Monday, July 27, 2015

How Many Zzzs are Enough?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Imagine my surprise when I opened up the Parade magazine in my Sunday paper a week ago and there on the cover was Ariana Huffington (founder of the enormously successful Huffington Post website) propped up in bed in mauve silk pajamas. And she is reading (or at least holding) a real book! So what's with that? I wondered.

She's touting SLEEP, that's what. And I am 100% in her camp. After a collapse from exhaustion in 2007, Huffington has become a sleep advocate. And, boy, do we need one. We Americans are a sleep-deprived nation. 35% of the respondents polled by Parade reported getting less than five hours of sleep! We pride ourselves on working long hours, on being able to function fueled by caffeine, and even when we do get to bed, we don't turn off. (How many of you sleep with your cell phones, with the computer on in the same room, or with the TV on? According to research, the electronic glow disrupts the body's production of melantonin, which promotes sleep.)

But the truth is that no one functions well when they are sleep deprived, and most of us need a
good bit more than we get. I know I can't write when I'm tired--my brain feels like glue. I've learned from experience that, like Ariana Huffington, I do best on a solid eight hours of sleep. I can manage on seven (hopefully with a nap,) but on six hours or less, I am useless.

What does Ariana recommend? Her routine sounds like my idea of heaven: she turns off all her devices, takes a hot, scented, candle-lit  bath, puts on her (lovely) silk pajamas, and reads from a real, non-digital book. Sigh. I sometimes do some of these things. (No silk p.j.s, alas.) But I do try to take baths, because a) it's nice, and b) I know I always sleep better when I do. (I even make my own bath salts.) I turn off my computer, and although I do sometimes read on
my tablet, I've installed a blue light filter to cut down the electronic glow.

So, fellow REDS, do you know your sleep I.Q.? And what are your tricks for getting enough shut-eye?

LUCY BURDETTE: I wish I could function on 5 hours, but it's so not true. Part of my problem comes from the fact my office nook is part of the bedroom. In fact, I've been known to spend the day writing in bed. Which is terrible sleep hygiene, not to mention murder on my tendinitis. Still searching for the magic sleep bullet...

I wondered what effect electronic reading would have on sleep. Have you noticed a difference with the blue light filter Debs?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: No problem getting to sleep--I am so lucky about it, I can sleep anywhere. Plane, chair, anywhere. Of course, that probably means I am tired all the time, but we'll just skip that. I stay up too late, go to sleep about midnight usually and get up at 7. I read a book-book in bed, usually manage about three pages.  I mean--that's fine, right?  But no computer in the room, not even my phone, no TV on.  I'd adore to be able to manage on five hours--think of all I could get done! (And that's why I love to fly west-I get three whole extra hours of time, which is so fabulous!)  But if I have fewer than 6 hours of sleep I can really feel it. And I can see it in my face, too, when I am too tired. Can't you tell the difference, just by looking at yourself?

DEBS: Lucy, I haven't read anything on my tablet with the blue light filter, so I will keep you posted on that. Rick swears by it. He has it on his iPad, his computer, and even  his phone. It's cool because you can see it change right at sunset.

Hank, I think that is one of the worst things about getting older--it shows (eee gad) when you're tired. I stayed up too late reading last night (the downfall of all good sleep intentions...) and I just looked at myself in the mirror a few minutes ago and thought, "Are those caves under my eyes? And why is my face sagging???)

RHYS BOWEN: I need my sleep and I often battle sleep problems when I'm writing. I can fall asleep easily enough but when I wake at two in the morning I cant stop thinking. Wait, she would never have said that when the police questioned her.... and then my brain is racing and I am doomed to stare at the ceiling for hours. I do sometimes read a real book, but if there is something I really want to see on TV, I stay up past my sleep window and then I can't sleep.  I bought a fitness tracker that monitors sleep and was interested to see that on good nights I sleep for four hours without stirring, wake then sleep four more. On bad nights doze wake doze wake.

I don't work in the bedroom. I keep my iPad beside the bed but I don't look at it before going to sleep. Any tips on what to do if you wake in the middle of the night?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, my doctor said if I couldn't get back to sleep within twenty to thirty minutes, to get out of bed, leave the room, and do some quiet, distracting work - read, work a jigsaw puzzle, knit. Something that absorbs your attention, but doesn't make you think too much.

When I hit menopause, I started to have a terrible time staying asleep. I improved my sleep hygine: no electronic devices in the my bedroom, no reading books in bed (that's a killer for me because I WILL NOT put a book down when I'm into it) same routine every night. I'm still bad about hitting a regular bedtime, which I really need to do, because, like Debs, I'm useless for writing without eight good hours of sleep.

I have to tell you, though the magic bullet for me was Trazadone. I wasn't big on the idea of taking a pill to sleep, but my MD asked me to try it and it changed my life. It doesn't knock you out, but it enables you to stay asleep throughout the night and slip back into sleep if you rouse because you're too hot or too cold or the G.D. cat takes a stroll over your chest. I swear by it. Oh, and my beloved black velvet sleep mask, of course!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I love sleep — and it's not illegal, immoral, or fattening! Naps — bliss! I think there's something about novel writing that really uses a ton of brain energy. I had dinner with Karin Slaughter this past May, and it turns out she's an unrepentant sleeper — ten full hours at night and a good two-hour nap in the afternoon. Hearing her say that made me feel so much better about needing so much sleep myself.

DEBS: Wow! Ten hours AND a two-hour nap in the afternoon? That's amazing, Susan. (But when does she read???) And Julia, I applaud your self discipline with the "no books in bed" rule. I've read last thing at night since I was a child, and it's the one thing I always do, even if it's only a few pages. It's my fixed point of comfort, and the anticipation of it has seen me through many less than
wonderful days.

(I just added the guy here because he was cute. My excuse is that Ariana recommends real alarm clocks...)

Readers, what about you? Do you know how much sleep you need? And what do you do to get it?


  1. I follow all those suggestions: no reading in bed, no computer, tablet, or cell phone in the bedroom, no television on when I go to bed, but that doesn't always mean I can actually sleep. On a good night [even though I can manage with less if I need to], I generally sleep about six hours.
    But there are times when I simply can't turn my brain "off" and sleep, so I get up and find myself a good book to read . . . .

  2. Had to laugh. Came upon this because I couldn't sleep. I do best with 7 hours and a nap, but get into patterns where I wake up at 3 a.m. Like now.

  3. I usually get about 7 hours, and am always up by 6, often earlier. I firmly believe in the afternoon power nap, especially when I get fewer than 7 hours. Nothing digital, no screens in the bedroom, and I do have a little analog clock bedside, although not as cute a one as the cute guy's.

    My get-back-to-sleep mantra is to count backward from 1000, slowly and regularly. I rarely even get to 950, but a few times I've gotten into the mid-800s and that's when I usually get up and go have some hot milk and read until I'm sleepy again.

  4. I resemble Edith's sleep schedule. 6-7 hours at night, half hour nap in the afternoon. I rarely have problems falling or staying asleep, but I have had bouts of insomnia in the past. Horrible.

    I also do a half hour of meditation in the late morning. It saves my sanity and is more refreshing than sleep.

  5. Welcome Susan E--we hope you got back to sleep!

    I don't think I could give up reading before bed. I'm like Debs--I look forward to it all day! But meditation sounds like a smart idea. Ramona, maybe we can get you to do a blog on that...

  6. sleep, I crave it. My reward at the end of a long writing day is a short snooze on the porch next to the old-fashioned lilacs, filled with bird's nests and fledgling activity. When I wake up during the night, I jot down whatever the plotting problem or nagging worry is, and erase it from my head.

  7. Welcome Susan E…sweet dreams.

    Should we talk about hitting the snooze? I ALWAYS hit the snooze..even set the alarm early so I can. Jonathan says-why don't you just set the alarm to the right time?

    Ramona, I know the meditation idea is the answer. I used to, then got out of it. It's very difficult to slice out the time to do it again. It's inspirational to hear it works.

  8. This post reminded me of one of my favorite David Letterman quotes: "New York — the city that never sleeps. Which explains the crankiness."

  9. Like Debs and Roberta, the promise of a few pages before I turn out the light is what gets me through the day sometimes, especially when I am writing/revising deep into the evening after a full day at work. Reading an absorbing book helps me turn off the part of my brain that wants to perseverate about what I've just written/revised.

    I've been on a 6 and a half or 7 hour sleep cycle most of the summer, and it's not enough. I'm so looking forward to the opportunity to sleep during our upcoming vacation. Sure, I'll be eager to swim, hike, read, et cetera. But to sleep in and not feel guilty about it? Yeah!

  10. Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
    Beloved from pole to pole!
    To Mary Queen the praise be given!
    She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
    That slid into my soul.

    Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner

  11. I need 7-8 hours to be at my best, but I'm such a light sleeper, I'm in the doze-and-wake all night camp. I try to keep the bedroom as dark as possible, but have never been able to tolerate 'white noise,' earplugs, or anything on my face to help. And it's summertime--with two teenaged nephews + friends = late nights!

    Ramona, I am working on that meditation--I usually combine it with a walk--when I succeed, I come home refreshed and peaceful. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I will repeat a phrase "Buddha, dharma, sangha," until my mind becomes unfocused enough to fall asleep again.

  12. I do best with 8 hours but lately it's only been 6-7 if I'm lucky. I have always gone to bed with a book - since I was a kid and my mother would come in after I had fallen asleep to turn the light out and take my glasses off. These days it's an audiobook on my phone with a timer to shut it off. Since I have my phone there I have been known to check it if I wake up during the night. (Who am I kidding; I ALWAYS wake up during the night.) I know I shouldn't look at it. One of the rules/compromises when we got married 41 years ago was no tv in the bedroom. I have never missed it but I love it when I'm in a hotel by myself. :-)

  13. First, I have to say Julia - I read In the Bleak Midwinter yesterday (yes, in one day) and I owe you an apology for not getting on this series sooner. Loved it.

    Sleep, ah sleep. I'm having a horrible time of it after a lifetime of never having a probling going to or staying asleep. I'm lucky if I get 3-4 hours these days. By the time 9pm rolls around I'm exhausted, but say right now? I feel pretty good.

    No screens, no iPad, no computer, no TV in the bedroom. I plug my phone in to recharge, but it's on DND starting at 9:30pm so all the alerts are silent (except phone calls from family - who never call me after 8pm unless someone is dead or in jail).

    I started drinking a mug of chamomile tea with mint an hour before bedtime and reading (something I've read a bajillion times so it's easy to put down and doesn't take much engagement, right now Harry Potter #4). A friend suggested pineapple because it naturally gets the body to start producing melatonin.

    It's sorta-kinda working.

    Taking a melatonin supplement is next. I've talked to my doctor, but no one has ever suggested medication (not that I'm in a hurry to do that anyway).

  14. Hank:
    I owe a huge debt of gratitude to whoever it was that invented the snooze button for the alarm clock! Absolutely wonderful and definitely used around our house.

  15. I can't remember when I slept long enough for the alarm to wake me - I'm early to be (before 10) and early to rise (after 5) and I really need 8 solid hours. I'm like Rhys, when I'm tangled in a plot knot, I think about it if I wake up. No caffeine after 10 AM for me or my brain won't turn off at all.

  16. I was just talking with someone about this very topic. I need at least 7 hours of sleep a night to function. I'm very cranky if I don't get this much, so beware! ;-) If I can also manage a nap, it's heaven. (I've been a napper since high school and continued through college and beyond!)

    I don't have a TV in my bedroom and I try to read a book or magazine rather than email before bed. I need to cleanse my mental palate of work or other concerns before I sleep. I sometimes have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep if I have things on my mind. I wish I were one of those people who falls asleep simply once horizontal. They make me jealous!

  17. Margaret, wonderful poetic addition to the discussion!

    Hank and Joan, I've determined (from observing my own family) that the world is divided into two kinds: snoozers and bolters. Snoozers set the alarm before they need to get up, hit snooze, possibly repeat the cycle. Bolters wait until the last possible minute and then sit straight up when the alarm finally goes off.

    Youngest is a snoozer (with her phone alarm, of course.) She would rather have the first alarm go off 15 minutes before she has to be up for school, then hit the snooze every five minutes after. That would drive me batty. I want every minute of solid sleep, and when I'm up, I'm up.

  18. My body gets used to when I go to bed, and if I go to bed too much earlier, I don't fall asleep. It's so frustrating. Last night, I was dozing trying to finish a chapter in my book, so I turned out the lights. It then took me almost 40 minutes to actually go to sleep, although I was half asleep the entire time.

    And I don't get enough sleep. Which is why I nap almost every day at lunch time.

    Fortunately (or not) reading puts me to sleep. I read on my lunch hour, and usually dose off for 15-20 minutes. It can be frustrating at other times when I want to read and I fall asleep. But it is a lifesaver if I'm in bed and can't sleep. I just pick up my book and eventually I fall asleep. Or I get a bunch more reading in. Either one is a win in my book and much better than just lying in bed tossing and turning.

  19. Oh, Yay, Joan. xoxo

    And Susan that's a great quote from Letterman!

    MArianne, watching TV in bed in a hotel. THE BEST.

  20. Seven hours in 24 hour period with tv on. It beats drinking one's self into a stupor.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. I'm so envious of those of you who can sleep with no problems.

    My name is Karen, and I'm a professional insomniac, since childhood. It's been so bad during times in my life that I have literally only slept six hours in a WEEK. And I've tried it all: hot baths, melatonin, acupuncture, SleepyTime tea (seriously?), valerian, homeopathics, soothing music, Benadryl (which works, but gives me a drug hangover) and on, and on. I have a prescription for a sleep aid, but even that does not always work. We have never, ever had a TV in any of the bedrooms, and it's very dark and very quiet at our house. Plus, the bedroom is kept cool.

    I would practically kill for a solid nightly sleep of more than six hours, which is all I get from a sleeping pill. In fact, it's probably a miracle that I haven't yet. To make matters worse, my husband has opposite sleep issues from me: he falls asleep very easily; once I'm asleep I'm okay for a few hours, it's getting to sleep that's my problem. Steve wakes up after a few hours and has to find another place to get back to sleep. Drives us both crazy, frankly.

    Thank goodness I have not had to be at a job job for many years, I'd never make it.

  23. Oh, yeah, the best sleeps I've ever had were right after having a professional massage in the evening. Not a great solution for long-term, obviously. :-)

  24. I, too,take Trazadone, Julia, and I have for many years. Sometimes, if I can't fall asleep, I suddenly remember that I forgot to take it. After I take it, I fall asleep in a short while. It's an old, old antidepressant, but it really works.

  25. When I was working, I rarely went to bed before 11:00 during the week and got up at 5:34 (don't ask) after 9 minutes of snoozing. By Friday I was pretty darn tired. Now that I'm retired, I get up at 6:00 and have breakfast with my husband, then go back to bed to read (bliss!) before getting up, exercising and showering. Once in a while I go back to sleep if I need to. On weekends, we usually stay up a bit later and get up around 9:00. I have no idea what our schedule will be once my husband retires, but for sure we won't be getting up at 9:00 every day! I love to read before bed also, but no matter how interesting the book is, I can't stay awake for long. I do get up once every night, but a tip I read about on Facebook helps me get back to sleep--make sure you're breathing deeply instead of shallowly. For some reason, that really works for me.

  26. Karen, I promise never to complain about not sleeping again! That sounds like absolute hell. And I have a couple of different sleep disorders, so I know whereof I speak.

    Thanks, Margaret, for the Coleridge. Maybe if we all read The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner at bedtime, sleep would not elude us. There's a thought. I like the meditation idea (and have used it) but romantic poetry might be even better!

    I have been a "night owl" since birth. (My mother would have confirmed this...) I think some of us are just wired differently. I can nap, usually very easily, in the daytime. I can sleep on planes, and trains, and in automobiles. But once it gets dark, I'm wide awake, no matter how tired I am.

    And like Karen's hubby, if I go to sleep and wake up, I have to move to a different place. Good things there are lots of comfy places to sleep in our house.

  27. Deb, you--like me--might very well be a vampire.

    How do you feel about garlic, hmm?

  28. I'm definitely an owl and my husband is a lark. So no reading in bed unless he is out of town. That man can fall asleep anywhere. I think being in the army is what did it; get some sleep whenever the opportunity arises. I'm active and wide awake in the evenings and he is ready to snooze since he's been up since the crack of dawn. So, how are we still married? But I do have episodes of insomnia from time to time but since I usually have no obligations in the morning I can sleep in to make up for lack of sleep. One of the perks of being retired.

  29. Like many others here, I am fortunate in that I can always fall asleep. Even, unfortunately, sometimes when I shouldn't. I usually sleep well through the night, too, but on rare occasion I will wake up in the wee hours and toss and turn a while before I get back to sleep. I, too, have insisted on keeping TV and computers out of the room, though I do have my cell phone on the charger at the head of my bed. (It doesn't give off any light when it's charging.)

    I have experimented and found that the least sleep I can get and still function comfortably is 6 hours. On 5 I can function, but I am noticeably uncomfortable. On less, I am a blithering idiot. So my routine is that I'm in bed around 10:30 (which sometimes slips to 11:00) and up when the alarm goes off at 5:00 each morning. (I get up that crazy early in order to fit in exercise, because it is the only time of day I have found where it rarely gets overtaken by other events in life.) That works fine, as long as I manage to get in one longer sleep over the weekend.

  30. Oh man, this is a topic after my heart. I've been tired for the last decade, it seems. I'm at the point of asking my doctor to refer me to a sleep clinic. Do I have sleep apnea? That would be a relief actually, because then I'd have a solution.

    Meanwhile, I am in the midlife M-zone so I know that's a factor in my sleeplessness. I have no contraptions in my bedroom, ever. Only the ancient bedside clock. I do read in bed before sleep. Not sure I could stop that -- reading helps me fall asleep actually.

    Julia, I'm going to ask my doctor about Trazadone. Knowing her, she'll probably steer me away from it. She did prescribe Lunesta at one point, which helps you fall asleep. My problem in staying asleep. So then, in desperation, I begged her for Ambien for emergency use (not every night). It works fairly well, but I feel like I'm groggier when I first wake up.

    I just moved, and since I'm a light sleeper, I decided to buy blackout curtains for the bedroom, which has two giant windows. Can we say "sticker shock"? I had no clue window treatments were so expensive. But it will be so worth it. I love summer, but it's hell on my already bad sleep patterns.

  31. A curiosity question: it seems that many of you write about people who: 1. either have days that are 36 - 42 hours long...there is so much activity, interviews, meal shopping, meal planning, church services, meal cooking, escaping from the enemy, grabbing a cuddle between set times like breakfast and lunch there must be more hours in their days or
    2. these characters never sleep in order to accommodate all these activities.

    At last the question, does the time in your novels influence the time in your lives?

    Love your books, even though I sometimes feel in a time warp. ;-)

  32. Hank & Joan, I am also a snoozer. I've tried to make myself a bolter, Margaret, but I'm going back to setting my alarm early so I can pretend I'm sneaking more time.

    My husband has insomnia, and I'm very appreciative of my 6 to 7 hours now. And my ability to drink coffee all day and still fall asleep easily between 11 and twelve depending on where I am in my book. I also fall asleep with the TV on and frequently read on my phone. (But I have three kids 10, 7 and 3. I might be cheating.) I do have trouble getting back to sleep if I'm woken between 3 and 5 am, but that's always a sign of stress or plot holes.

  33. Oh my, I feel like such an underachiever. Four hours is a good night for me. I bought a fitbit, it lets me see my sleep pattern -- bad, very bad. Fortunately, I've never been a good sleeper (yep even as an infant, my parents will give references) and of course, I read in bed so I think I'm used to being chronically sleep deprived. Time is such a fleeting creature.

  34. I thought I posted earlier, but I don't see it. Suffice to say that I am a Night Owl who stays up until 1, 2, and sometimes 3. Luckily, most mornings I can sleep in some, enough to get around 7 hours. However, it seems that 7 hours doesn't seem like quite enough these days. I didn't seem to have any trouble falling to sleep or staying asleep, but after my trip to Hawaii, my sleep has been unsettled. Of course, I came back sick, too, with a sinus infection. I'm beginning to think that naps are a good idea. I sometimes think that I would love to be a morning person, but I don't see that ever happening.

  35. I am happy to find this post very useful for me

  36. Debs, I missed this post yesterday. I might have missed yesterday. That's okay. I needed sleep. I love Ariana and wondered where she was! Just here to mention that my neurologist in Boston recommended a blue filter for me. Some people do better with different colors. I even got a special overlay to use when reading hard copy especially with lamp glare at night in the bedroom. I have an 8.5 x 11" sheet for full size, and one cut in half crosswise for books.

  37. Well written article. The question is hot for modern people as mostly all people have very intensive schedule. Good healthy sleeping is the thing that gives you more productivity then food and water. I prefer to sleep 8 hours every night with extra 1 hour on weekend. If I need to write some paper, I'd rather take on for this and sleep.