Monday, 19 November 2018

Pillow Talk – Sleeping Clean



This is not the blog I was preparing for today. I was going to bring my vulnerability and talk to some of those doubts we writers can wrestle. Instead, as I was reflecting on the content of my post, the wise words of a friend came to me: “Get some sleep before you make a decision on that.”

(You would be surprised how closely related my decision and the content of my blog were.)

It occurred to me that my greatest challenge recently has not been self-doubt, but sleep deprivation. Given my constant nemesis doesn’t appear to be going away, I thought I’d share some advice frequently dispensed by my also wise husband. Maybe we can all learn a thing or two about sleep hygiene while we’re at it. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be the only writer out there in need of some reminders!

Tired Woman Computer_Photo Credit: Sutprattana
So here are some of the top hygiene tips frequently given:

1)      Turn off devices at least 1-2 hrs before bedtime

This is probably my greatest challenge as I have quite limited writing and computing time available at home. By the time the humans have been fed, homework down and small human put into bed, the night is gone. (The small canine is also somewhat time consuming, but rather less demanding most times!) Much of my writing happens at night. It’s also when my brain is most active. Sometimes the ol’ afternoon nap has been my saviour, but during the working week, this isn’t an option. Devices keep our brains active, so device-free time is pretty important for good sleep. (Another recommendation for improving sleep is trying to make a regular bedtime. This helps with the device off factor, as if you know when you're aiming to sleep, you have an actual time to aim for.)

2)      Avoid energy drinks, high caffeine or high sugar drinks after mid-afternoon

My husband and I have a little night routine where we stop for 15 minutes to reconnect over a caffeine-free drink—usually herbal tea. Not only is this relationally beneficial, it’s also a great way to calm the mind in preparation for sleep. Unfortunately, often my husband will go onto bed while I remain up doing things, but when I can go to bed, this is definitely helpful. (It’s also great when purchasing gifts, as there are so many wonderful tea blends out there, and you get to share the present night after night, for weeks.)

3)      Avoid having devices in your room

On this I am a TOTAL hypocrite! My phone is my alarm. To be fair, I do activate quiet mode and usually put the phone face down, so my sleep isn’t interrupted by texts or calls. On the other hand, I’m notorious for browsing online after bedtime, especially if I’m researching something for work or my writing. My peak brain time is 10pm to 2am, so often if I’m trying to figure something out this is when my brain’s working overtime on it.

In the pre-device days, when I was a university student, I used to manage this by working until around 1 or 2am, and if I could sleep in past 8am I was fine. (Not the best morning person!) In the workforce this is unsustainable, so it’s probably worth still having that hour or so of device-free time, just later. If I can print something out and read on paper, that is another way to avoid devices, but still glean the facts while my thoughts are clicking.

4)      If you can’t fall asleep initially (after 20-40 minutes) get up and sit in a quiet part of the house with no devices and low/no light, then try again

Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn’t, but I figure it’s better to get up than lie on a bed with growing frustration over your lack of sleep. Unfortunately I’m one of those gifted souls who can do the get up, go back to bed, can’t sleep, get up etc routine for several days … well, nights. (It’s really annoying!)

5)      Try relaxation breathing techniques

Elaine Fraser gave this tip at one of the Omega Conferences. If you’re struggling to sleep, this can really help bring down anxiety levels and there’s probably a heap of resources out there on the most effective ways to use breathing to our benefit. (Maybe I should look them up. LOL)

6)      Sleep with a pen and notepad beside your bed

Whether you’re worrying about something or struck with a brilliant writing idea, keeping a pen and paper beside your bed means you can write it down. This helps get it out of your mind and aid in reducing anxiety. I’ve found this technique particularly useful over the years.

7)      When using devices after sundown (or within those hours leading up to sleep) activate the night-shield function or equivalent to reduce stimulating blue light exposure. (This is that orange-yellow tint you can activate on your screen.) Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, which can really mess with our circadian rhythm.

8)      Stretch before bed

This one is my own advice. Because physical discomfort is a significant factor in my inability to sleep, I’ve found stretching with a physio roller or such a key way to relieve discomfort and enable a longer opportunity to get to sleep before the unsettling tossing and turning starts. (And if the stretching doesn't work, another thing I've found helpful is a hot shower just before sleeping.)
If you want to know more, there are heaps of resources out there on sleep hygiene and quality, including managing devices and sleep (they really are having a significant impact on our quality of sleep), but these suggestions are a good place to start. You might want to try essential oils or other ways to wind down. This is just a starting point. I truly believe the world would be a happier place if we all just got a few more hours sleep each week. I think our writing and family would also benefit. Let me know if you have any other great tips to add to the list!

Adele Jones is an award-winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or contact@adelejonesauthor.com

17 comments:

  1. Great tips! I do like to read before bed, but find my Kindle Paperwhite better to read on than a phone. Kindles and Kobos aren't backlit like a computer screen or smartphone, so don't mess with the body the way those devices can.

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    1. I too like reading before sleep and Kindles or other non-lit readers are a much better choice than backlit devices. Unfortunately this is also the reason I don't use my Kindle enough. As I like to read in bed, I opt for the "easy night reading" option (an inverted display) with the night shield on, to avoid waking my significant other. I'm quite certain your choice is a much better option than mine! :)

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  2. Thanks Adele for some very helpful tips. Sleep is such an important aspect of our lives and needed for us to function well but is often not talked about so I'm glad you addressed it. Fully agree that not having devices in the room is a must as well as turning off devices early. And yes, no caffeine from afternoon onwards is important. I love to read for a fair bit before sleep claims me and find that it's a big help in making me sleepy provided I don't read murder mysteries or thrillers at bedtime (and I use real books! :) I also find a warm shower before bed sets my body in the mood for sleep. As for what to do when you can't sleep - I find prayer for others is a great way to spend the time - either before you sleep or if you wake during the night. It's lovely to utilise that time well and that others benefit. Sounds like you have a very full life so hope you manage to get your 8 hours my friend. Thanks for a great post.

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    1. Isn't a bedtime read the best? (And with a real book - wonderful!) Though I'll note your advice on genre selection. LOL. Prayer is another great recommendation. Not that we fall asleep because of it! But that we can use the time to benefit others, whilst settling the spirit too. I trust you manage refreshing sleep in satisfactory quantities too.

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  3. I share the same peak brain time 10pm to 2am but if I go to bed then I need to sleep in til after 9. Problem is that with health issues I don’t cope if I have to get up at the normal time a couple of days a week. The result is that I am trying to reprogram my brain for an early rise and writing in the morning. I’m feeling less tired but am less productive. Alas health is more important than being productive so I hope I can change the way my brain works.

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    1. Ah, that's tricky! Yes, if I could sleep until 9am after my ideal study stint, I was fine. Isn't reality a kicker on that?! LOL. In my previous job I started around 6am, so had to come to a satisfactory truce with my non-morning self. I tried to absorb the beauty of the morning stillness (if I'm going to be up that early, I'd much prefer to be up with as few people as possible! :)), the early morning coolness, and the gorgeous mist that frequently lingered over the range. The challenge was as you say, achieving a productivity at that time comparable to my peak zone. Always interesting working out these balances. Hope your health improves as a result of your earlier bedtimes.

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  4. Thanks for that, Adele. We sometimes hear about ergonomics for writers, but sleep tips aren't as common. I've certainly struggled with sleep over the years, though I've had significant improvements in the last year. Screen time is definitely a no-no. I try to turn my main computer off around dinner time. If I need to check emails etc after that, I just try to have a quick look on my phone and then put it down. If I'm sitting at my computer typing away just before bedtime, it's a sure-fire way to rev up my brain.

    Exercise and diet also help with me. I tend to make at least one little trip to the bathroom during the night (sometimes two), so cutting out as much caffeine and sugar helps with that which in turn helps with sleep. I have a sweet tooth so it's not always easy, but I definitely see the benefits when I behave myself food-wise.

    And this may not apply to everyone, but I have it on good authority that I have a teeny weeny little snore. Okay, well it's a great big snort that kept my roommate awake at least year's conference. So I started using 'Breathe Right nasal strips' for that. You can get them from a pharmacy. It's just a clear sticky strip that you put just under the bridge of your nose before bedtime and it helps keep your nasal passages open. It doesn't always stop the honk factor, but I've found it does help me to take deeper breaths and get a more restful sleep.

    Hope your sleep improves Adele. In the meantime, maybe you and Susan J. Bruce can chat during your prolific 10pm to 2am slots :)

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    1. Sounds like you're well versed in sleep hygiene! Exercise is also something I find particularly beneficial for quality sleep. Again, time is the enemy on that front, but since having a puppy in the household has the added bonus of forcing us to get out more. (They aren't exactly the quiet and retiring type when it comes to "I want a walk" moments!) And so pleased you've found the Breathe Right strips beneficial. Perhaps I should skip the breathing classes and go straight to the strips. LOL.

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  5. Love these tips, Adele - thank you!
    I’ve found one of my biggest aids to sleep was moving my phone from my room. It now charges in the kitchen, and I’m not constantly checking it! I like your tip about stretching - I’ll get my roller out tonight!

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    1. Oh dear, it's sounding more and more like I should ditch my phone companion for the purpose of an alarm. I too am guilty of the occasional check too. Maybe time for a change. I do really find the stretching helpful. Hope it's beneficial for you too.

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  7. Thanks Adele. I'm with you on the 10pm to 2am productivity, and it doesn't seem to matter what state I'm in (geographically that is!) the time is the same! However I too still need to function so like you attempt to limit my screen time but I'm not that successful. I love reading in bed at night; my back-lit e-reader so it won't disturb my husband, or a real book but if course the bed lamp is required. And I have the snoring issue too, but I have a CPAP sleep machine. That certainly helps me to get some quality sleep, although it detracts from appearing attractive!

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    1. That must be annoying to not gain benefit from changing states! I actually do have a transition period when adjusting to a different time zone, and although this bites when going forward zones (i.e. east), for this reason I LOVE going to WA. Two hours extra to sleep (when compared to eastern standard time), and my peek productivity time becomes a civilised, slightly late night. Coming back to AEST after such a treat though? Ummmm … Maybe the secret for me is to keep travelling west by two hour time zones. LOL. Hoping you manage to keep up good sleep habits. I could imagine sleep machines to be tiresome, but when you have a better chance at reaching your sleep goal, certainly worth the effort.

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  8. Hi Adele, I'm a bit late to comment on this one, but it's such an important thing to remember. I'm actually feeling the effects of several nights where I've gone to bed beyond midnight. Each time I think I can sleep in a bit the following morning, but those Circadian rhythms really don't like being messed around with. Great advice.

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  9. I've found I don't recover so well from consecutive late nights, compared to my uni days. All nighters weren't so uncommon back then, but these days I have to keep myself in check or I pay the penalty the following morning. Hope you get some good sleep and recharge after your run of late nights.

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