The Dead Pool (Health)

A Question of Hygiene

Arm chair with low lighting for reading before sleeping
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

No one’s going to argue over the varied factor’s interfering with getting a restful night’s sleep. Maybe you spend hours staring at the ceiling, fretting over an assignment. Or (if your Muse is anything like mine) inspiration strikes as your eyes flutter closed, and you need to grab a pen and start scribbling. There’s at least an hour down the drain. You could also suffer from one of the sleep disorders that take down millions of people: insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome (to name a few). But one of the biggest factors standing between you and those precious [insert ideal number here] hours of sleep? YOU. Because odds are your sleep hygiene is completely WRONG.

(I didn’t name the process)

Sleep hygiene involves your actions, behaviors, and positions in the hours leading up to that blissful moment when your brain switches off and allows you to drift into the phases of sleep. You read that correctly: HOURS before. Because while some people appear to drop asleep in a snap (my husband), it’s actually a process. Some of us just need more work at the process than others. (Don’t worry, I hate those people, too)

Yes, it seems annoying to focus on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Who cares if you’re napping for 30 minutes or dreaming for seven hours? As long as you’re producing work and churning out assignments, the world’s happy – right? In theory. Your body starts hating you, though. And we’re not talking subtle hatred, either. Your body rolls out the red carpet for major haters like heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. (Even if you’re healthy) If you’re not getting enough rest and repair time, the body starts breaking down. And, let’s face it: The more tired you get, the worse your writing. You know it, I know it, and your client knows it.

Sleep’s a big deal.

So you need to look at your sleep hygiene practice to see if you’re committing major party fouls. (Don’t feel bad. When my sleep doctor confronted me, I checked quite a few boxes)

Screen Time

When do you stop looking at your phone/tablet? Five seconds before your head hits the pillow? Ten minutes? For most people, their last glimpse of a screen comes close upon bedtime. And that’s a major no-no for sleep hygiene.

You need to set your social media aside at least ONE HOUR before you turn in for the night. Even if you’re using the dark setting on your devices, you get blue light that slows down melatonin production in your brain. You need melatonin to help you sleep (it’s one of the “sleep hormones”).

Plus, that reading, writing, and engagement keeps your brain active. And if you’re trying to SLEEP, you need your mind to wind DOWN.

Put those screens away until morning.

Food and Drink

When you get on a writing streak or need to finish an assignment, time gets away from you. Sometimes, it verges on midnight before you emerge from your cave and seek sustenance. It’s not a healthy trend, but it’s what writers do. Unfortunately, eating at late hours is bad for your sleep hygiene.

There’s no pause button on digestion. If you put food into your stomach, your body needs to process everything. And that means active participation by at least PART of your brain. (I know, not all of it; it’s a passive situation) However, digestion WILL delay your ability to fall asleep.

You shouldn’t eat later in the evening. Of course, that means setting reminders for yourself to make sure you get regular meals.

But WHAT you eat and drink matters, too. The running gag is writers thrive on caffeine. It’s true for most, but not all of us. (For instance, I can’t have coffee, tea, or soda, so I’m out of that statistic) But caffeine’s a STIMULANT. If you’re pouring a mug of coffee in the afternoon, OF COURSE you’ll struggle to fall asleep. That buzz lasts for HOURS.

Alcohol isn’t any better. It depresses your system initially. But then it dissipates and leaves you awake in the middle of the night. If you want to go out for a drink, make it earlier in the evening and keep to the moderate side.

Daily Routine

Now, don’t shoot the messenger on this one. (I grumbled about it, too) But if you’re not seeing daylight every day, you’re going to fight with your sleep schedule. Writers may enjoy lurking in the shadows, but humans aren’t nocturnal. As such, we need some light in our lives to keep our circadian rhythms functioning properly. Otherwise, we end up with systems out of whack and frustrated.

And you also need to work some movement into the day. Ideally, you need exercise, but even a walk around the block will do the trick. You’re not trying to exhaust your body, just keep it active. Avoid that nonsense about working out prior to bed. It’s bad advice. You want to schedule your workout routines for the early to mid-evening. (That’s straight from my sleep doctor, in case you’re wondering)

Most importantly, keep your sleep as consistent as possible. That means heading to bed and waking up at the same time EVERY DAY. It sounds annoying, but it’s not. After all, you probably keep regular hours, right? Even freelancers usually set schedules for themselves. This is the same idea. Decide when you want to call it a night, then set an alarm in the morning and stick to those times.

Bedroom Rules

I congratulated myself on the low lighting and cooler temperatures in the bedroom that conditioned my body to rest. (Courtesy of my spinal fusion, I also have one of the top mattresses out there) We also use black out curtains despite the bedroom’s position at the back of the house. Throw in a delightfully quiet neighborhood, and it’s the picture of the perfect bedroom for sleep.

But I still failed the sleep hygiene score when my doctor interviewed me for one big reason.

If you’re anything like me, you read before you go to sleep. I’ve used books (not phones) as the way to settle my mind and trigger the sleep response. I’d adjust my stack of pillows, pull up the covers, and grab my latest book from the cubby in the headboard.

WRONG!

You’re not supposed to read in bed!

The only thing you’re ever supposed to do in bed is SLEEP! Otherwise, you train your body that the bed is a “jack of all trades” spot in the house. It stops recognizing that perfect den as the sleeping space.

So while I scored points for reading and winding my brain down at the end of the day, I lost for doing so in bed. Considering how poorly I sleep, that needed a correction. Now there’s a comfy armchair in the bedroom. I curl up to read (same cozy “sleep environment”) and then shift over to the bed when my eyes get droopy.

And it works! I find myself dozing off faster than I did when I read in the bed!

Now, obviously, your sleep hygiene isn’t the panacea for sleep disorders. I’ve worked through all of these, and I still have two sleep professionals I see routinely. But the adjustments have me waking up less frequently and falling asleep faster. That’s a win for someone who used to spend the entire night calculating the number of minutes of sleep I could get at any given moment. And if YOU’RE struggling with your rest, you can probably do the same.

Little changes go a long way. Look at your sleep hygiene practice and decide if you can make improvements. You won’t regret it!

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