For most of my life I have been an incompetent sleeper. This turned into weeks on insomnia last winter. Over time I have tried various remedies for my sleep woes. Here are the best ones so far:
- Thermarest mattress: I have had a gimpy back since I was 19. About 20 years ago I had to have back surgery. Conventional mattresses are brutal on my back, particularly if my back muscles go into spasm. Some time ago we surrendered and bought a Thermarest mattress. This mattress is made out of high density foam of some sort that conforms to your body. You sleep in it as much as you sleep on it. Because of the foam and the fact that it cradles your body, it traps body heat. (This takes a bit of getting used to). As soon as we started sleeping on this, my need for sleep decreased about an hour a day. One added benefit is the fact that your partner can get in and out of bed and you don’t feel it. The only deficiencies that I have found its that it is harder to sit up and read in bed and the mattress is expensive.
- Ear plugs and eye mask: I used ear plus successfully on my spring bike tour.Last winter I tried using a Buff as an eye mask. It worked well but 8 hours of use dried out the skin on my face. During my recent around-the-world vacation, I switched to using a drug store eye mask. The mask and ear plugs kill about 90 percent of the sound and virtually all the light in the room. This is incredibly helpful when your sleeping partner is prone to snoring. (I snore too but unfortunately we don’t cancel each other out.) One caveat: you really shouldn’t use ear plugs if you have kids.
- Sweat shirt and long sleeve t’s: I find that I get more restful sleep when my body doesn’t notice the decline in temperature from our thermostats set-back feature.
- Over the counter drugs: My knees and back sometimes want to bark at me in the night. I take ibuprofen with a sleep aid (Advil PM or its equivalent) and I am out like a light and stay out. Since I am allergic to planet earth, I occasionally use the generic version of Nyquil or Benedryl. I think they all have the same drowsiness chemical. The downside to taking these pills is that you wake up a bit groggier than usual, sometimes with a dry mouth. I’ve tried taking melatonin.This is supposed to give you intense dreams as a side benefit. It doesn’t do a thing for me. Obviously, using drugs to get to and stay asleep is not something you want to do on a continuous basis.
- Exercise: I’d be lost without my bike or my hikes. When I don’t ride, my body isn’t tired until much later than normal.
- Meditation techniques: if my brain is still filled with chattering monkeys when my head hits the pillow, I use simple meditation techniques to calm it. It’s a bit like counting sheep. Just focus on your breathing. As you relax and your brain calms, you breathing slows. With any kind of luck you’re out like a light in a couple of minutes. (This is probably why some meditation teachers insist on you sitting upright and/or keeping your eyes slightly open.)
- Alcohol: I get to sleep and i sleep much better when I don’t drink alcohol. Decisions. Decisions.
Using a mix of these things, I have cut my time for sleep down to 6 1/2 to 7 hours. This wasn’t intentional. I think that before I tried this mix of solutions, I’d wake up intermittently, making my sleep much less productive. To get the same amount of rest I’d need many more hours of time in the bed.
I now routinely wake up before 6 am without an alarm. It’s dark. Maybe I should move to the southern hemisphere for the next five months…