How I Finally Improved My Sleeping Pattern
Last updated: May 2022
If you read my previous article "Trouble Falling AS-sleep," you will know just how abysmal my sleep pattern had become. After writing the article I arranged a phone appointment with my GP in an attempt to tackle these issues. I was prescribed sleeping pills Zopiclone.
After collecting the drugs, I googled to find out more and the results did concern me. I realized why I was told that it was only a short term solution - the side effects and risks of long term use were a tad scary.
However, before nightfall I received a text from the health service offering free sleep therapy phone call sessions. I figured I would hold off on the drugs and see if this could be a solution. A few days later I answered my phone to the most calming smooth voice I had ever heard. I’m not sure if her employers make her put on this voice as I have never heard anyone sound so relaxed in my life.
Nevertheless she gave me some amazing advice that really helped me turn things around. I thought I would share these tips for anyone else experiencing similar sleep issues.
The first challenge I was given was to set an alarm for the following morning, try to force myself up and then ride out the rest of the day without taking a nap. I set ten alarms to go off a minute apart starting at 9am. I knew my body would take some bullying to get out of its comatose state but I actually managed to shift myself out of bed despite only having 2 hours sleep. I was in zombie mode but I pushed on with my to-do list for the day, albeit at a snail’s pace.
I couldn’t believe that even after I had finished my checklist the sun was still shining (well it wasn’t pitch black which is all we can really ask for in the UK). It felt surreal to see how much daylight there was in a day! I was so used to only seeing sunlight for the first hour or so after waking or when I was tucking myself into bed at some antisocial hour.
I felt optimistic that getting into a healthy sleeping habit would help me achieve a whole lot more. It was this motivation that I used to fight the voices in my head begging me for a nap. That night I was snoring away by 1am – something I hadn’t been able to do in years.
Day 1 was tough but I was only getting started. My therapist stressed the importance of creating habits to work into a routine. The first and most obvious one was setting times to wake up and go to bed. We agreed that a realistic time to be up by was 10:30am and I would try preparing for sleep at 11pm.
I set alarms for both of these. The night time alarm was especially helpful as my body was so used to staying up late that it had forgotten the normal times to start preparing for bed. These times have fluctuated a bit, but I have stuck to the limits we set. The next step is to ease into having a more precise time, but I’m not quite there yet.
One of the biggest shocks to the system was that I now had to factor in lunch. For the past 2 years I have woken up to an afternoon breakfast and then had a big meal in the evening. There was no time to eat anything more than a snack in between. I have had to make some adjustments to my grocery shopping to make up for the midday feeling of hunger I am experiencing again. Along with my healthier sleeping schedule, this has really improved my mood and made me feel so much more alive.
The pandemic scared me into spending almost the entirety of the past 2 years in my apartment. I found myself spending the majority of this time in my bedroom. Clearly not for sleeping and unfortunately not for anything more exciting either.
It just happens to be where the TV is. The plug sockets in my living room are a bit of a hassle to get to, so I find it easier to do anything on my laptop there too. My therapist explained that by constantly sitting on my bed my body had stopped associating it with the act of sleeping. This is probably another reason why it takes me so long to drift off, even when I am trying to sleep. It probably isn’t doing my fragile spine any favors either!
I set myself the task of spending time in different rooms in my apartment. I put myself through an intense workout getting in and around my furniture to plug my laptop charger in the living room. This way I was forced to conduct all laptop duties in there as I sure as hell wasn’t going through the stress of taking it back out into the bedroom again!
I also made the adult decision to use the dinner table for its purpose, instead of stuffing my face in bed in front of the TV. These small changes have made a huge impact. When I allow myself to retire to the bedroom, I now doze off in under an hour. A staggering improvement for me.
Limiting my caffeine
Admittedly this section does not paint me in a very intelligent light. After reading about the health benefits of green tea for people with arthritic conditions, I got into the habit of drinking it a lot. I considered it to be a cup of healthy tinted water. I didn’t realize that it also contained caffeine so drinking it all evening was not a good idea.
I decided to refrain from drinking green tea or any other beverage containing caffeine after 2pm (which ironically used to be my breakfast time). Now whenever I feel the need for a hot drink, I have a cup of miso soup and have found this has helped me feel sleepy at a more appropriate time of night.
It’s probably still early days to claim that my sleeping woes are behind me. However, I am writing this on the 17th consecutive day in which I have woken up before midday and gone to sleep before 1am. I am aware this is not the most impressive feat to boast about but considering how I was doing before, it is quite an achievement!
I still have the sleeping pills to fall back on if it all goes wrong but I am so pleased with the progress that I have made.
What do you do to ensure you have a healthy sleep routine?
Do you notice worsening flares in colder weather?