"How do people go to sleep? I'm afraid I've lost the knack." - Dorothy Parker
Sleep is good.
Working so much overtime that you get hooked on coffee is bad, but that's where I'm at right now. (I have to write documentation for an application, but the only time I can get access to the software without some bloody engineer tinkering with it is between 8pm and 5am, so I've become really, really appreciative of sleep.) The trouble is, if you get into the habit of punishing your body with excess caffeine, when you finally lay down you're still twitching with aggravated adrenalin jolts.
Trying to find research that has helpful suggestions led me instead to the ultimate vindication for your inner slug: getting up early can be harmful to your health. Apparently, "getting up early is also more likely to lead to muscle aches, cold symptoms, headaches and significantly worse moods." [They needed a study to figure that last one out?] Of course, not exercising because you slept in isn't great for your health either.
I mean, I do realize some of the bad things that can happen to you if you don't sleep:
- Lack of sleep can affect men's hormone levels as well as women's fertility, and it makes people of both sexes age faster.
- Lack of sleep has also been linked to the body's inability to handle insulin, which can lead to diabetes.
- Lack of sleep can help you become obese.
- In addition, a lack of sleep slows down your mental processes, which is awkward when you're in a meeting and someone wants you to give them an expert opinion. (The trouble with being the only writer in a vast herd of engineers is that they expect you to know everything about words. The other day, my manager asked me -- in front of a lot of upper management important peoples -- how to spell the word obsolescence. Luckily, I managed, but it was still a tricky moment.)
How do you get to sleep when you're wired-but-tired? I'd love to hear how you manage it. Here are some of the suggestions that I've gathered so far:
- Do try that deep breathing/counting stuff. Even if the mind is going around and around like a Starbucks-addicted hamster on an exercise wheel, the body can affect the mind; besides, if you’re lying there in the dark staring at the ceiling, it gives you something to do besides being irritated.
- Don’t drink when trying to get to sleep. Helps you fall asleep, but can cause you to wake in the middle of the night, which is invariably the most depressing time of the whole 24-hour cycle. Besides, unless you’re on the Wine diet, it’s not going to help the waistline.
- Avoid 12 Frappacinos before bedtime. (Okay, so some of the suggestions were pretty obvious.)
- Try some milk, if you can stomach it. Or a turkey sandwich. (Or both, since both contain tryptophan.)
- Instead of regular sleeping pills, try the homeopathic ones like Moondrops. [Note: this is not an endorsement or a warning against this stuff. I'm passing on a suggestion I received.]
- Avoid if possible sleeping pills that might cause strange behavior. Several cases have been reported about people taking Ambien, which apparently made them get up in the middle of the night, not fully conscious, and go driving. Even if it doesn't have that effect on you, it has been known to get people up in the middle of the night to raid the frig. Seriously. (If you're going to raid the frig, you should at least enjoy the moment!)
Does anyone have any other suggestions?
Until I find a solution, it's comforting to know that scientists are tirelessly working on this problem. Researchers at Wake Forest have discovered a naturally occurring brain peptide that can improve the cognitive performance of sleep-deprived monkeys. Hell, if it can make monkeys think better when they're short on sleep, maybe it can do the same for technical writers. Very similar species, after all.
Sketch courtesy of Flickr.