Sleep is an art form
Photo by Maxim Kourov, courtesy sxc.hu
April 16, 2012
Sleeping is an art form. Some of us do it well and some of us do it not well. For those of us who don’t do it well, we frequently find ourselves coveting the secrets of the well-slept population. We always ask them, how do you do it? What is your secret? Do you take anything? And if you’ve asked if they take anything, you’ve just admitted that you’ve probably tried everything on the market plus some things not yet on the market that will go unmentioned.
From birth we are put into a sleep routine by our parents that designate it as one of the most important functions in our daily life. As a baby we have no choice, we just need it, so we do it. As a toddler, we put up a fight because we’re cranky and need it, and when the tears are over we eventually succumb to sleep. As we get older and nap time still exists, we begin to associate sleep as a bad thing because we could be doing so much more with our time. Like playing or getting dirty. This continues until it is time to have that sit down with your mom or dad about being too old for naps. This for me was the start of my late adolescence. (What can I say, I had a pro-nap mom).
Then suddenly we are teens and all we want to do is sleep. Sleep in past our morning alarms and shouting parents, sleep when we get home from school and then by all odds, stay up late. Our appreciation of sleep is still morphing into what it will eventually be, which of course is very different for each party involved.
As an adult I find that there are never enough opportunities for sleep. The alarm is always too early, the dishes are never done and someone always needs me. Then as night falls, and this part has always baffled me, I go to bed early because I’m exhausted and then find myself laying there staring at the ceiling. All this while my non-sleep deprived husband slumbers away. When you are tired, that by itself is the most irritating thing of all. How is it possible that everyone around you is sleeping but you?
So you get up, drink something warm, take a sleeping aid, think happy sleepy thoughts, count sheep, count your ceiling speckle, picture mattress commercials or do whatever it is you need to do – and still, you cannot sleep. The next thing you know, your alarm is going off and the bags under your eyes look like you just did some last minute Christmas shopping.
Many will do this for years before they decide or someone else tells them that they may have a sleeping problem. So what do we do? First off, we decide that it is probably our mattress, so we go out and spend a fortune on the biggest and newest super fluffy, yet firm, supported yet soft, electronically fangled mattress with an optional heater. We open up a new credit card just to get the pay-in-14-months option and believe that it has solved our problems. We anxiously await the arrival from two delivery men who are nowhere near as excited as we are. They un-wrap it, we take in the smell of plastic and material and smile because this is it, the solution to our sleeping needs. We triumphantly rush to the bathroom cabinet to throw out the impressive collection of sleep aids, when our partner stops and says, “Sleep a night or two before you decide.” We can always take it back. We scoff at his criticism and agree knowing that he is surely going to be wrong.
First night goes by, and you haven’t slept. Second night goes by and you’re worried, third night and you now have a sore back. Your partner, who is still sleeping fine, in an attempt to help alleviate your concern goes online and determines that sometimes it takes up to two weeks to notice the effects of a new bed. This idea brings you hope and restoration. However, two weeks later you’re still sleep deprived, sore and now incredibly cranky.
So the next obvious thing is your pillows. The sweat stained, personalized imprinted pillow that you have had since your adolescence must be the culprit. You head back to the mattress place and buy an expensive set of pillows that guarantees a good sleep (or your money back). The idea seems flawless, so you bite. Your new credit card is now cringing at its abuse.
You go to bed with your new pillows and a pile of expectation so high that your pillows, formally an inanimate object, cringe with fear as you lay your fatigued head on their surface.
For some this is the solution. You may have broken the bank, but for sleep and restoration, it’s worth it. However for many, you awake still feeling exhausted with a minimal amount of sleep. And you begin to ask yourself, what the heck do I do next? Depending on your insurance coverage, you may opt for a sleeping disorder test. You head over to a quiet, closed in facility, and are hooked up to a heart monitor and EEG that monitor brain activity. You leave in the morning and await the result. This test dominantly shows the presence of sleep apnea. If that’s what’s been keeping you up, then problem solved, if not, you’ve donated your brain and time to a strange place that has given you no answers.
Of all the people that I’ve conversed with, meditation has been high on their list of recommendations. Learning the art of relaxation mentally, emotionally and physically tends to work for many people who can actually sit still long enough to meditate. The idea is to train your mind into a state of consciousness that lets you relax or deal with a specific issue. If you’re like myself, the ability to only think about one thing at a time, adds an extra twenty things to my normal train of thought. When I’m told that I need to focus on one thought, my brain goes into a meltdown. One thought? How is it possible to do this? Think of nothing? Is that even humanly possible? I’ve noticed a very similar response with men compared to women. Many women that I’ve had conversations with state that to only think of one thing at a time is impossible. While many men state that it is easy. Granted there are always exceptions to every rule and there are many people that don’t fit into my above statistic.
I recall the one fateful day that I walked into the book store’s self help section looking for a book on meditation. I found several books on the topic and several audio CDs as well. I figured if I cannot do it myself, then a CD will surely guide me through it. I tried it that night when there would be no interruptions. I listened to the British accent that was intended to guide me into my meditative state and found myself focusing on everything but the intended thought process, or non-thought process. I began to critique grammar (something I should not do). Then when they asked me to picture a beach, I immediately recalled a disaster vacation which subsequently squashed the meditation and resulted in my blood pressure rising. Project “meditation” failed. This would be retried in the future to no avail.
So what’s next for us cloud nine jumpers? Will we ever solve the great sleep deficit?
Giving up isn’t an option because it will result in hallucinations, depressed immune system, and assortment of other symptoms and maybe one day, death. I’ll pass on that. So I will try and try again to master the complicated subject of sleep. Talk to your doctors, see a homeopathic specialist, get physical – and I mean indulge in some good old fashion exercise (break a sweat!), join a team, try meditation or yoga, talk with a therapist – maybe stress has your nerve endings fried, talk with family and friends – make every effort. One day we will find a solution – and hopefully by that point our mattress credit cards will be paid off. One can hope.