Monday, September 17, 2018

Perchance to Dream


RHYS BOWEN: I have just planned out the watering system for the new plantings on my hillside, thought up the next plot twist for the book I am writing, gone through my finances and planned menus for the guests who are visiting next week. A good morning’s work, you might say, except that I did all this at 2:30 am when I couldn’t sleep.
Like many of you, I expect, I find it hard to sleep when I am busy—either in the middle of writing a book or about to set off on a book tour, or both, as happened last month. I can fall asleep because I am really tired, but then I wake a couple of hours later with so many competing thoughts flying around my head. I have yet to find a way to still this teeming brain. My doctor has prescribed Ambien and it works well, but I try to stay away from drugs and only use it when I know I really need a good night’s sleep, like a big meeting or interview the next morning, or on my first night in another time zone.  I sometimes resort to Advil PM but that often makes me feel sluggish in the mornings—and again I don’t want to come to rely on drugs.
I have tried all the herbal supplements but again the ones that are most effective –valerian and melatonin—make me feel dopey. I’ve tried the sleep CDs… you know, the calm voice saying “Empty your mind of annoying thoughts.”  Great idea but the annoying thoughts cling on for dear life and won’t go. My son swears by meditation but for me this goes like: Ahh, I’m on a lovely beach, the waves lapping at my toes. I’m breathing deeply and –DAMN! She couldn’t have seen the murderer because he was behind the stairs!!!
So dear friends: any suggestions that actually work? And brilliant mattresses that enable deep slumber?

LUCY BURDETTE: So sorry Rhys, no brilliant thoughts about what works! Though I too am in the market for a mattress so suggestions welcome. As a teen and twenties person, I was a brilliant sleeper. Probably back then I could have functioned on less, so it doesn't seem quite fair. Meanwhile, all the articles about how sleep staves off Alzheimer's only makes the prospect of rest even more dim!

HALLIE EPHRON: I was encouraged to discover when I was researching sleep science (one of the main characters in "You'll Never Know Dear" is a psychologist who studies sleep) that it's normal for people to sleep for the first for four hours, then wake for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep. Apparently it's a myth that a 'good night's sleep' is 8 uninterrupted hours.

Most nights, I'm awake in the middle of the night. I tell myself it's normal and use the time to think through a problem I was working on the day before. Or I have games I play with numbers (too complicated to explain, but a stress free way of occupying my brain).


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am a good sleeper, and can fall asleep anywhere any time. Except--when I can't. If I am trying to put myself to sleep, I imagine I am someplace else, and I meet someone, and I say this, and the person says that, and I imagine this scene. Not from a book, but as if I'm in it. (Does that sound weird?) So, Rhys, I say yes, go ahead with your scenes, but instead of doing it for the book, just let your mind go into someplace else. As if you're in a movie or a play. I cannot empty my mind--it only makes me start thinking: empty your mind empty your mind--until my mind is full of that. Or you can watch a movie in your head. That works, too.
And I think  a big key is not to worry--don't fill your mind with how much you NEED to sleep!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I've been dealing with sleep issues for some time. I have bursitis in both hips - I know it sounds like the ultimate little old lady ailment, but what it means is that the bursae, the little sacs of liquid that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles in our joints, become inflamed.  For me, it means that when I lie down after a normal day's activities, my hips ache. I can stay in one position of a while, and then the pain will wake me up and I have to shift.

My sleeping techniques? Of course, use good sleep hygiene. Dark room, quiet, don't use your bed for anything other than sleep, sex and a little nighttime reading. Regular pre-bedtime routine, regular hours. (Which I expect to be able to keep better now I no longer have a high-schooler who needs late-night transportation or homework help!) I love my black-out eye mask in soft velvet. You can get ones just like it on Amazon. And my empty-your-head trick - don't laugh - I do sums! I am SO bad at mental math, I have to focus so deeply I can't swerve off into things I'm worried about. I'l pick a problem like, "How many days since The Sailor graduated from basic?" Once I start to multiply 365 times 2, I fall asleep like a shot.

Rhys, have you tried keeping a notebook on your bedside table? Maybe if your mind knows it doesn't have to REMEMBER the clever ideas it comes up with during your sleep, you can drop off quickly after jotting a sentence or two down.

INGRID THOFT: In general, I excel at sleeping.  There are occasional nights or circumstances when my natural sleep talent fails me, but in general, I sleep well.  The thing I’m less thrilled about is that I need a lot of sleep.  Nine hours is great, but I can go longer given the chance.  New parents and other people who survive on six hours a night or less?  I can’t even imagine.  I follow the usual sleep guidelines: no screens in the bedroom, a melatonin and the occasional Zyquil, reading to get drowsy, and occasionally earplugs to block out the city sounds.  I also keep a notebook on my bedside table and write down the random thoughts that inhibit snoozing.

JENN McKINLAY: I am not a big sleeper, so if I clock in a solid six hours I wake up raring to go. I think because I sleep less than "normal", when I do sleep, I sleep hard. I can sleep anywhere in any sort of chair, couch, bed, plane, train, car, you name it. When I close my eyes - boom - I'm out. Also, I don't dream, at least, none that I remember.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys and Lucy, we replaced our mattress a couple of years ago (don't even want to admit how old the previous mattress was!) and it's made a big difference. I did a lot of research, too. We bought a Sealy Posturepedic firm mattress with a Euro pillow top and it has been fabulous. I highly recommend going somewhere with a big selection and trying out different brands and types. (Julia, the Euro pillow top works wonders for achy body parts.)

I was thrilled when I read the same sleep study that Hallie mentioned. It takes the pressure off, knowing that it's actually normal to wake in the middle of the night. I have a secret weapon in the getting back to sleep battle, however. I have a chaise longue in my office, across the hall from the bedroom, so when I wake up around four or five in the morning, I grab my pillows and curl up on the chaise under a favorite quilt or down comforter. Usually I can go right back to sleep, while if I stay in bed I will likely be wide-eyed for hours.

Jenn, now we know how you can write so many books--you don't sleep! Unfortunately for me, I need a good eight hours to be sharp and focused enough to write. And a twenty minute afternoon nap works wonders for a late afternoon writing sprint.

RHYS: Julia, I do keep the notebook beside the bed.  Jenn, I can't believe you don't dream. My sleep hours are full of vivid, and sometimes alarming, dreams. And Debs, a new mattress is on the cards for us too. We tried the Sleep Number, which was very nice but balked at the $9000 price (on sale!) I'm now considering the Dreamcloud I see on Facebook. Has anyone tried that?
And dear readers: does anyone have a magic charm for falling asleep and staying asleep?

46 comments:

  1. Sleep does seem to be an issue for many of us. Alas, I have no magic solution and, although I find it easier to sleep in a cool room, I haven’t yet figured out how to turn my brain off so I can go to sleep.

    I heard a sleep specialist say that half an hour is the limit for staying in bed if you are unable to sleep. If you can’t sleep, he said, you should get up and read until you feel tired enough to try again. I’ve tried that, and it does work, but it isn’t the best solution when I have to be up early in the morning for the long commute to work.
    What I really need is to figure out how to get my brain to stop thinking about this and that so that I might actually fall asleep . . . .

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  2. Well, it's 2:35 right now, and despite falling asleep in a chair before I stumbled off to bed, once I got here I was wide awake.

    Dr. Andrew Weil has some good suggestions about deep breathing that help. I just forget to do them.

    Julia, I also have bursitis in both hips, so painful. It's not easy to get to sleep when you can't get comfy.

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  3. Ambien and a good firm mattress. When that doesn’t work I give myself some silly counting game like Hallie does. My favorite is something like all the ones I’ve lived before. Always fall asleep before I get to the end!

    Off to Oxford via Stratford today. But we’ll be back in Crombie country the end of the week. And then Home.

    Cheers

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    1. Say hello to Oxford for me and have a lovely trip

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  4. When I am in that 2 hours awake window, I wish that it were possible to read without light. So that my racing brain could be lulled and that my resting body could stay at rest.

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    1. The Kindle Paperwhite is marvelous.

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    2. My problem listening to books is I DO fall asleep, then I can't figure out where I was when I stopped listening.

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    3. Thank you all of the great suggestions...what I am really wanting is an amazing way to read without sound, without light, and with my eyes closed. Ah, the power of the imagination. Sleep well.

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  5. I've dealt with that "awake two hours" thing since high school, and I've learned a few tricks that seem to work for me. #1 is to just accept it. I've read that infamous sleep study, too, and was reassured by it. So when I wake up I get up, hit the bathroom. Let the dogs out so they can hit the bathroom. Check in on Jungle Red. Throw in a load of laundry. And then I go back to bed and either read or do Sudoku on my iPad. I know what they say about no screens, but the number puzzle turns off the "Oh my god I haven't done . . . " part of my brain. When I start to make too many mistakes, I quit and try sleeping again.

    Two other tricks I've learned are to get warmer--pull up the covers, invite a dog up to snuggle, throw a robe across my legs. For whatever reason, slightly chilled upper legs = insomnia for me. Also, back in the early widowhood days, I used to leave a radio on. I tuned to the BBC with all those soothing, RP voices at such a low volume that I had to really focus to hear and understand what they were saying. Focusing on that also shuts down the "Oh my god . . . " voices in my head, and eventually I will drift off. Usually when they get to the cricket scores.

    Big thumbs up for a new mattress. I got one just like Deb's, but only after rolling around on quite a few at the store. I've been happy with it.

    I think if you can use the time productively, Rhys, you're ahead of the game.

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  6. Karen, I agree out the deep breathing! And sometimes I pretend I am watching the waves go in and out. I guess it works, because I never remember stopping it.

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    1. The waves are good, partly because of the rhythm.

      Years ago I stayed at a Crown Plaza that had a "sleep kit" in each room: a CD player alarm clock, a fabulous mattress and sheets, and a little bag with earplugs, a sleep mask, lavender spray, and a CD by Michael Breus, the "Sleep Doctor". I've used it for years, decades, and wore out two CDs of it. Now it's on my phone, on Google Tunes, and I'll often listen to it and fall asleep. But it bothers Steve, so I can't listen to it when we're in the same bed, alas. It's really great for travel, though, now that I can use my phone.

      The first selection is a guided relaxation routine, but I find it intrusive, so I always skip it. I'm sure you can get it through iTunes, or Google Music, as I did, but here's the only ready link I could find: https://www.amazon.com/Soundsleep-Solutions-Breus/dp/B000CA76YG

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    2. I meant to add that the Breus recording includes the sounds of waves, among other things.

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  7. I also swear by the bedside notebook. I count backward from a thousand slowly and steadily to fall back asleep sometimes. Good luck, Rhys!

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    1. Absolutely agree on the bedside notebook. If I write down whatever's keeping me awake, I feel like it's safe to forget it.

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  8. Rhys, a couple of years ago I took an introductory T'ai Chi class. Very simple, deceptive moves. Deceptive, because to do them correctly, you have to concentrate and relax. I am prone to monkey-brain at bedtime and could surf on some level of consciousness to waking over and over all night long. Throw in bursitis (also, both hips) and nights could be a torment. I have found that imagining myself doing several T'ai Chi moves helps me--and at my worst, I've actually gotten up and done them by my bedside. For the bursitis, I've found that movement helps--during my day I remind myself not to sit (at my desk or when I'm sewing or reading) or stand (prepping/cooking dinner etc.) in any one position for too long and to religiously get out and walk every day. And yes, try out as many new mattresses as you can.

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    1. Tai Chi in my head! Yes, I have done that-and I agree, it works!

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  9. Rhys, my in-laws recent got Capers mattress (casper.com) and love it.

    When I can't turn off my brain, I listen to a book. I focus on the story and stop thinking. The trick for me is that it has to be a story I know well so I won't feel the need to stay awake to see how it turns out. Books that work for me Harry Potter (I've nearly got all of them memorized by now, LOL) and The Lord of the Rings.

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  10. Shalom Reds. I sleep well most nights. I also take long naps during the day. My motto is “There’s a nap, for that.” The only problem that alarms me sometimes is when I need to be up at the crack of dawn or before. I have to set two alarms. I have to be in bed about 7 or 8 hours before my scheduled wake up time. I haven’t overslept in many years but I still worry about it. I also like to fall asleep to background noise, either music or talking.

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  11. I'm like Ingrid in that I can sleep for nine or ten hours a day. Usually not all at one time though. I have no idea how anyone can function on less than six hours of sleep a day. I can do that for one or two nights at most and then I'm worthless. Obviously raising babies is not in my future!

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  12. If you take a "PM" product, please read this.

    All of the ones I've seen: Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, Excedrin, etc., as well as Sominex and Simply Sleep, have the same "PM" ingredient: 25 mg of dipenhydramine.

    25 mg of dipenhydramine is... drumroll, please... one tab of Benadryl.

    If you do not have pain or another symptom,it's best to only take the dipenhydramine. You can get liver or kidney failure from overuse of analgesics (Benadryl has its own side effects, too). Also, you can save some money. Benadryl is pretty inexpensive, and every drugstore and discount chain (CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Target, etc.) has low-priced generic versions. A fairly good-sized bottle is under $5.

    Here is a link with more: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/going-safety-of-over-the-counter-sleeping-pills

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  13. I wake in the middle of the night but usually fall asleep again after I've filled in the backstory for one of my characters or redecorated a room in one of the houses we've lived in. When we moved to Atlanta, I discovered the magic of ceiling fans. Unless it's the dead of winter, I sleep with the fan on. And I don't have a clock or phone in the bedroom.

    Julia, after extensive knee surgery, my daughter uses a body pillow. Something you might consider.

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  14. FALLING asleep is so easy for me. Just turn on the TV. Weirdly it's got to be a regular TV show, not streamed.

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  15. I had a stretch where it was hard for me to get to sleep, despite all the good "sleep hygiene" tricks mentioned above. I learned:

    1. Don't look at the clock and think "I have to get to sleep." Guaranteed to result in the opposite effect.

    2. Don't try to redirect your mind. Let it wander. The effort in redirecting was keeping me up. If I just let whatever thoughts cross my mind (the next day's chores, a TV show I watched earlier, a plot problem I was working on) do their thing, I'd find I fell asleep.

    I find myself going to be earlier, but that invariably means I wake up in the middle of the night. Glad to hear that's "normal." And I'm sure I dream, but I rarely remember them (except for the really weird ones when I'm half-awake in the morning, a sure sign it's time to get up!).

    Mary/Liz

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  16. Well, I woke about 4 AM today, thinking of people I knew (not well) in my immediate post-college-life! I have no explanation for that, but the erratic sleep habits are fairly chronic. When I realize I am squeezing my eyes shut in an attempt to get back to sleep, I know it is time to get up! I read, maybe take a warm bath (yes, it is relaxing and helps arthritic pain, too), maybe write a little, make lists/schedules so I download anxiety from brain to paper. I sometimes try counting down backwards and forcing myself to picture each number. Kind of clears out my mind. Plus it is very boring so it works. And benadryl, yes! Plan to try it on a long flight later this week. We should have a 3 AM club.

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  17. No helpful suggestions here. My husband can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I think he learned that in the Army. I go through periods where I can't sleep. I make up for it by sleeping late the next day. Since I'm self-retired I can get away with that. We had a sleep number bed years ago. At first it was great. Later, not so much for me. At one point I found the controls got switched so everytime I tried to adjust my side it was actually Frank's that got adjusted. Then nothing was working and I found my side had a leak. Aaargh. I think my body rebels against whatever kind of mattress we have after a while. It just gets uncomfortable. I'm at that point again so I may get an eggcrate to help with the pressure points.

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  18. I often wake up in the middle of the night. And I don’t go to bed as early as I should. When I really can’t sleep, I turn the light on and pick up my book. I read lying on my side. That really helps since it turns off the thoughts that are keeping me awake. And if it doesn’t quiet those thoughts, I get a lot read.

    I know I’m odd, a reader who falls asleep reading. But it’s true. And this is true with all authors, not certain ones. Even favorites like the Reds. I can fall asleep while reading the climax of a book I’m completely hooked on.

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    1. Yes, Mark, me, too! And I wake up with the book on the floor and have to find my place again.

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    2. I usually wake up with my finger in the book. Fortunately.

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  19. Jenn, I'll bet you dream, but you just don't remember them. It doesn't sound like you would ever need to do a sleep study, but it would be interesting to see what your dream-sleep pattern looked like.

    Our brains are so funny. I don't usually set an alarm, and I wake up, literally, like clockwork, at exactly the same time almost every day. When I do have to set an alarm, I don't sleep as well, and I almost always wake up well before the alarm goes off. Is there such a thing as alarm anxiety?

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    1. Debs when I have an early flight I wake every half hour, all night, and check the alarm!

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    2. Yes, me, too! Soooo annoying, especially when you have an early start and really need a good night's sleep!

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  20. I would love to do a sleep study, Debs. And, yes, you're right, I must dream because I'll go to bed with a plot problem and wake up with the solution in mind, having no idea how it popped into my head. Weird.

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  21. Can we do the sleep study starting now?

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  22. Since I came back from Bouchercon quite sick, I have been going to bed much earlier than normal for me. Last night I didn't turn out the light until a bit after midnight, but I've gone to bed as early as 9 p.m. this past week. But, I don't recommend being sick as a sleep aid. My normal bed time is around 2 a.m., sometimes later, and I sleep in the next morning, or rather, that morning. My husband is early to bed and early to rise, so since he's been home after his semi-retirement, we have rather conflicting schedules. I don't mind so much, except that he seems to think his way is the proper way. Interesting though that I'm not the one who has to take a pill to sleep. And, I dream a lot. Last night's/this morning's dream was about going on my first trip to London. Did you know that they have really large, impressive snow globes on sale in the Parliament gift shop? Hahaha!

    My son has always had trouble sleeping, and as a kid and teenager, I'm sure he stayed up later than he should have, but you can't make a kid sleep when he can't. His sleep problem did have its advantages, as he and I enjoyed watching Sports Night (a comedy) together and still talking about the show. I tried different remedies with him, short of a sleeping pill, but his bio rhythms or whatever marched to the sound of a different drummer, and he seems to have adjusted to it in adult life.

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    1. Kathy,

      Sports Night was such a great show. I own both versions of the DVD set. It is just amazing. It is extremely cool that you and your son got to watch it together.

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    2. Jay, I love that someone else appreciates that show. It's one of those quirky bonds that my son and I have, probably because we're quirky. I think I have the DVD set, if I didn't let my son have it.

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  23. I don't seem to have a problem falling asleep. It's WHEN I fall asleep that is the problem along with actually staying asleep.

    I fell asleep in the first quarter of the Patriots football game yesterday afternoon (given how bad they played it was probably a good thing) despite not actually feeling tired or even so much as yawning.

    Or when I fall asleep at night I'll wake up every two hours or so. It's annoying as hell.

    About the only time I'm safe from falling asleep in an unplanned fashion at night is when I'm out "on the town" at a concert or something similar.

    Speaking of concerts, my Helloween (German melodic power metal band) concert on Friday was outfreakingstanding. My review of the show is online so if anyone wants to check it out (despite no one liking the same kind of music that I do), you can check it out via this link: http://www.knac.com/article.asp?ArticleID=29956

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  24. When I went for a sleep study, I finally got to sleep by silently telling myself a story . . . Sheherazade, my favorite and very familiar. Now with the CPAP I do sleep better and remember fewer dreams.
    When I was still teaching and fell into the trap of counting time left before the 5 a.m. alarm, I'd lie to myself that the next day was Saturday and there would be no alarm -- and I was gullible enough to believe myself. ;-)
    I'm with you on wanting to avoid drugs, but I did try kavakava for a while.

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  25. Rhys, it is really important to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep, which is one of the things that prevents Alzheimer's Disease, according to recent studies. I had problems sleeping too. I do not like sleeping medicines. I try NOT to have any caffeine after Nine A.M. unless I know I can sleep in late the next day. I learned that I often fall asleep while reading a book, even if it is a book that I love. I think that when my body is relaxed, it is easier to fall asleep. And exercise also helps. Hope you can get some sleep!

    Diana

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