How do you sleep?

Just finished week 5 of the Sleepio course, and things are looking up. My sleep restrictions have been lifted by 15 minutes for each of the past two weeks, and I can now go to bed at an entirely reasonable 11:30pm. My sleep pattern also looks fairly mainstream, with a few good stretches of deep sleep early in the night, and lighter or REM sleep later on.

When I think back to the first week of this, when I was only allowed in bed between midnight and 6 a.m., I find it hard to credit just how hard it was, and how reasonable it seems now. I described that first week of restriction as “brutal” and so it was, but I’ve become adept at it, and the quality of my sleep has been improving. In one sense, I’ve made rapid progress; on the other, the desired 90% efficiency is just beyond me (I’m averaging 89% – so very close), and my Fitbit still reports that I wake up multiple times every night, for a total of 40-odd minutes.

Sleepio gives you a long set of rules to following, and strategies to control your thoughts, but there are a few core things that I think are the most effective. Some of them are blindingly obvious, but if you’ve been having sleep problems, your behaviour gets irrational.

  • No caffeine for 6 hours before bed. If you’re going to bed at 11:30 it means, no caffeine after 5:30 p.m., which is disruptive of my weekend bourbon and coke schedule.
  • No alcohol for 4 hours before bed. Less of a problem for me as I tend to have a cocktail hour and leave it at that. The chances of me drinking after 7:30 this side of Christmas are remote.
  • Bed is for sleep and not reading. So the Kindle is relegated to the downstairs room and my life-long habit of reading just before lights out is banished. I do feel I’ve been neglecting my reading but given the choice, I’d rather sleep.
  • No naps. This is hard, because there’s always a crash moment early in the evening, when I struggle to hold my eyes open. This is true whether I drink or not, and it’s currently around 7:00 p.m. There is a maximum 15 minute nap rule, and what this means is that when I feel myself drooping, I quickly set a 15-minute timer on my phone and let nature take its course. Sometimes the setting of the timer is enough to snap me awake. If I’m still awake 15 minutes later, I repeat the timer. If I do doze, it ends up being for 5-10 minutes and then the alarm goes off. And five minutes after that, I’m fine.
  • And no early nights. As I said before, I’d already surmised that going to bed early was doing me no favours. I’m accepting that even after sleep restriction, I’d be a fool to be in bed before 11:00 p.m. It may even be that my new 11:30 p.m. bedtime is it.

So here we are. The one rule I have been breaking is the one that says you shouldn’t read for 90 minutes before bed. That last hour and a half, when the house is put to bed and the dishwasher loaded etc., is so deadly dull. I’m supposed to watch telly or something, but I’m actually usually done with TV by about now, shortly after 9:00, and there’s not that much good stuff on. And if I put on music or a podcast, I’d certainly fall asleep on the couch. So I do allow myself to read – nothing too stimulating: no modernism or stream of consciousness, no weird science fiction; just a nice relaxing thriller. I read no more than an hour, and stop 15 minutes before bed, and it seems to be fine. Well, 89% fine.

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