3-4: Sleep like the living, as taught by a former insomniac

If you have CPPS, then you have some anxiety. And if you have some anxiety, chances are your sleep is on and off miserable. You might even have it as bad as I did: I was an insomniac for over ten years.

53-aspetti di vita quotidiana, insonnia, Taccuino Sanitatis,.jpg
“I can’t remember if I scheduled a bloodletting for the morrow.”

A scale of sleep quality can look something like the chart below.

Qualityof Sleep Experience
Best 7-10 hours of deep slumber, complete with REM cycles. Probable dreaming. Possible one break to get up to urinate, with return to sleep coming easily.
Adequate Falling asleep easily, but waking up and not easily returning to sleep.
LousyDifficulty falling asleep for 1-2 hours.
CraptacularRestless sleep, waking frequently and feeling like you never reach deep sleep.
WorstFull blown insomnia, where your mind races for hours, if not all night. Wake up feeling dried out, bleary eyed, and with a grim outlook on the day.

For most people – including dudes fighting CPPS – every night is different. For me, insomnia worked in waves – going from best to worse to worst until I was overtired and finally got one full night of deep sleep. Then the cycle would start over.

Your goal is to improve your sleep until you get:

  1. Quality sleep, of any amount
  2. Quality sleep of at least 7 hours
  3. The ability to fall asleep easily after an ordinary day

The basic ways to improve your sleep

These are fundamentals to sleep for men who either have insomnia or don’t have insomnia.

1. Keep a regular schedule.

I don’t believe you have to go to bed at the exact same minute every night, or get up at 5:01 AM, or even match your sleep time to REM cycles. But an approximate bedtime is a good thing to keep, especially on work nights.

2. Get some sunlight during the day

This should be part of your walks, or playing with the kids, or similar activity. Sunlight reminds your body that it’s daytime, and the appropriate hormones are released to sustain your daytime activity. Then, when the sunlight is cut off, your body starts to release melatonin to slow your brain and body into slumber.

3. Get enough exercise

Some guys don’t need much or any – although that doesn’t excuse you from the walks!

But me, I’m a type-A bonafide spaz, and I have to do something with my body or I won’t be able to sleep at night. My personal minimum is three minutes of high-intensity cardio. I do burpees, high knees, and push ups until I’m winded. I know, weird. But it works.

You’ll have to figure out what’s enough for you.

4. Cut off the blue light before bed

Watching TV, checking your phone, or working on your computer are all no-nos before bed, because the blue light mimics the sunlight and the hormone effects described in #2.

My recommendation is to get F.lux on your computer and a similar app on your phone, just in case you need to use them. These apps remove the blue from the RGB in your screens. It looks a little weird, but it helps!

Then knock all that stuff off 20-40 minutes before crashing. Talk to your spouse, read a paperback book (or use a paper Kindle), brush your teeth, etc.

5. Keep it low-key

If your bedtime TV includes a documentary called “How you are personally responsible for all my problems damn you” and it’s going to irritate you, well, don’t watch that documentary.

Same goes for big discussions before bed. If you have to have them, prepare to stay up later to wind down. Sometimes you have to have them – like if you’ve got kids, and you’ve got big decisions to make when the kids aren’t up.

6. Get what you need in the evening.

I shoot for two things in my evenings:

  1. To complete my evening rituals and schedule the next day, and
  2. To do something I like, play a video game, or read a book

Preferences vary, but the point is, if you worked hard, reward yourself. If you don’t feel like you got enough done, do a little more, schedule the rest for the next few days, and then reward yourself.

7. Eat enough

If you wake up hungry, a protein shake can keep you satisfied all night. Don’t go beyond two scoops though unless you want bodybuilder farts.

Bananas are also helpful – they have selenium and are easily digestible. Milk can be relaxing if you’re used to that, too.

I used to eat oatmeal before bed, but later I found out that was inflammatory, something that will be covered in Unit 4.

8. Never go to bed angry.

If you’re married or live with a girlfriend – or even a roommate with whom you sometimes argue – don’t let them go to bed until the problem is resolved.

Sometimes that involves you apologizing for how things went down, and explaining how your fears led to a bad response. Be ready to humble yourself – it’s worth healing your relationship, and you won’t be able to sleep well until you do.

9. Go easy on the booze – or skip it until the weekend.

Alcohol metabolizes while you sleep, and it makes it hard to enter deep REM sleep. It also increases sleep apnea.

10. Don’t do that.

You know what I’m talking about. Judgments completely aside, doing this right before bed can increase your endorphin levels, making it hard to fall asleep.

I’m having trouble sleeping after I go to bed. What should I do?

If you go to bed and your head just keeps spinning, get up.

Accept that you’ll lose a little sleep tonight. You’ll make it. With a positive attitude and some discipline, tomorrow will have just as much potential on lower sleep.

Next, run through a simple checklist:

  1. Do I have some unfinished business? An email I wish I had sent? An early-morning set of complicated tasks, like running three new errands? Plan out your attack for that project.
  2. Is it an emotional problem? Write it out in your journal – but don’t just complain. Write out everything you know, and the best solution or action steps you can think of.
  3. Did you get enough wind down time? If you felt cheated out of wind-down time this evening, better to go take some. I’ve been known to play video games at midnight for a little bit just to feel a little control over my schedule.
  4. Are you hungry? Get a snack.

After that, go back to bed, and be grateful for how cozy that bed is, how warm you are, for everything you have. Works wonders.

What if I’m an insomniac, and none of this works?

You’re not out of luck. Before, I ever beat CPPS, I beat insomnia.

I thought that I had finished insomnia off, but I didn’t truly beat it until I got CPPS. Then it became a requirement.

Then my wife taught me a secret kung fu technique that lets you finish the fight with insomnia. Which, incidentally, will help you immensely in beating CPPS. It might even be a requirement. We’ll get to that secret soon.

How insomnia works

Just like CPPS, insomnia is a cycle.

It begins with anxiety – sometimes from more than one cause. It may begin with anxiety over work or another event one night. By the second night, the focus of the anxiety shifts to “I’m afraid I won’t sleep tonight, and I’m afraid that if I don’t sleep tonight, tomorrow will be miserable.”

After lousy night one, endorphins in the bloodstream build up to keep your body moving. After two days of endorphin buildup, it’s even harder to fall asleep, and you feel wired. Your mind throws thousands of fragmented thoughts into your consciousness, and none of them seem to resolve. You wonder if it will ever end.

How to break the cycle of insomnia

If you have insomnia, you stay up wondering if Van Gogh messed up and had to paint a plant in the foreground to cover a mistake.

1. Mitigate the rest of your anxiety by attacking your other problems head-on. Use your planner and/or calendar.

  • Take unfinished projects and tasks out of your subconscious and put them on paper, where you can see them.
  • Complete what you can in a day by being disciplined
  • Do the morning and evening rituals to crystallize what you learned (Lesson 2-1) and give yourself a clear indicator that THE WORKDAY IS DONE.

2. Stay disciplined.

  • Start with an affirmation. “This isn’t going to stop me from doing what I need to today. I am strong.” Or use my variant: “God made me strong. Time to kick ass and do good.”
  • Attack your tasks even when you’re tired. Knock them down, and what you can’t finish due to time, schedule them in your planner or calendar app.

3. Get some exercise.

Does not have to be heavy – I told you not to until you’re into Unit 4, right? But do jumping jacks, push ups, and a few othersto get to burn off some of the fumes of a bad night’s sleep exhaustion. Make it so your heart and lungs have to work a little.

4. Stay positive.

Harder than it sounds, but just be clear with your spouse, girlfriend, and/or friends that you won’t be out late tonight.

5. Connect with others.

Being the tired and grumpy one can really make you feel more anxiety. So call somebody. Talk and listen.

And finally, the Legendary Kung Fu Secret to falling asleep when you have insomnia and you know you’re not going to be able to sleep:

Stop caring about whether or not
you sleep.

OK, I actually learned this from my wife, who was always a great sleeper. And of course I didn’t listen at first.

Now seriously, how many days have you made it through on low or nonexistent sleep? You’re an expert. A battle hardened veteran. Any mission under lousy circumstances – that’s you. You’ve done it already. And you’ve made it this far into a long, hard CPPS course. You are not a quitter.

OK, if that’s too zen, here are the action steps:

  1. Do all of the stuff from above. Get what you need out of the day. Connect with others. Feel full from the day.
  2. Go to bed at a decent time. Don’t concern yourself with the hours you will or won’t get.
  3. Say to yourself, “I don’t give a crap whether I sleep or not.”
  4. Lay there and think about how cozy you are. When you have anxious thoughts, repeat step 3.
  5. Imagine yourself doing something awesome. Score the winning touchdown. Bring down the dragon. Don’t focus on the how. Just the what, and the joy.

I realize that it sounds silly. But once I got it, I stopped being an insomniac, because being unrested didn’t scare me. I knew I could use a little extra coffee and a little extra food to fight through if I needed.

Letting go of sleep expectations takes practice. It got easier and easier over the course of a few months to sleep as well and as reliably as I do now.

How my brain used zombie dreams to gauge my stress

Fun story: I used to dream about fighting zombies at least once a week (I’m a big fan of the Resident Evil games). And I could gauge my stress level by how well the battle was going.

If I was easily killing the zombies with headshots and never running out of ammo, I was feeling in control of my life.

If I was having a hard time killing zombies, I was getting stressed out.

If several direct headshots weren’t killing the zombies, and I spent the whole dream running away, I was really stressed out.

Since learning the above sleep techniques, I shatter zombie heads like a kid smashing bubble wrap. It’s nothing but fun.

YOUR MISSION:

  1. If you’re usually a good sleeper, review the first section and see what you can improve. Add these habits to your journal, and use what you need.
  2. If you ever have trouble with waking up or not getting sleep, read the second section and try those methods.
  3. If you’re an insomniac, or think you are, apply all of the sections. You’ll need them. I know, it sucks that it’s a lot to implement, but it’s worth it. Not only will your quality of life improve dramatically – you can brag about beating insomnia, and you can help others beat it too.
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