Monday, April 09, 2007

To Sleep, Perchance

I've struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember. It's not a constant plague, but it is a recurring one, with bouts intruding upon my life every month or so and lasting for days and sometimes weeks (the worst stretch: four and half weeks late in the third year of my PhD, during which time I would turn up at seminars - and, once, a friend's thesis defense - and fall asleep sitting up. Not cool.) Add to this history of insomnia one restless and nap-averse toddler and you have a recipe for disaster. When Her Bad Mother does not sleep at night and WonderBaby does not sleep during the day, life becomes very unpleasant.

So when Julie and Kristen send around an e-mail asking if anyone was interested in checking out Michael Breus' Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health, I was all, like, HELLS YEAH. Where do I sign? And, do you need my soul in exchange, or anything like that?

But then the book comes and I read the first half and am all excited to see if it will work on me - and no insomnia hits. For weeks. Weeks and weeks. Weeks and weeks and weeks go by and I have no trouble sleeping. Even when I hit a patch of extreme busy-ness (communications conference in Kentucky; re-launching MommyBlogsToronto; marking crap-ass undergraduate papers), I continued to sleep well. (I did, I should note, have some sort of mock-cardiac arrest towards the end of those weeks but dammit - I SLEPT WELL.)

So, no, I didn't exactly implement the smart sleep strategies that Dr. Breus recommends, nor did I put myself through Sleep Boot Camp. I'm superstitious - I figured that if I messed with whatever it was that was allowing me to sleep soundly through a period of stress, I would be asking for trouble. But I did study the book closely, and noted that some of the things that I had been doing incidentally were things that the good doctor recommended as part of good sleep habits: not checking e-mail (or, um, blogging) in the hour before bedtime, not consuming alcohol before bedtime, sticking to a regular bedtime, having a wind-down period, etc. It hadn't occured to me that these might be strategies for ensuring good sleep (with the exception of the early computer turn-off policy - I realized that I needed some distance from my virtual life before settling to sleep in real life), but lo and behold, they (among other things) are exactly that.

And that, really, is what is so useful about the book - without beating you over the head or insisting that you must follow this advice or die, it encourages you to take a careful look at your sleep habits and figure out what works for you and what does not. For some people, reading is good pre-sleep ritual (note, however, that it might matter what you read. This hadn't occured to me: I always read before bed, but hadn't paid much attention to what I was reading. This was one of many duh moments that I had while reading Breus' book.) For others, reading (or sex, or conversation) is too stimulating. Some people can't fall asleep without the TV on - he discourages this, but states matter-of-factly that if you're one of those people who needs the television to sleep, by all means keep doing it, but be alert to issues like level of volume, and maybe get a timer to turn it off or manage the volume.

I really appreciated the fact that he was not dogmatic about sleep strategies - I've read too many books about getting your child to sleep that warn dire consequences for straying from THE PROGRAM to have any patience for dogmatism in the arena of sleep. The emphasis on figuring out what works for you - and the provision of really, really good strategies for figuring out what works for you - rather than insisting upon adopting specific practices that may or may not be practical or desirable takes the stress out of addressing your sleep problems. And that's, like, three-quarters of the battle right there.

So I'm keeping this book on my bedside - it's already proved useful, and I've no doubt that when the insomnia hits again and I need to hit sleep bootcamp, I'll be ready.

FINAL WORD: Either this book has talismanic properties and the mere presence of it at my bedside is ensuring good sleep, or even casual adoption of its ideas and strategies and - most importantly - attitude toward sleep is effective in improving sleep. I'm pushing over two months now of no insomnia, and that's unusual for me.

Check out more reviews of Good Night at the Parent Bloggers Network; and check out Dr Breus' sleep advice at his website -

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