For roughly the first four decades of my life, I had no trouble sleeping. There was that time as an infant that I had colic and screamed through the night, but otherwise I’ve always loved to sleep. And as is often the case with people for whom things come naturally, I never had much understanding of or sympathy for anyone who had difficulty. It was easy: Close your eyes and wake up eight or even nine hours later. Anyone— except maybe a colicky baby—should be able to do it.
Around my 40th birthday, things began to change and I am now a troubled sleeper. Generally, I can fall asleep, but I don’t stay asleep. And the problem is get- ting worse: Some weeks, I manage only two or three restful nights out of seven. And where I used to wake up around 4 a.m., I’m now staring at the ceiling, wide-eyed at 2:30 a.m.
We run articles about the latest sleep research in every issue of BedTimes. Sometimes, when I’m lying awake at night, I think about all the damage I might be doing to my long-term physical and mental health—everything from increasing my risk of cardiovascular disease to gaining weight to squashing my creativity.
We’ve all heard that reciting a list of words can induce sleep. But trust me: Repeating “heart attack, diabetes, impaired memory, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, impaired memory, stroke...” will leave you more wide awake than ever.
I’ve tried several remedies: baths, limiting caffeine, exercising, etc. But, honestly, I haven’t been methodical or disciplined about any of them except sleeping in a cool room and, of course, having a comfortable, supportive mattress. Like too many Americans, I’ve relied on an easy fix, taking a nightly Benadryl (an antihistamine that causes drowsiness; it’s the sleep-inducing ingredient in over-the-counter sleep aids like Tylenol PM). My physician recommended Benadryl and it works, though leaves me feeling fuzzy-headed for an hour or two in the morning.
Earlier this year, I talked about my sleep troubles during a conversation with Dr. Robert Oexman, direc- tor of Kingsdown’s Sleep to Live Institute, and Craig Wilson, director of sales training and education for the mattress maker. Oexman has created a six-week cognitive behavioral therapy program for insomnia, and he and Wilson suggested I give it a try. I don’t like taking medication every night to sleep, so I agreed and began Oexman’s program in June.
After an initial meeting during which I outlined my sleep troubles and Oexman explained his program, I started wearing all day and night an Actiwatch (a bracelet that measures my activity level, among other things) and writing each day in a sleep diary. The next step is to meet with Oexman again after two weeks to map out changes to both my environment and daily habits that should help to improve my sleep.
Throughout the process, I’ll blog about the experience at www.bedtimesmagazine.com and write more about it in BedTimes when it’s over.
Oexman is confident he can help me. I hope he’s right: I’m really tired (pun very much intended) of not getting enough sleep.