness in the morning. Point is, even if I allow myself to check email or surf social media sites (which I'm also trying to cut down on), I don't save the writing work for nighttime. It just spins up my brain, and then I can't shut it down on my own.
3. Listen to binaural beats.
I think this one is the game changer. I downloaded an app on my phone called Brain Waves, and it has several sessions of binaural beats related to things like relaxing, creativity, focus, and, hallelujah, sleep. You just get your headphones or earbuds, listen to 15 minutes of weird tones, and it lures your brain into sleepy brainwaves instead of letting it stay keyed up on creative ones. You're supposed to meditate while you listen, but that made me feel like a cat trapped in a box, so I watch The Great British Baking Show reruns on mute with subtitles.
I listen around 9pm with plans to sleep around 10.
4. Go to bed at the same time every night.
At 10pm, I'm in bed and ready to go. I haven't lasted past 10:30 since I started this regime, which is a wonder.
5. Wake up early.
So I used to try to sleep in until 9 or 10 every day to make up for my massive sleep debt. But now I pop awake at 6 or 7 every morning and get going. If I was sleeping until 10am, no wonder I was staying awake until 2am, right? Bodies generally want around 8 hours of sleep. Duh.
6. Get bright light in the morning.
When you wake up at 6 or 7, it's usually not bright and sunny, so I sit in front of my SAD light for half an hour or more. If I'm working, I'll keep it on all morning. Turns out I'm solar powered. Who knew?
7. Try relaxing supplements (of the legal kind).
It turns out that there are several herbs known to have a calming, anti-stress effect. Lemon balm, passionflower, chamomile, skullcap, rhodiola, to name a few. I read a book on adrenal fatigue that basically described my life and decided to work in some rhodiola in the morning and lemon balm in the afternoon. I don't know how much it contributes, but the whole thing seems to be working, and teas are nice.
I also pay attention to my magnesium intake and will drink Natural Calm or take an epsom salt bath every night.
8. Cut out caffeine.
Again, maybe don't go cold turkey. I'm super sensitive to caffeine, and if I have any after 11am, I'll be awake until 2am. These days, I don't do any caffeine unless I'm at a con. Even a cup of green tea with 50mg caffeine will make it harder for me to fall asleep. Screw you, caffeine. Oh, and if you still need something hot at breakfast, try Crio Bru. It's made of cocoa beans. I drink it every morning and love it.
And I'm not drinking alcohol a lot, either. Chemicals, man.
9. Get the buy-in of your housemates.
It's kind of weird to decide one day to make sleep a priority, and you need to let the people around you know what you need. Having a new schedule has been a big change for me, but I'm loving it.
10. Don't beat yourself up when you fall off the wagon.
At a con, forget all this. If you get more than 4 hours of sleep, you're doing fine. It's also going to get messed up when you're sick, on deadline, or struck by a story idea. That's fine. Just get back on schedule when you can.
These days, I go to sleep at 10:30 with none of the ol' frantic, panicky thoughts. I wake up at 2am and go right back to sleep. I pop awake between 6 and 7 feeling refreshed and ready. I can't believe it took me this long to get the equation right. And I haven't had a single nightmare.
I want that for you, too.
Sleep long and prosper!