I have always been a night owl. I can vividly remember laying patiently in my bed as a child, waiting to hear my dad’s rhythmic snoring from across the hall so that I could sneak across the room to my TV and turn on the late-night reruns of Boy Meets World. For AP Psychology in high school, I kept a sleep diary as part of a class assignment. I averaged 5 hours of sleep per night – we learned in class that teens should be getting 9 hours of sleep for proper brain development. These habits of staying up late followed me into adulthood, and other factors have affected my ability to sleep as well. During my freshman year of college, I was lucky to slumber for 4 hours.
I find that I lay awake in the night, so desperate to sleep, that I get anxiety about not being able to fall asleep, and thus begins the ugly cycle. Those nights where you lie awake at night and ponder all of life’s complications? Those are my every nights. I try so hard to fall asleep, and yet I never seem to be able to. I’ve tried it all: exercising regularly, melatonin, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing techniques, guided imagery, eliminating caffeine, Delta waves, and countless other techniques. It has sadly gotten to the point where I resent my friends and family for napping or complaining about being tired, because I know that I’ve gotten less sleep than they have.
Lately, I’ve found a routine that seems to be working well for me. I still have trouble falling asleep, but I have been able to stay asleep much better than in the past. I sleep in total darkness. I bought light-blocking curtains, and I tape them to the frame around my window so that minimal light can pass through. I swear by my beloved sleep mask by Bucky, which is available for $13. It is so dark, conforms to my face, and I can blink in it! I could probably bore you for paragraphs with how much I love this eye mask, but I’ll spare you. I bought my first one on a whim from TJ Maxx and I am a forever customer. I would recommend that you buy a dark color (I always get black). I also like to diffuse a calming oil or wax melt, my favorite being these Sonoma Be Relaxed melts, $6 at Kohl’s. The scent is described as, “fresh lavendar, balanced with crisp elements of aromatic thyme, balsam fir needle, and dew-covered herbs.” I am no fragrance expert, so I’ll just describe it as the scent of an Aveda salon, which I find extremely relaxing. I usually massage my temples and the pressure points between my thumb and forefinger, and listen to the app Rain, Rain, which is free on the iTunes store. I combine the sounds, “airplane,” “crackling fire,” and “rain, rain 3d.” I find that this combination combines the soothing hum of being on an airplane with the relaxing sounds of rain and crackling wood. You can control the volume of each sound, which allows you to create a sound experience unique to your own preference. This app has played a huge role in my ability to fall asleep. I also frequently sleep with ear plugs, in order to drown out the sound of my roommates, the unit below mine, and rowdy bar-goers. My favorite are the Howard Leight Laser Lite earplugs. I have teeny little ears, so finding ear plugs that don’t cause discomfort when sleeping on my side, don’t fall out, and block out enough sound is a monumental task. These plugs are soft, pillowy, and the t-shape and expanding foam help them easily fit and stay in my ears. I’m able to block out most sounds, but still wake up to my alarm clock. You can get 20 of these for $7 on Amazon. My favorite pillow is the Comfort Revolution Hydraluxe Cooling Gel pillow, available for a little over $50 on Amazon. It’s a soft-firm memory foam pillow with cool gel on one side. I also sleep with a queen size Biddeford Microplush 10-setting heated blanket, $105 at Wayfair, usually with a window open. For whatever reason, I love the warmth of the heated blanket and the coolness of the nighttime air. I have never wanted to use pharmaceuticals as a supplement to help me sleep, but I do on occasion use ZzzQuil when I’m desperate. I’m not quite sure that it is actually effective for me – I usually have about a 50% success rate with it, which leads me to the believe the 50% success is placebo effect. Nonetheless, ZzzQuil can be purchased at Amazon for $12. Alternatively, you could buy Benadryl capsules for a fraction of the cost. This is my disclaimer that you should consult a physician before taking those drugs as sleep aids.
That combination of relaxation and sensory-blocking techniques has allowed me to average 6-7 hours of sleep per night on weekends. I’m still getting 4-5 hours of sleep on weeknights, but I’ve noticed a difference in my mood and overall well-being with the increase in weekend sleep alone. Everyone has differences in sleep preference, but this is what has worked for me, and if you find yourself awake in the wee hours of the night (or morning!), I urge you to give some of these a try, and will hold out hope that you, too will one day be able to enjoy that ever-coveted 8 hours of sleep!
What do you do to relax at night? Let me know in the comments below!