Yesterday I read on Rodale.com that a new study shows that not only are many insomniacs depressed, but also poor sleep might actually cause depression. I am fairly lucky in that I have always been a really good sleeper (except for those few first nights after I took over as CEO!. But I realize I have a pretty disciplined list of what is important for making sleep go well. So here it is:
#1: Start with a comfortable bed. I have an organic mattress that I got at the Organic Mattress Store. It’s topped with a 3-inch wool pad that is like sleeping on a fluffy cloud. Sure, a new organic mattress is not cheap, but think about it this way: You are going to spend at least a third, and hopefully half, of your time lying down on it. Find other places to scrimp!
#2: Dress your bed with soft and organic sheets and blankets—preferably dried outside on the line. Surrounding yourself with softness that hasn’t been treated with harsh chemicals is a physical delight…and a requirement for good sleep. My husband thought I was just being a spoiled princess (OK, I am!) about this until I showed him my elbow brush burn from sleeping on cheap hotel sheets one night.
#3: Get the right (SOFT!) pillows. I honestly don’t know how anyone can sleep on a hard pillow. When I do I am forced awake with a neck pain that won’t go away for days. A good pillow needs to be so soft it almost disappears when you lay your head on it! The only time I use a hard pillow is when I occasionally suffer from acid reflux, which causes coughing at night. Then I solve it by putting a hard pillow under my soft pillow so that my upper body is elevated. However, this leads me to another tip:
#4: Don’t eat before bed. The childhood bedtime snack of yore should be just that—in the past. Try to eat at least two hours before bed; otherwise, you will have a bad feeling in your stomach that may lead to bad dreams…or so I imagine.
#5: Instead, read before bed. This is truly my secret weapon. I believe one of the things that most leads to bad sleep is thoughts that run awry—not being able to stop thinking about something that’s bugging you, for instance. Remember how in school every time you read your homework assignment you would get really, really sleepy? Well, it still works. Nonfiction is the most sleep inducing. Frankly, a good romance makes it so hard to put down the book that I stay up too late—but it still works. It’s like a palate cleanser before bed, sweeping away any bad or strong taste that has lingered in your mind after a busy day.
#6: If something is bothering you, write it down. This really helps. Write in a journal. Make a list or write a letter. You will feel so much better afterwards. On the very few nights when I do wake up in the middle of the night with something on my mind, I get up and write it out. Sometimes I go back to sleep. Other times I answer all those lingering emails.
#7: Avoid watching TV or staring at your computer in a brightly lit room right before bed. I don’t know how many times I have read this, but no matter how many times I tell my insomniac husband, I still find him watching TV and working on his computer with fluorescent lights on until the wee hours.
#8: Sleep naked. Nothing is worse than waking up because a nightgown or shirt is all twisted and is choking you and you can’t breathe and—oh, my lord—it is so uncomfortable. Speaking of breathing…
#9: Open a window. Fresh air is crucial to good sleep. If you have good, warm blankets you can snuggle up and, even in the middle of winter, sleep the night away. And if it’s nice outside, turn off the danged air conditioner and let the fresh air in. Also, avoid toxic air fresheners and overly scented candles and other things that make it hard to breathe (and therefore, hard to sleep).
#10: Lastly, if nothing else works, find your happy place. My happy place is a shaded bed on a boat moored in the Caribbean Sea. The water is rocking me gently. It’s warm, but I don’t have to worry about sunburn. The breeze keeps all the mosquitoes away. The sound of water lapping on the side of the boat is soothing and sweet. The air is scented with sea, tropical flowers, and coconut…. Is there a pirate aboard? Perhaps. But he’s my pirate. Sweet dreams!