18 August 2010

The Slow Death of a Night Owl

Since my days (or shall I say nights) as a college student writing term papers, I have been a night owl. Actually, now that I think about it, I have always been more productive in the evening, and pretty grumpy in the morning. I assumed that this was my body's natural clock, and out of my control.

Well when I started getting a lot of anxiety, my sleeping patterns became a big, ugly problem. I was feeling sluggish during the day and then I would get this rush of energy at night just when I was trying to wind down. This happened night after night after night. I would sit in bed surfing the internet or watching mindless TV sometimes until 2:30 a.m.! L would wake up at like 4 a.m. and the television would still be on, because I fell asleep to it.

I felt like crap, and looked even worse. I had these huge dark circles under my eyes, and they were always puffy and swollen. I noticed this change immediately and tried to remedy it with over-the-counter eye cream which didn't do a damn thing. If anything, I needed a doctor-to-the-stars to inject some superwoman energy gel into my ass or something.

But why did I think I needed superwoman energy gel when a probable solution was right in front of me?

The probable solution: I needed to break my destructive sleep cycle.

And here's how I did it.

Old habits die hard. It wasn't like I could just jump in bed one night at 8pm and soak in all of my lost zzz's and be bright eyed in the morning. I had to create a new pattern.

The first few nights I made sure I completed my nightly ritual of washing up and brushing my teeth by 11pm. Whoever said getting older was easy is on glue. I remember being in my early twenties and on occasion just falling into bed with a dirty face after a long day. Ahhh, what a far off dream. You can only get away with forgetting to washing your face or brushing your teeth until around age 25. After that, you are making your dermatologist and dentist even richer than they already are OR you are choosing to slowly morph into a toothless troll. Either way, it's unfortunate.

Anyway, I started doing my nightly ritual a lot earlier.

I also completely stopped checking email and surfing the internet around 10pm. That's right. Internet, you are CUT OFF. Prowling the internet and my email inbox just made me nervous about all the things I wasn't doing or I needed to get done.

I couldn't completely let go of my night time TV watching (I know, BAD), but I made a compromise. Whoever invented the SLEEP TIMER for televisions is a genius. I set the sleep timer for an hour and a half. Therefore, in my mind, I had an hour and a half to nod off into dream world before the TV shut itself off. No more L waking up to the TV blaring in the wee morning hours.

Between the combo of getting in bed earlier, shutting down my laptop, and setting the sleep timer, I was falling asleep before midnight after just a few nights of training.

I quickly noticed a huge increase in my energy levels, a decrease in my anxiety, and my eyes were back to looking normal and not swollen with dark circles. Score!

The physical benefits have really motivated me to keep going. I am in bed around 10:30 pm and I couldn't be happier. I have also reduced the sleep timer to 30 min, so the TV is barely on. I know this isn't something I can do every night. Who knows? I might be a real rebel and partake in evening plans that keep me out past nine. I've been known to be a rule breaker ;)

But, through all of this, I have learned that I don't have to be a night owl. It is my body's natural tendency to want to be up at night and sleep in late, but obviously, that was not working for my mind and my health. I'm still less than chipper in the mornings, but you have to crawl before you can walk, right?

Anyone else have sleep issues? How do you deal with them?

8 comments:

  1. I struggle a lot with sleep. I have the most energy in the evening but never in the morning. My biggest problem doesn't lie with falling asleep but rather staying asleep. I wake up often during the night and then struggle with falling back to sleep. I have yet to find a fix for this.

    I'm glad you have found a system that works for you and it is helping you feel better! It gives me hope that I might find a solution too!

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  2. This is great - I somehow got into a kick where I've been going to sleep every day at 2am, waking up exhausted. I will need to try some of your tips. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Carly, I feel like you wrote this for me. I needed a kick in the pants, and you just gave it to me. Thank you! :)

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  4. In the worst depths of my depression, I suffered from aweful nightmares/night terrors. It started out just staying up watching movies... and turn into me snoozing through most of the day and being wired all night long.

    It's so great that you made the decision to make a change! I was 19 at the time, so my parents intervened. They took me to the doc and I was put on a mild sleeping pill (non-habit-forming) and developed a sleep routine.

    Even now, I know I stay up later if a screen is on (be it computer, tv, or video game), but my natrual bed time is 10:30 now. This gives me energy the next day, and doesn't feel "too early". I'm still not great about turning off the screens, but I'm making an effort to read more, so I've been grabbing a book. Since that relaxes my breathing, it's easier to put it down (most of the time) and fall asleep.

    I know I'm much better about going to bed when there is someone to snuggle up to. I'm a big snuggler, so that's part of my "go to bed" routine.

    My dog is actually GREAT at getting me to bed. He likes to go to bed around 9 or 10pm, so I KNOW I've been naughty when he's already crashed out, taking up 2/3rds of the bed (since he's a 55lb boxer). He's tough to move! So there is my incentive to get to bed!

    I also use Tylenol PM when I feel my sleep is REALLY out of wack. It'll ensure I sleep for 8 hrs.

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  5. since i'm pretty much in a different bed every night as we search for jobs and a place to live...i've had some SERIOUS sleep issues. I cannot wait to find a place to call home and get into a routine!

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  6. I have major sleep issues and have had to make a lifestyle changes since being diagnosed w/ MS. Keep up the good work! I go to bed much earlier now too.

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  7. this is a great post! i have had a problem with being a night owl but using similar techniques have mostly weaned myself..that and having kids :)

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  8. I love the sleep timer! We're also bedroom tv-watchers, and I usually set the timer for 60 minutes. I sometimes stay up too late but I've also been trying to close the laptop when I'm not really "doing" anything (ie, reading blogs does not warrant staying up past midnight) and getting to bed at a decent hour. I have always needed 9 or so hours of sleep a night to feel truly well-rested, which frustrates me, but it does make a world of difference when I can get the sleep I need.

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