I have no trouble falling asleep. It is a rare night that I'm not asleep five minutes after hitting the pillow. What I do suffer from is night waking. Come 3 or 4 in the morning, I often find myself wide awake. It's too early to get out of bed and start my day, and while I eventually fall back to sleep, I wake up exhausted.
Because we go through many sleep cycles every night, waking in the wee hours of the morning is fairly common, but not being able to go back to sleep multiple nights in a row spells trouble. To prevent this maddening pattern, I've gotten proactive and cleaned up my sleep habits. Here are common sleep disruptors and what you can do to sleep through the night.
- Stress: No surprises here, right? Stress can interfere with sleep. It's true. My mind would start racing at 4 a.m. and in the moment there was little I could do to slow it down or distract it. However, meditating regularly during normal waking hours has proved quite helpful. I won't lie, meditation is challenging for me; but sitting quietly and focusing on just my breath for 10 to 15 minutes a day, three or four times a week, has helped reduce my stress levels and become the best free sleep aid. Jotting down a quick to-do list before lying down helps too. Getting the tasks down on paper and out of my brain means I can relax and surrender fully to sleep. Ahhhh.
- Alcohol: Those nightcaps are a double-edged sword. Alcohol initially makes you sleepy, but as your body metabolises the booze, it becomes a slight stimulant. I decided to see if not drinking at all helped. Quality sleep didn't come right away, but five days into being on the wagon, I found myself sleeping through the night. Now, I occasionally drink wine with dinner but save it more for the weekends.
- Screens: I like to play nerdy word games on an iPad in bed, but I have given that up. The blue light of these screens confuses the brain and interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So I gave up my nighttime games and just read in bed, even though many experts say beds are just for sleep and sex.
- Temperature: The optimal sleeping temperature is 60 to 65°F. I took the extra blanket off my bed and just sleep with a sheet and down comforter and this seems to keep me from overheating and asleep.
- Melatonin: I have also found that taking melatonin, which was recommended by my doctor along with meditation, has helped too. I take a three mg dose in pill form right before bed.
- Peace: I have made peace with the problem. Instead of getting frustrated, angry, or stressed about my lack of sleep, I try to chill out. I don't look at the clock every two minutes, which I have hidden deep in my nightstand as to not trigger more stress about lack of sleep. I just lie in bed and rest, which is still pretty useful. Breathing and relaxation techniques help too.
Two common issues that I don't believe were affecting me: fluctuating hormones (as women age, they tend to become lighter sleepers) and the need to pee. But you should limit the intake of any bevvies a couple hours before bed.