Sleeping With The Enemy

To be clear, the enemy in this scenario is a hateful, conspiratorial rogue that goes by the name of Anxiety. My main issue with this is that it’s exhausting.

Sleep plays a fundamental part in our everyday happiness. Not getting enough makes us grouchy, sluggish, less productive, and generally less of a joy to be around(!). It seems like something we should easily be able to control, right? Go to bed early, get more sleep, be happier! Easy!

I’ve never been a great sleeper. Most of the time, I don’t have any issues getting to sleep. It’s staying asleep that’s my problem. And over the last few years I’ve become obsessed with sleep tracking apps. I wasn’t surprised to learn that I can wake up a good 20+ times a night, amounting to well over an hour of being awake. And I get up at what I would describe as “ridiculously early”. For the last few months, even before lockdown, I’ve been getting out of bed at 4.30 am.

What’s keeping me awake today? Well, thanks for asking! I’ve been working on a SQL script on and off for a few days now. Currently on version 3 (of 3, hopefully!). I woke up from a dream about it, and now the same thing just keeps going through my head in a loop – have I written the block checks correctly? Is it doing what I think it’s doing? Am I going to waste someone else’s time later when I ask them to peer review it, and it turns out that what I’ve written is absolute garbage? Are they going to think I’m a complete moron who can’t do my job?

The more I delve into this, the more I understand why I wasn’t able to sleep on this occasion. I’ve been awake since 2.30 am with “DCH check…DCH check….” bopping around in my head every few seconds. I didn’t think it was something I was anxious about, but there you go! I learn something new about how my head works every day!

I remember a couple of years ago when my anxiety was at its worst, I’d take anti-anxiety medication just before I went to bed to try to make sure I got to sleep, and then I’d wake up a few hours later, and have to take more because I was just lying wide awake in bed, heart racing, working myself up into a panic about the day ahead.

For me, it often manifests itself as, how I would describe – the radio inside my head starts playing. I go from sound asleep to a song playing in my head on repeat and I can’t switch it off. It’s just a constant distraction. Or it’ll be a couple of words just constantly, over and over and over like a fever-induced nightmare. (Slightly over-dramatic description!)

So here I am today, at 3:30 am, wide awake and wondering if I’ll get any more sleep this morning… Ironically, because I’m so awake, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve tried over the years to try to get a better sleep. And I completely understand if you’re wondering why you should take advice from me right now!

Because I’ve never had a good night’s sleep, I would say I’ve tried almost everything, and here’s what’s helped:

  • Reduce your caffeine intake – it’s not great for anxiety or sleep, so cut it out!
  • Don’t drink too much of anything before bedtime. If you’re partial to a late night tipple, probably best to try to cut that out too. Sorry.
  • Try and stick to a routine and keep a regular bedtime – and be ‘selfish’ about it! Don’t let anyone else ruin it. You’re doing it for your own good!
  • Start winding down early.
  • Avoid over-stimulation such as scary movies, playing games or reading psychological thrillers right before bed! You’re not going to get to sleep while you’re heart’s pounding!
  • Reduce your screen time.
  • If you have to have your in the bedroom, put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ so you’re not getting notifications through the night.
  • Use night mode / filters on devices (such as flux) to cut down on blue light. 
  • Write a list of ‘ToDos’ for the next day so you’re not waking up worried about forgetting something.
  • Invest in a good pillow! I suffered back pain for years and would almost dread going to bed because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get comfortable. A few months ago I got a contoured memory foam pillow, and it’s been nothing short of life-changing! I haven’t had neck/back pain since I started using it. 
  • Invest in a weighted blanket. Honestly, these are amazing! They are quite warm though, so maybe not the best idea for summer unfortunately.
  • Keep your bedroom cool. Cool bedroom + cozy weighted blanket = perfect combination!
  • Lavender pillow spray. Don’t think this actually helped, but I loved the smell of it and it added to the coziness.
  • Eye mask to keep out the light.
  • Ear plugs to keep out the noise. Sensory deprivation all the way!
  • Sleep app with sleep stories or relaxing white noise. If you struggle to get to sleep, instead of ear plugs, try listening to something.

I never used to be able to get to sleep because of all the “chatter” of Imposter Syndrome keeping me awake. So I would listen to sleep stories to try to drown out the “noise”. Some nights I would spend hour after long, frustrating hour listening to different stories until exhaustion eventually got the better of me. But the majority of the time they did exactly what I needed, and I’d be asleep within a couple of minutes.

We all get by on different amounts of sleep, and finding that sweet spot of getting exactly the right amount and best quality sleep is something that continues to elude me. Eight hours is but a dream! For me, being a ‘morning person’ anyway, and working from home, I just start work early and enjoy the peace of what I like to call the ‘golden hour’. I may as well be productive if I’m going to be up so early!

If sleep (or lack of it) is impacting negatively on your life, speak to your Doctor. For more information and resources on how to sleep better, click here.

Sleep tight!

Debi 🙂

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Debi Skea
Debi Skea

Director & Co-Founder at Humans of Code

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