I gave in at last. After two weeks of sleeping by day and staying awake by night I was reading Stylist in bed long after my husband had started snoring, and came across an article from September about the Kaizen method. Since I’m going through a phase when everything Japanese (bar Marie Kondo) is an immediate favourite for me, I decided to give it a try. One reason why I am so into the Japanese lifestyle lately is its general moderation (hence why I am no fan of the decluttering guru as above). Traditionally, the Christian West had an understanding of virtue as the medium between two things (say, courage is the medium between foolhardiness and cowardice), so it really resonates with me as I seek to find the right balance in my life.
The advice from this Kaizen method wasn’t something new, but whenever I read articles on how to beat insomnia it always felt like a lot of work with an extra dollop of shame and guilt for not being able to just.fall.asleep. So when the article brought up smaller steps towards the overall goal that was the change in every other article, I felt more inspired and like I could actually do it. The changes I made went even further than I thought I could on day 1.
They say you need 21 days to form a habit, but my first night made enough of a difference I want to stick to it. I changed the bedding and spent the day in the kitchen area of my studio flat. At 10pm (so 2h before bedtime) I left my iPad and iPhone on the table even though it is technically in the same room as my bed, and went to read Persuasion by Jane Austen because if I read something that I’ve never read before I would want to know how it carries on and never slow my brain (they never tell you that with the advice to read physical books before sleep, do they?). At bedtime, I was still wide awake and started the Sleep with Me podcast on a timer and that’s the last I used a screen for the night. I fell asleep at some point and woke up more rested than usual.
Keeping the bed a food and technology-free zone was short-lived. Sitting for hours at a table when ill isn’t really that appealing. Time blurred a bit (especially while my husband was off and we watched TV) and I haven’t been very good at keeping the 2h winding down period before bed, but I still put all tech on the table come bedtime. I had relatively restful sleep, although a bit more trouble falling asleep than the week before. This could both be explained by the blue light and by higher levels of anxiety, so I can’t really say.
My husband worked on a weekend which means my midnight-ish to 9am routine was disrupted. On top of that, I woke up unable to sleep at 4.30-ish, possibly thanks to my diet of whatever I can find at a newsagents. As much as I believe all food to be morally neutral and better than no food, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have a preference for food that gives me energy rather than taking it away from me by disrupting my sleep, and that I’m not craving anything green and leafy right now. I haven’t been successful at sticking to a 2h before bedtime cut off for no tech every day, but the habit of physically removing all gadgets from my sleeping area stuck and I guess I can build on that.
Sadly, while it helped to curb my tendency to fail to go back to sleep whenever I wake up, it didn’t help with my 4.30am wake up call. Living in a studio flat with a key worker who doesn’t wear a sleeping mask means I can’t easily go to another room and do something relaxing and screen-free if I don’t fall back asleep within 20 minutes. So, this paragraph was written on my phone in bed while I try to minimise disruptions to someone who will be dealing with (often crazy) humans for 8h. I don’t know if my living arrangements are too unfortunate or the advice given to insomniacs rather privileged, but something will need to change before the next Sunday at work.
The pandemic has been an unexpectedly good time to begin these new habits, as was the change of the season. I don’t have worries about places where I need to be by a specified time, or things I need to do by a certain deadline. The rhythm of my life is rather monastic, and a lot of what I do is manual compared to intellectual (although I really need to get down to work on my conference paper due at an unspecified time this summer). Now I have over 21 days under my belt with the tech on the table, I can build on it by adding something else and then something else until my routine will resemble my ideal life.