Hello, Persephoneers. As some of you may know, the editorial staff of Persephone keeps in touch regularly through large (and often quite humorous) e-mail chains. We discuss everything, from P-Mag issues and current events to personal demons and issues with the people we love (read: spouses/significant others and our parents, normally). Since we’re a batch of ten (ten! Can you believe we’re big enough to have ten people running this thing?!) very smart ladies from plenty of different backgrounds, we often come to each other for advice about, well, just about everything.
Since we find each other so perfectly awesome at giving advice, we thought it would be really cool to start our own sort of advice column. Kinda like Dear Abby, except with ten awesome ladies and without nearly as much internalized misogyny. This week we’re picking a pretty basic question ourselves, but we’re opening the floor to you all, our wonderful commenters, to ask us, “What should I do when…?”
The way this’ll work is we’ll select a question, then talk about it in our super-duper editorial e-mail chain. Then we’ll pick the best/funniest/weirdest answers and put them here. You’ll never know whose advice you’re gonna get, but we can guarantee it’ll be good. And if it isn’t good, it’ll at least be damn funny.
This week’s question is What Should I Do When… I can’t get my mind to quiet down and go to sleep?
xfafafabulous: Okay! So! I can actually answer this, because for three semesters in undergrad, I did undergraduate research on sleep. ANYWAY. What to do? Well, first, you lay in bed and actively try to not think for like 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, get up. Walk around, get a drink, read a book, listen to some relaxing music. Nowadays people will often get online, but that’s actually a poor choice; TV and computers over-stimulate you and will make it more difficult to go back to sleep. After 15 minutes, go back to bed. If your problem is that you’re worrying or thinking about things you have to do or are stressing you out, sit down and write down all the things that are concerning you. Make a list of possible solutions. Doing that makes you feel like you have resolved something, and that might allow you to relax.
That’s all short term, though. Long term, something you really need to do is establish a bedtime routine. When it’s time to go to bed, have a set order of things you do: drink a mug of tea, wash your face, brush your teeth, change, read a chapter of a book, then turn off the light and go to bed. Something like that. Something that will trigger your body into knowing, “Okay, this is sleep time.” It won’t work the first time, or even the fifth time, but eventually it will. Simply go to bed and try to sleep for thirty minutes. If you can’t, get back up and do something quiet for a little bit, then try again.
It is important to have a schedule for getting up and going to bed. I know your schedule and lifestyle might not allow for it, but it’s important to try to go to bed around the same time every night. However, having a bed time routine can somewhat offset this, and you can get away with more varying times if you have one. It’s also important to attempt to have enough sleep. It can be a little difficult to see how much sleep you need to work at your best levels. Your best bet is to start with sleeping for seven hours, then add a half hour every night until you wake up feeling more or less rested. Sometimes we need broken up sleep; we need eight hours in the day, and then a 30 minute nap around 3 p.m. to get through the rest of the day. Just play with it and see what works for you. Keeping a sleep log can help you keep track of determining when you feel best.
pileofmonkeys: I make myself repeat words in time with my breath. Just two words, one on the inhale and one on the exhale. It forces all the other words out of my brain and lets me clear my head enough that I can sleep. The words change, but they’re always something simple and not remotely relevant to what my mind is racing about.
Ruby Bruiseday: Unless I absolutely have to be up at an early hour the next day, I usually say, “Fuck it,” get up, and do something productive or entertaining. I’m usually lucky enough to be a good sleeper (since I sobered up, anyway), so I view the moments my brain won’t settle down as an opportunity to either puzzle through something that’s bothering me, or finish a book I’ve been reading, or reorganize the pantry. For instance.
Now, on the nights when I absolutely HAVE to get to sleep, I get in bed, bundle the blankets up to my ears, close my eyes, do some deep breathing exercises from yoga, and try to at least direct my thoughts to more restful things. Like, if I’m agitated about something that’s keeping me awake, I try to deliberately think of something pleasant instead. You can fill in the blank with whatever’s pleasant. :)
I usually end up drifting off. If not? Well, there’s always coffee.
Michelle Miller: Well, my family is a touch odd in this regard. We each demonstrate several different sleep disorders, including night terrors. I ended up on the “lucky end” of the gene pool and only suffer from insomnia and sleepwalking episodes, both of which seem to have a relationship to one another.
Essentially, my brain is a busy little bee that never quiets. At best, when I’m not awake for a few days, I coax my brain into a slightly quieter state. I rarely sleep deeply, and when I do, I talk about The Beatles or pesto with my husband in my sleep all hours of the night, which he just loves, by the way.
When I’m simply stressed or overwrought, however, I lie in bed, eyes shut, and focus on relaxing each of my muscles, starting at my feet. I also focus on my breathing. If this does not work, I get up and munch on some popcorn, which studies show can help prep the body for rest. If I feel ambitious, I might try reading or writing, too. I do this for about an hour and then try bed again. Rinse and repeat.
SaraB.: When I am too wound up to sleep, I make up stories. I either imagine that I have been unexpectedly thrown back in time, and try to figure out how I would live and who I would talk to, or I try to flesh out some detail of the book I will someday write. Both activities are engaging enough to keep me form thinking about day-to-day stuff, but since they are purely hypothetical I know I don’t have to stay awake until I am “done.” Periodically I have a night when I can tell within 30 minutes of going to bed that I won’t be sleeping any time soon. On those nights I watch TV or play video games until I am stupid exhausted and can fall asleep.
Do you have a question you need answered? Leave it in the comments, or if you’re feeling a little shy, drop it in the magic Ask Us! page.