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The Insomniac Challenge

May 01, 2015 01:56PM ● By Jennifer Neys

By Julie Ross

Just close your eyes, relax, and drift off to dreamland. Sorry, I’m afraid that’s easier said than done. For some of us, the problem is an inability to doze off at bedtime. For others, it’s the middle-of-the-night awakening, when we just can’t seem to shut back down.

I asked some friends for their strategies in handling the late night, mini-anxiety attacks that keep them awake. Most said they turn to their phone for amusement or to catch up on things. Is that a good idea? A quick Internet check revealed that it is not. Sleep experts claim that the glow from electronic devices can make matters worse by disrupting our circadian rhythm, nature’s daily light/dark cycle. Sounds plausible. So, what other advice do experts provide?

One tip that is pure genius is “Sleep when sleepy.” Really, these experts get paid for providing advice like that? Another gem: “Keep the bedroom quiet while sleeping.” And here we were filling the room with barking dogs and a marching band. My favorite contradictory tips were “Use a sleep diary,” followed by, “No clock watching.” Just how am I going to keep a sleep diary without looking at the clock to note the time I remained sleepless? And just how am I going to make an entry about what time I fell asleep, as I will be asleep? 

Apart from this slew of state-the-obvious expert advice (here’s a free tip from me: try to avoid sticking a pencil in your eye at bedtime!), I did find a couple of interesting tidbits.

Eating cherries or drinking tart cherry juice has been shown to help induce sleep because cherries are rich in melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland of our brain, which helps control our sleep/wake cycles. Having a banana might also be a good idea. Bananas are rich in tryptophan, which our body eventually converts to mood-balancing serotonin and sleep-regulating melatonin.

I enjoyed coming across Benjamin Franklin’s sleep ritual. He would ask himself every night, “What good have I done today?” A nice affirmation (assuming you actually did something good), and a daily reminder to ask yourself every morning, as he did, “What good shall I do today?”

And now it’s time for a bit of fun. When my friend Margaret wakes up in the middle of the night, she creates hypothetical book titles. Some address situations that cause anxiety in her life, while others touch on amusing aspects. Here is one example of each: Money I Don’t Have: My First 5 Years as an Entrepreneur and The Art of Abstract Towel Folding: Teenagers Help With Laundry. It’s nice to be able to bring a smile to your sleep-deprived state. So, here is your challenge – the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, think up some book titles that describe your insecurities, worries, successes or humorous situations. Write them down in your sleep diary (or not) and then email them to me by the end of May. We’ll print some of the best ones in the July issue. 

Send your insomniac book titles to [email protected] by midnight on May 31.