No, this isn’t about baseball or sex. The subject is sleeping.
Sleep is important, we need it when we are young, though we fight. In our mid life we need it, but are usually burning too many candles. In our later years we need it, and revere a good night’s sleep.
Some people can sleep anywhere, others of us have to sneak up on it and take it prisoner. Forget the sheep, wool is scratchy. Sleep is about softness and comfort.
There are lots of variables to creating the best conditions for sleep. Some are inward, others are outward. A few are both.
I am not here to fix your sleep issues, I can barely resolve my own. Like spirituality, sleep is an ongoing, personal journey. Grasshopper, we are lifelong students.
If you can fall asleep anywhere, and stay asleep, and wake-up less tired than when you started – you are damn fortunate! Keep doing it.
I believe that sleep begins with your sweet spot.
My sweet spot consists of a slightly cooler room temperature than normal. In the summer, my bedroom might be a bit warmer. I like the room dark and I use light filtering shades, mainly to not be awoke by early morning light. I tried to make a deal with the Sun, but I got burned in negotiations.
I have probably the perfect bed for sleeping. I have one of those pillowtop mattresses and a foam pad, it is incredibly comfortable. Not too soft or hard. My sciatic nerve can bother me, and with a disc that pinches, finding a suitable position, as well as support, is quite important. Nerve and back problems are very common to Boomers, as well as arthritis and sleep apnea. The older one gets, the more variables in the equation. Some people change positions throughout the night. I usually go from one side to the other. More on that later.
For years, I had the clock right next to me on the night table. Big, red numbers, staring at me all night. On nights I had trouble sleeping, I could literally hear the numbers change, reminding me, taunting me. Recently, I move the clock to a different location, so I can only see it if I make an effort to, so it is no longer my enemy. Time waits for no one, especially the insomniac.
There are a lot of rules and suggestions for approaching sleep. Don’t eat before bedtime, moderate your alcohol, no late day caffeine, disconnect from electronic devices awhile before going to bed, including TV. Try reading, exercise or meditation, something to calm your body and occupy your mind. Have you ever driven a long distance at night? A constant speed on the highway, the regular sound of the road, darkness all around you, a comfortable temperature – soon you are asleep like Clark Griswold.
Soft sheets are a must. Spend a little more for a quality set of sheets. Your body will thank you. Smooth the bottom sheet before you get into bed; wrinkles will fight you all night. I mentioned sleeping with a slightly cooler room. Mainly, that is so I can sleep with a sheet or even a comforter. I remember many years ago, my grandfather told me that he liked sleeping with a cover, it just felt right to him. I guess I am the same way. Perhaps a cover of some sort conveys security and warmth.
For me, the hardest part of getting comfortable is the pillow. Finding the right kind of pillow, the correct height to comfort and support your head and neck, and the most appropriate angle – all still a mystery to me. I have a bunch of pillows and rotate them in and out like rookie offensive linemen. Normally, I sleep with two, and during the night, they take a beating. In the morning, I have no idea which pillows survived. Note: I tried one of those My Pillow products and hated it. Not only was it uncomfortable, I despise the My Pillow guy.
One of reasons the pillow formation is important is because I am a side sleeper and waking up with neck issues is something that has plagued me for an eternity. I am not just a side sleeper, I am like A above. Many people find back relief by bringing your legs up toward your chest. Beyond the comfort, curling up has many meanings. Sleeping on your side also carries the potential of shoulder and neck pain, something I have experienced.
Many people, including myself, have trouble shutting down their brains at night. In the quiet, thoughts, worries and things to do, all spin around like a Maytag washing machine. I used to fall asleep to the television, which many experts say is the wrong thing to do. For me, it worked. I do not need that as much anymore. There are nights when my brainwaves exceed the speed limit of the Autobahn (there is no speed limit). That’s where reading or some other activity is helpful in putting the brakes on that mental energy. If I wake up in the night, which happened last night, my first response is find my sweet spot: smooth sheets, the right amount of cover, comfortable pillow position, and slightly curled on my side. Then I exhale.
There are other resources that folks us. My doctor prescribed Ambien for me a couple of years ago, but the insurance company would not pay for the kind that has the time-release part that helps keeps you asleep. I have never used the prescription, in part because of the side effects, and I did not want to risk dependency. Other people use a sound machine that simulates rain or other nature sounds, or that provides white noise like the sound of fan. The idea is to drown out traffic or other exterior noise, and to provide a soothing sound that your brain will lock onto and disconnect from thought or physical discomfort. I have recently used an air purifier, which can sound like a fan.
There is an entire medical industry on sleep testing and therapy. See a doctor if you are snoring, falling asleep during the day, have instances where you stop breathing during sleep, or feel the need to sleep in a coffin. For those of us who travel the nightly journey in search of rest, there is no one size fits all answer. It helps to start with your sweet spot, then wheels up.