“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay there’s the rub!” Thank you Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from the 1600s. Of course, “Hamlet” is a tragedy and this quote is talking about death, but for me on those long, sleepless nights this famous line from the “To be or not to be” soliloquy runs through my mind. I have even been known to ad-lib a little, shouting out “O sleep why dost thou elude me so?” The dogs usually are the only ones who care I’m awake and that’s because insomnia is often accompanied by interesting middle of the night food choices. They are good with my dramatics if cheese is involved.
When I checked to see what I would be writing this week, I snorted out loud. Recently I had stayed up, unwillingly, until 0430. I was restless, unsettled and just couldn’t relax enough to go to bed. Needless to say I was not in the best form the following day.
I tried a prescription sleep aid once. My children would wait about thirty minutes after I had taken it and then come in and ask me questions. I have vague memories of ridiculous questions and even more ridiculous answers. Apparently, I am quite entertaining.
So to help us all develop better sleep habits and allow our pride to remain intact, here are some easy tips to incorporate into most schedules and families.
Set a sleep schedule. One of the most difficult things to do with a house full of children, but could be the most effective change we make. Going to bed and rising at the same time each day sets your body into a rhythm. And if you can get to sleep, then stay asleep, you will have more restful sleep!
Problem: I have children and a busy schedule, but I am not a schedule kind of personality. It pains me to live by a calendar.
Solution: Sleep is a common denominator among all the animals in my house—children, adults and dogs. We all need it and there is no reason not to involve all of us. Dogs are easy. I yawn, and they immediately fall over asleep. The kids are more challenging. Now that it’s summer, this is a great time to thwart your want-to-be night owls. Trust me; you don’t want to establish poor sleep patterns during the summer. Summer ends and those first few weeks of school will be miserable.
Exercise, but not right before bedtime. It’s proven that exercise, especially cardio, improves length and quality of sleep. Your body’s temperature stays elevated for about four hours after working out. Once you begin to cool down, sleep-inducing melatonin is released. So by my calculations, back it up four or five hours from when you’d like to be asleep.
Problem: I have children and a busy schedule, but I am not a schedule kind of personality. (Sound familiar? Imagine how my husband feels!)
Solution: Start with a brisk thirty-minute walk after work or after dinner. No kids to chase and drag along? Grab your electronic device, your neighbor or an animal to walk. I recommend dogs.
Turn off all electronics, including anything with a backlit screen two hours before you want to be asleep.
Problem: I just lost you on this one, didn’t I? The reality is these devices are stimulants. They keep our minds engaged, and we easily tune out or overlook those “I’m sleepy” signals.
Solution: Turn down the lights, light candles, play soothing music or read a book. Read to your children or have them read to you. THAT puts me to sleep. You might be pleasantly surprised at the peace that comes into your home when you block out the world. With the ability to record shows or go online, that favorite show is no longer an excuse. And listen closely; even if your kids say you’re torturing them and it looks like you are preparing for a séance or something, ignore them. I did.
Make sure it’s cool, dark and smells good. I’m so old, I just thought of the Fonz from “Happy Days.” But that is not what I’m referring to. Cool the house using fans or the air conditioner to circulate the air. Between 65 and 75 degrees is ideal, but pay attention to how YOU feel. Slipping between cool sheets signals the release of melatonin, but you shouldn’t be chilled under the covers. You can also facilitate this same response with a hot shower or bath prior to going to bed.
Watch out for light sources that will trick your brain into staying awake, and spray your room with sleep-inducing scents like lavender or chamomile. Place a few drops of essential oils in water, shake it up and spritz your pillowcases to activate the alpha activity in the back of your brain, which leads to relaxation and a more sound sleep.
Problem: If it’s more than just you in the home, you have to find the best compromise for the house’s temperature for all.
Solution: Do what I do: tell them I’m the mom (or dad), so YOU go put on a hoodie. If your spouse is complaining, just ask them who they want to wake up to, you, fully rested, or Medusa? There are hoodies that fit spouses too…
Use white noise. A low level soothing noise will help tune out other sounds helping you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Problem: My family thinks video games, most music and 23 teenage girls sleeping over is white noise.
Solution: Hide the controllers, turn off the router (no way they will watch local channels after 11:00 pm) and limit the number of girls or nights they sleep over.
Bottom line: If you are having trouble sleeping or sleeping well, you will have to make changes. If you’re stressed, making a few simple adjustments and talking about your stress may make a huge difference. If you are having an ongoing problem, call and talk with a Military OneSource consultant or your primary care provider and check out the chill drills to help you with the relaxation part.
Now, to nap or not to nap… That is the question.