Every weekend that Azure Destinations, my team for the BLC, is not participating in a BLC-wide challenge or traveling, we have a weekend focus that helps us concentrate on an aspect of healthy living that we may be struggling with. This weekend's challenge I swear was tailor made for me, especially as we come into the holiday season (I can't believe Thanksgiving is next week! Eeep!), the end of my semester, and that deadline for my dissertation draft ticking louder and louder. This weekend we are focusing on SLEEP and STRESS-RELIEF.
I posted this in the team thread, but it turned out kind of long and it occurred to me that maybe people outside of Azure would benefit from thinking about whether or not they are getting the most out of their sleep-and if not how to improve on it--and about what they do to relax and relieve stress.
First, some articles you might find useful:
I'm a fairly chronic insomniac, though not as much as I used to be. Some of the things I struggle with and how I cope with them:
1) a brain that WON'T SHUT up. Seriously, I'm like a freight train--it takes me forever to get moving in the morning but once I'm moving I just don't stop, LOL. I combat that with what I only recently realized was a kind of meditation practice. I've done that for as long as I can remember.
2) Medications, in particular sudafed--I never thought it caused insomnia, back when I took a 24 hour antihistamine/sudafed combination 24/7 for about 9 months out of the year, but now that I no longer take the "D" part all the time I can see how it affects my sleep.
3) caffeine. I no longer let myself drink caffeine of any kind after 8 pm (I go to bed late, so if you go to bed earlier, I'd cut the caffeine off earlier)
4) stress. No surprise there, but I don't know what I can do there that I'm not already doing. According to a sparks quiz I took awhile back, I have really strong stress coping mechanisms--but I'm still vulnerable to stress overload I guess. In the meantime, I just keep reminding myself that I only need to get through this year... I'll either make it, graduate, and have my doctorate, or I won't, but in either case at the end of this school year I'm DONE. Not sure what will happen next, but I'm not going to worry about it just yet.
5) I don't sleep if I don't take the time to deliberately wind down. I do have a bedtime routine. I do tend to get on-line right before bed (which you aren't supposed to do, by the way, because the lit screen can wake your brain up) but then I always read for a little bit and then take my contacts out if I'm wearing them, brush my teeth, take my meds, etc.
6) I do try to maintain a fairly consistent sleep schedule--it's different from most people (I go to bed around 12:30-1:00 am and get up between 9 and 10 am) and there are times when it gets messed up because I have to be somewhere early or get home late, but that's the schedule I seem to do best at personally This is actually a compromise with my husband's schedule since left to my own devices, it would slide back another hour or two--I am the most productive from 8 pm to 2 am, but while my husband who doesn't need as much sleep as I do--he seems to do best on 6-7 hours of sleep, where as I need 8-9--he still needs SOME sleep, LOL. This means that I shut down anything productive that I'm doing at ideally about 11:30 to give me time to wind down. More if I'm working on something repetitive (like codiing interviews) because otherwise I'll dream that activity and it's not restful at all.
7) I use incandescent lighting (rather than the "natural daylight" florescents we normally use--when we switch to florescent or LED's we'll keep that more yellow-toned light) in the bedroom to read by before going to bed. The natural daylight bulbs are great for those longer nights in the winter--they help me feel more awake and more human, but also can prevent your body from shutting down to go to bed at night.
8) I have a noisemaker--I always set it to rain, which is one of the most relaxing sounds in the world for me, but there are lots of options. The noisemaker keeps me from strangling my husband in a fit of exhaustion at 4 am when his snoring keeps me awake (it doesn't take much to wake me up, I'm afraid) and it keeps me from waking up when our neighbors upstairs are moving around etc. I've used a noise maker for so long now that the mere act of turning it on signals my body that it's time for sleep.
9) I can't believe I almost forgot this one but on nights when I'm really struggling to sleep, I take a long hot bath. I usually indulge in scented bath salts or bath oil--lavender is good for relaxing--and read a book. Then when I go to bed it knocks me right out. Mom says it's because the body cooling down is a signal to fall asleep, so going from a hot bath to a cooler bed says it's sleepy time. Showers at night though are to be avoided because the water hitting the body invigorates the circulatory system... and wakes you up (plus I personally hate sleeping with wet hair--in a bath I can clip my hair up and keep it dry).
As for things I do to release stress and relax, they are many and varied:
1) I read. If I'm not reading at least a little bit every day for pleasure, something is wrong with me.
2) I play video games. Seriously, great stress reliever--I like RPG's so we're talking story line, interesting characters, plus I usually get to kill things.
3) Fencing. Seriously one of the BEST stress relievers EVER. It's not only a great competitive sport (not to mention it being somewhat therapeutic to stab one's friends--and to try to keep from being stabbed in turn) but it's also social time with cool people.
4) I used to dance and I may some day dance again. Like fencing, it's a great combination of social time and physical activity, but it's not competitive (at least the dancing I did wasn't).
5) I make things. Again, I discovered about a year ago making things for me is often a meditative practice--the closest I get to traditional meditation, in fact. I can't turn my brain off to save my life, but I *can* focus it intently on something--like the colors, shapes, and textures of the beads I'm working with, or the yarn I'm knitting, or the braid I'm making. And as I never sit still, if I'm doing anything where I'm sitting with my hand otherwise unoccupied, I'm happiest if I'm making something--in front of the tv, while a passenger in a car, at an SCA meeting (I'd do it in grad classes if I thought I could get away with it; instead I doodle there), even when hanging out with friends. I call it constructive fidgeting.
6) Yoga. It's a great work out for me--very challenging because while I'm reasonably flexible in most directions (my hamstrings and IT bands are super tight--working on those) I lack the strength many people take for granted so even simple poses can be hard for me--but by the end of practice I've not just stretched out my body physically, but mentally as well.
7) I talk to my hubby, my family, and my friends. I am blessed with an awesome group of family and friends who I can talk to for advice or even just to vent if I need to. I also can talk to any of them if I'm upset about something relating to them and know that we can work it out with our friendship/relationship still intact. Communication is a big thing for me AND my friends. It's not easy--I've had some really painful conversations over the years--but it's better than letting it fester and then explode.
8) This may sound really weird but if I'm really angry at a specific person--a professor, a friend, whoever--I write them a long letter telling them EXACTLY what upset me, no holding back... a letter they will never, ever see. But it lets me get all that angry nastiness out while pinpointing why I'm really upset (maybe I'm mad at my husband not so much because he forgot to take the trash out again, for example, but because I've really stressed out about school and can't handle the household clutter on top of it) so that when we DO talk about it I can explain what upset me and why without attacking them or saying hurtful but not helpful things. This is my version, sadly, of journaling. I'm not very good at maintaining a journal but letters--because they have an audience, even an audience that will never actually read them--I do.
9) sometimes I do repetitive single person games or puzzles--things like paint by numbers or logic puzzles or playing games of solitaire. I find that like crafts it focuses my brain on the problem before me and not on, say, looming deadlines--but I have to be careful not to do it too much or I dream logic puzzles or card games and wake up feeling like I haven't sleep at all.