The Voice of Experience: Tips for sweet, efficient sleep

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Most of us, perhaps especially seniors, have days when falling asleep would be the most wonderful thing that could happen. Sometimes, that comes from automatically doing the same amount of work that we did 20 years ago, and at the same pace — then wondering why we are so darned tired! As I rapidly approach the 80-year mark, I’m finding that working for 15 minutes and then taking a 15-minute break helps. The only problem with that is that getting back into the work mode isn’t always easy. Maybe another cup of coffee?

Let’s look at what suffers when we don’t get enough sleep at night: judgment, creative thinking, concentration, irritability and our sense of humour are just a few. We are less resilient and often more miserable within ourselves (and with others).

So what can we do about it? Well, to start with, we need to remember that we’re all individuals, so we’ll need to design our own pre-sleep ritual. Here are a few hints for dealing with insomnia:

•Eliminate any physical causes, such as pillows, coffee and sleeping pills. Caffeine takes six to eight hours to leave the body, and that includes teas, colas and chocolate, as well as coffee.

•The body rapidly becomes used to sleeping pills, and one often needs more and more. Sometimes, they become an addiction. And the “hangover” from some sleeping pills disrupts our ability to concentrate. Relaxation doesn’t come in a bottle!

•Alcohol, after three or four hours, often affects people with a feeling of anxiety and restlessness, similar to the fight-or-flight response.

Letting go of irritation, worry, all the negative thoughts, feelings, tensions and stress is the first key to a good night’s sleep. Reflect over the day and select three things to feel good about (saying on, supporting a friend, taking time for a swim), relive and re-experience those positive moments.

Music therapy — slow, no lyrics, avoid “memories” music. Choose what is right for you. After lights out, play the same piece of music over and over until you go to sleep. Didn’t work? Get up and play your music and at the same time, write down the thoughts the music brings forth until you get sleepy. The next day, read what you’ve written for some interesting insights.

Colour therapy — blue is the colour of acceptance, calmness. Visualize blue energy. Picture a softly rolling blue sea whose waves gently rock your bed (unless you are prone to seasickness). Think of deep blue twilight, birds nesting for the night.

Meditation — Dr. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response, found that the body’s metabolism drops further during a 20-minute meditation than it does during eight hours of sleep.

Affirmations — “My insomnia and anxiety melt away without my energy to feed them. Sleep is nature’s medicine. It comes to me gently and surrounds me. My eyes are heavy, my breathing is deep and free.” Make up your own affirmation.

Some general hints: Establish a routine of getting up at the same time and going to bed the same time, seven days a week. If you can’t sleep, stop trying after half an hour, get up, then try again. And don’t do things like pay the bills while you’re up! Have a light snack (crackers, cereal, a muffin, but no excess sugar). Exercise early, not late. Use the bedroom for sleep and sex, nothing else, like TV. Keep the bedroom cool.

Above all, keep relaxed and happy. Good luck! Sleep well! And remember to take breaks during your workday — especially if you’re a senior!

Mary Underhill is a Creston stress therapist and grief counsellor.