Monday, July 18, 2011

Insomnia? Some Tricks that May Help

So my sleep pattern is pretty much messed up and has been since last October or so. The unhealthy pattern I got into looked something like this:

I tuck the twins into bed and stay in their room to make sure they don't keep each other awake with their three-year-old stand up comedy and wrestling routine. Usually I would lay down (to rest my neck which is recovering from a long-term injury) and prop my laptop up to scroll through facebook, twitter, or blog streams or write a new post here. For a while I could do this and stay awake until the twins were asleep, then get up and do more work elsewhere in the house, head to bed at midnight and get up at seven to start the next day. The problem started between working too many nights after my midnight deadline coupled with jet lag after our trip to Bali last Fall. Soon I found myself falling asleep before the twins did. Then I was sleeping on the floor of their room until about 2:00 a.m, then crawling off to bed to sleep. Except...then I couldn't go back to sleep. I would lay in bed worrying about all the things I didn't get done, thinking about what I would have to do tomorrow (today), listening to my husband snore, etc. I'm doing what I can to change this pattern now, but I've learned a few tricks to help with the "can't get back to sleep" part of the problem that I thought I would share with case you ever have a similar challenge.

The overall goal of these tricks is to get your mind occupied with something that is positive, but not too stimulating so that eventually you drift off to sleep. If one doesn't work another one might, depending on what frame of mind you're in.
  • Be the anesthesiologist - If you've ever had surgery under general anesthesia, they often do a little trick with you to take your mind off of what is happening. They will ask you to count backward from 10 as they administer the drug to put you into la la land. Most people don't make it past 7 before they are out. I do a similar thing except I start from 100, and I try to pace my counting with my breaths, taking long slow steady breaths as if I am already asleep. Often I'm asleep before I hit the seventies...if I get further than that I either keep counting down, but try to go slower or I change techniques. Let your mind drift a little as you are counting as this makes it harder to keep track of which number you're on and makes it easier to drop off.
  • Play the alphabet game - People use this on long car trips to make the time pass more quickly, but it works great for falling asleep, too. Think of a category of objects (vegetables, animals, songs, fruits, etc.) and try to think of one object for each letter of the alphabet. So if you're thinking of animals, it's: A - alligator, B - butterfly, C - cougar...To make it extra challenging you can go backwards: Z - zebra, Y - yak, X - x-ray fish...Often I try to come up with characteristics or names of God, which can turn insomnia into devotional time.
  • Use some visual imagery - There are a couple of different imagery techniques that I've found work really well. The first one is to imagine a large book open on a table (an unabridged dictionary, for example). Now imagine slowly closing the book so that the pages are all meeting in the middle. If you get too close to the cover, just imagine a few more pages, or close more slowly. This sounds simple, but is surprisingly effective. The second idea is to imagine a red background, and then picture a white object in front of it. I often use some Christian symbol (a cross or a dove, for example). I suggested this to a friend and she said that when she tried it she couldn't get the color red. I actually think that's part of what makes this work. It's not easy to imagine an all red background and then put something white in front of it. While your brain gets busy with that you can relax and go to sleep...unless you get stressed out about not being able to make which case try something else.
So this is what works for me when I just can't drop off to sleep. Very rarely nothing will work, and in those times I assume there's something God's trying to tell me, so I get up and find something to do that gives me time to think and pray. It's sort of like fasting from sleep. Usually after I've spent that time working things out with God I can fall asleep easily.

Let me know if you have any similar tricks to head off's always good to have more tools in the kit. Just click on comments below.


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