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Elusive sleep: where art thou?

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Toss and turn. Turn and toss. I’m willing to bet we’ve all done our fair share of both. Wakefulness when wakefulness is unwanted. Wakefulness when others are sleeping. Wakefulness when we are supposed to be sleeping, when we will ourselves to sleep, but to no avail. Wakefulness when we know we will be exhausted come morning because we need this sleep – this reclusive elusive sleep.

We’ve all experienced a sleepless night here and there. What’s a person to do?

A quick Google laid out lots of options. Get up. Clean the kitchen. Have a snack. Catch up on social media. Watch TV. In my experience no, no, no, no and no.

Here’s the logic: if you get up, you will be up, and up is not compatible with sleeping. The goal is sleep and you can’t accomplish that if you are awake. Sleeping through the night shouldn’t be difficult. What you need is a plan.

Step one: set yourself up for success. A good morning starts with a good night. Experts advise you set up a bedtime routine and stick to it. Try to go to sleep about the same time every night. White noise can be golden. You can even get a white noise app for your phone.

Step number two: stay in bed. That’s right, lie there, under the covers, in the dark of night and try to be patient. Patience equals calm; impatience equals angst. It’s more difficult (if not impossible) to sleep while in a state of angst.

Step three: close your eyes. Most people sleep with their eyes closed. I know I do. Staring at the ceiling fan is stimulation you don’t need.

Step four involves ‘amping up’ the monotony. Often people lie awake at night jumping from topic- to-topic in a random fashion. If you are tempted to think about real-life issues – paying the mortgage, your to-do list for tomorrow, who will get the final rose in this season of the Bachelor – stop. Just stop. This haphazard mindless thinking is not sleep inducing. Focusing on one topic is. Pick a group of anything – animals, vocations, flowers, foods – and then go through the alphabet and name one item that starts with each letter. Sound boring and tiresome? That’s the point.

Alternately, you can swap boring for relaxation. Imagine your happy place – unless it is skydiving, which on all counts is more exhilarating than relaxing. You are on a beach, with the waves lapping in the background. Your feet are in the sand and the scent of salt mixed with tropical flowers wafts in the air. The sun is overhead and a light breeze blows through your hair. If you are still reading it means you aren’t yet sleeping.

The Internet provides some interesting tips for a good night’s sleep – some contradictory. Exercise in the morning. Exercise at night. Take a hot bath before bedtime. Avoid hot baths before bedtime. Have a glass of wine. Avoid alcohol.

Other advice is more creative or perhaps even giggle-worthy. Inhale through your left nostril. Force yourself to worry before going to bed (so you get it over with). Put your pillow in the freezer (before bed). Use reverse psychology: forbid yourself to sleep and you will be tempted to disobey.

I’ve saved my favorite for last. One article said (and I quote), “Try to stop yourself from waking up in the middle of the night.” Talk about stating the obvious. Why didn’t I think of it before?

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author.

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