Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Into the arms of Morpheus

I’ve no new progress to report on the work out regime. My schedule has not permitted regular training sessions, although the intensity has been amped up. So, I’m devoting this post to a digression on sleep.

For years, I had difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. The occasional restless night is unavoidable for any of us, but when good sleep is the exception and not the rule, there’s a definite underlying problem. At my worst, I could only count on three good nights of sleep per week. Worries, physical discomfort, or general restlessness were all factors – and sleeplessness took a toll on my productivity and happiness. It’s even more difficult for people who work off-hour shifts.

Even the experts disagree on how much sleep the average human needs and whether naps are a useful supplement or can harm the overall sleep cycle. No two people are exactly alike in their needs for sleep. But the general consensus is that eight hours of sleep should be sufficient for most humans. As for myself, if I get less than six hours of sleep, my performance and mood are impaired. Conversely, if I get more than eight hours sleep, my body’s rhythms are thrown off and it takes a day to readjust. About seven hours is right for me. The occasional brief nap (no longer than 15 minutes) helps when I am mentally fatigued. It’s like hitting the CONTROL-ALT-DELETE keys on a frozen computer – it reboots and is refreshed.

Over the years, I’ve been able to stabilize my body’s rhythms and improve me sleep. Here’s what works for me:
  • Exercise at least once per day – even light exercise like house cleaning will help drain your body of excess energy.
  • No consumption of caffeine within eight hours of bedtime (i.e., if you go to bed at 10pm, you should finish your last caffeinated beverage by 2pm).
  • Avoid overuse of sleep supplements – whether Nembutal, Valium, or even Melatonin – your body will develop a dependency.
  • Place yourself in a state of mind that is conducive to sleep. Turn off the phone, don’t surf the net (especially news/political sites). If you’re worried about something, tell yourself “I’ve done the best I can for today. If there are any problems tomorrow, I will deal with them then.” Scarlett O’Hara might have been on to something when she said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” If you feel grimy, take a quick warm shower.
  • Your environment – the bedroom – should also be conducive to sleep. The bed sheets should be relatively fresh. I can’t sleep in an unmade bed, and have been known to make the bed and fluff the pillows minutes before turning in. The bedroom should be a sanctuary reserved for two things: sleep and sex. Keep your work, bills, and worries out of the bedroom. Even television can be a distraction to sleep – although a TV in the bedroom is nearly unavoidable these days. A half-hour before you go to sleep, dim the lights, light a candle (but put it out before you turn in), turn on some soothing music at a nearly subliminal volume. (I have the Tune In Kindle app, which lets me play any radio station with an internet stream, so I play quiet Classical music all night.)
  • Do not eat a large meal within four hours of going to bed – the heavy feeling will make it difficult to sleep.
  • If you sleep with a loved one, never go to bed angry with him/her. There’s nothing better one can say or hear at the end of the day than “I love you.”
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