Operation Sleep

I know. I am obsessed by my bed. That I do not deny. But it strikes me that sleeping is one of the deepest pleasures of life and that it is when we are deprived of it that we are at our most bonkers. And by bonkers I mean dangerous. And grumpy. And un-creative. And depressed.

For the past two years I have been all of the above. I have, my Dad assures me, been the living, breathing epitome of bonkers. It hasn’t been pretty. And at the root of of it has been a sustained, miserable, inability to sleep. The kind of tiredness that has my eyes aching as soon as I manage to prop them open. Snapping at little people who do not deserve snapping at. Lugging myself about and moaning a lot. Getting confused about who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and oooh, about a hundred and one other symptoms all pointing the way to the place where madness lies.

And for a while I was too tired to do anything about it. So I muddled on through a swampy maze and left chaos and bruised feelings in my wake. And then I got mad. Real mad. And I got it into my head that life could not be lived without the pleasure of a good nights sleep and this waking up ten times a night malarkey was going to do me a damage and self-inflicted damage is preposterous and must be avoided at all costs if a person has both the intelligence and the will to do something about it.

So I set about solving the problem by experimenting, and researching and fussing and trying out all combinations of sleep-inducing wot-nots and eventually I came up with the following ten point formula for sleepy success: I’m feeling so much better…

Welcome my Darlings to Operation Sleep…

1. If at all possible go to bed alone. While I am not advocating life long celibacy, I have found that on the nights I sleep alone, I find it easier to relax and fall into a deeper slumber. This maybe for a number of reasons, not least because I feel freer to wriggle about until I am comfortable without disturbing anyone, and because the relative silence and solitude allows me to potter about for a while indulging myself with my own sleepytime rituals and losing myself in my latest book.

2. Read the same things. Not necessarily the exact same things, but specifically the same genre or type of reading matter. Bedtime is NOT the time to challenge your mind, but is instead the time to relax into an alternative snuggly universe. While I read a wide spectrum of literature, I now reserve bedtime for quite the most cosy of small village mysteries (most recently the Murder on a Monday series from Ann Purser) or wartime romances. In this way there are few surprises or conundrums to dwell on and I look forward to climbing into bed and re-joining my favorite characters. Think not of books but of bedtime stories…

3. Keep the bedroom cold. Just above icy cold if possible. Getting into a cool bed, in a chilly room and then wrapping yourself up in plenty of blankets will guarantee an easier journey to sleep than trying to drift off when you are even remotely warm. Keep the heating off in your bedroom and a window slightly open so there is plenty of air circulating, even in the depths of Winter.

4. Make a butterfly pillow. The battle to find a comfortable set of pillows is long and arduous and  though I long ago discovered my preference for a firm but still squishy feather filled pillow, it was not until I happened upon this video from sleep expert Sammy Margo, that I finally found a way to sleep that did not have me waking up with aching shoulders and a stiff neck.

5. Have a range of cushions and pillows. After much experimentation I now sleep with three extra cushions. One between my knees to balance my hips, another I wedge pregnancy style under my stomach and a third I clutch like a teddy. I cannot express clearly enough what a difference this arrangement, mad as it may sound, has made to my ability to relax so I do not fall asleep with every muscle in my body tensed. So much so that I keep finding myself wandering around the bedding sections of many a department store and seriously considering one or six, of a range of wedge cushions, bolsters and full length hugging cushions…

6. Wear ear-plugs. Hell yes. In the same way that most adults require complete darkness to sleep, so too does it make bedtime easier if we inhibit our ability to listen on those nights when we are physically aching for decent slumber. The shutting down of all sensory distraction is an enormous help to all – especially those hugely bothered by our partners necessity to breathe. I mean really: how blooming rude when we are trying to sleep!

7. Sleep under a sheet. While it may seem terribly old-fashioned and unnecessary in a world where the wonder that is the duvet exists, having a sheet on our beds that we can post ourselves under, can make all the difference to a good nights sleep as it allows us to regulate our temperature when we feel stifled under blankets or an eiderdown and prevents us waking up with goosepimples when our partners hog the entire duvet.

8. Don’t take a drink up to bed. I know. This goes against all the good advice issued by the Masters and Mistresses of a good nights sleep, but if your bladder is anything like mine, it may be necessary to restrict soothing bedtime drinks to an hour before you retire, rather than sipping directly before you sleep.  The best thing to do is to keep a bottle of room temperature mineral water at your bedside and to only drink it if you are truly parched.

9. Wear tight bed-clothes or sleep naked. There is nothing worse than rucked up pyjama bottoms, or a nightie trying to strangle you in the small hours and if like me, you are a light, wriggly sleeper, there is no doubt that night-clothes can make a nuisance of themselves as you twist and turn in an effort to fall asleep. So the answer has to be bare skin, or as is my choice, a pair of knickers,a sleep bra when PMT has swollen my breasts and on extremely cold nights, a tight-fitting thermal vest or long sleeved thermal t-shirt. And bed-socks. Oh yes: there is nobody sexier than me at bedtime. I am even considering one of those dreadful onesies, if only because there is nothing of them to ruck or ruche and strangle me…

10. Use lavender. It is a cliche but it works. One doesn’t even have to like the smell to enjoy the benefits of lavender, you merely have to think of it as bedtime medicine and spritz it on your pillow or rub it on to your temples to let it lull you to sleep…

Ok, so that’s it m’dears. Operation Sleep. And between that and finally getting my thyroid balanced, my hypochondriac-ism diagnosed and a new mattress installed, I now sleep like a baby and couldn’t be more grateful…

Night night little one.x

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10 comments on “Operation Sleep

  1. I think it’s rather ironic that you posted this right after your post on reading in bed. All I’ve ever seen on good sleeping habits says to use your bed for sleep only. Reading in bed, laptops in bed, and TV in bed are big no-nos. Here’s a great page from Stanford University on good sleeping habits , if anyone’s interested: http://www.stanford.edu/~dement/howto.html As a chronic insomniac, I’ve found a lot of those tips helpful. I recently bought a white nose machine, and it has saved my sanity!

  2. Jane Grayson on said:

    Great post – thank you! I suffer on and off with insomnia and know how miserable it is. I found another of your posts about baths really helpful. 20 mins in a hot bath with plenty of Epsom salts can make you sleepy. I’ve also used relaxation videos on Youtube as I struggle with tense muscles. I’m going to try your suggestion of a sheet this weekend.

  3. I couldn’t agree more about going to sleep alone. If I don’t fall asleep before my husband comes to bed his snoring keeps me awake all night! I find it strange that you mention a sheet. It must be a different cultural habit because here in the US we always use a flat sheet under blankets. I have to be covered in order to sleep and the sheet is great in the summer when it is 98 degrees with 100% humidity. I have also found that trying to read a boring old classic like Les Mis or Moby Dick puts me right to sleep, it took me six months to read Les Mis!

  4. chrissie on said:

    Same here I have to go to bed on my own. I do the lavender on pulse points and read house mags nothing too taxing. Drinks useless I trot to and fro otherwise. I hug a pillow like a teddy too ! Was awake until 2 last night. Sigh. Not tried sheet under duvet. Last resort !

  5. Jeanette on said:

    I must be the odd lady out here, but I can’t fall asleep if my husband comes to bed later than me. I have to touch his foot with mine in order to fall asleep, weird I know. The times that my husband has come later, I do fall asleep quickly but wake up faster. Then I am mad because I just took a “nap” and then I am up for hours!!

  6. chrissie on said:

    Jeanette my husband talks and talks when in bed.. I empathise as often asleep and in he comes and I am then awake as he is snoring !

  7. Great tips! I can not sleep with earplugs because my tinnitus would make me crazy, same reason it is easier to sleep with somebody, the sound of breathing distracts.

  8. Karla Neese on said:

    Sleep has always been my favorite life event, hobby, escape, what have you. I love these tips and have already adopted several. I have a multitude of pillows for various “phases” of comfort depending on what mood my cranky neck is in so I love the idea of the butterfly pillow! And now, I’m off to noddy land.

  9. I find a too cold room worse than a warm one. I want the sheet under the quilt/duvet, but hubby can’t seem to tolerate it. Flannelette is a godsend in the Winter. You can get away with less on top if you have a cosy bottom sheet and pillowcases. made with that material. And I sleep better with my husband in the bed. His big warm body is such a comfort. And fortunately, he doesn’t snore unless his rhinitis is acting up.

  10. The amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep changes as the night progresses. For example, most deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. Later in the night, your REM sleep stages become longer, alternating with light Stage 2 sleep. This is why if you are sensitive to waking up in the middle of the night, it is probably in the early morning hours, not immediately after going to bed.

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