Everyone in Hawke’s Bay needs a lie down. From crabby ranting on Facebook to aggressive beeping on the expressway, we’re all behaving like toddlers who’ve missed nap-time.
For some it’s bona fide cognitive overload. For others it’s blown out survivor’s guilt. Whichever, too many nights staying up ‘til 2am wrestling with an overworked cerebrum is a one-way ticket to Planet Insomnia.
Tossing and turning because the insurance guy needs more photos? Up all night second guessing second mortgage options? Worried sick by silt? Burning the midnight oil in search of a light-bulb solution to a problem you’re too tired to even articulate? What you need is a good night’s sleep. But how?
I’m too zonked to think up answers myself so I put it to a panel of professionals to give us some hints on the best ways to get forty winks.
First, I ask my lawyer. She says she finds it hard to sleep at night. I try to look surprised. She used to take drugs … sleeping pills every night for years. She’s recently moved to herbal alternatives. She does suggest the 3-2-1-Sleep Method: no food three hours before bed, no work two hours before, no screens an hour before. She says she’s all talk and rarely does it.
Next, I email the vicar. She tells me she made a new discovery after the cyclone when it was hard to switch off. She switched on a podcast … mellifluous tones reassuringly saying, “You have done enough for today”. Such a good way to catch some zzz’s … bedtime stories for adults. The vicar assures me they are not those kind of adult stories. Disappointing.
My accountant also sleeps poorly. Her gold-dipped tip is to have a routine. Go to bed at the same time every day. Put eating well and exercising in the credits column and a lack of routine in the debits column. Tuck away 15% extra sleep every week to make sure you can pay for a big night out on the weekend.
A GP friend says sleeplessness is different for everyone but his cure is to get out of bed after 30 mins of trying to fall asleep, meditate for 15 minutes, then try again.
My counsellor is interested in getting to the crux of why sleep evades us just when it’s the one thing we really need. What’s in the brain is trying to get out and that stops you getting rest. “Train your brain to steer away from all your worried, anxious, frustrating thoughts by naming random things. Begin with A, then B, next C and so on until you drift off.” This tricks the amygdala into thinking it’s safe to sleep. Random words reassure your mind. “We’re not alert and focused on something specific so it’s ok to let our guard down and rest”.
My yoga teacher is interested in the why too, from an Ayurvedic and personal perspective. She says the reason for not sleeping is the mind is still actively ‘digesting’ something – an impression from the day, an important thought – and there is residual agitation or stress in the system. She tells me it’s important to slowly wind down as the night comes. She suggests avoiding screens or after-work work or late-night nibbles or important conversations or “mind-aggravating activities”, replacing them with meditation, gentle yoga, a bath, a foot massage, reading, soft music … I’m drifting off already.
Some people are natural night owls and work best when it’s dark. I speak to an artist who disobeys the ‘no screens’ rule nightly, is a world champ at midnight ‘mind-aggravating activities’, snacks like a Gremlin in the wee-hours. She says her secret is only going to bed if she’s ready to sleep. If she hangs out in bed too long, waiting for the sleepy dust to drop she gets uncomfortable and can’t sleep at all.
Writers are renowned for staying up late poised for the muse to strike. One I know tells me she has to physically move during the day in order to sleep during the night. “If I’m too sedentary my mind goes hyperactive and I’m ruminating all night.” Then she says: “Sex is a really good way to go to sleep … I’m like a bloke, I roll over and BAM I’m out like a light.”
A mate who’s a DJ tells me if you can’t sleep “you’ve gotta change the track”. “Get your head in a different space and your thinking will change too.” He says when that fails, he has herbal tea and reads Proust. That sends him to sleep pretty quickly.
A musician friend who burns the candle at all ends with a cocktail of teaching, jamming, composing, rehearsing, travelling, recording and performing says he too reads to go to sleep. “I am lucky enough to own the classic, complete and unabridged, Bill English Speaks … transcriptions of every speech Bill English ever gave.” He also admits he frequently resorts to an alcoholic beverage or two.
Sleep eludes all. The best advice is find a professional to help, preferably one who’s an insomniac too. Call them at 2am to check in. Whether it’s a vicar, a lawyer, a DJ or a doctor they’ll be up … overthinking, drinking, playing podcasts, reading Proust. Offer to join them. You might not sleep, but it’ll be one hell of a party.
The vicar recommends www.nothingmuchhappens.com
The GP recommends Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
The DJ recommends Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
The musician recommends whiskey.