I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety. –Psalm 4:8
I am 38 years old, and I didn’t know what a good night’s sleep felt like until I was 37.
Okay, maybe I slept well when I was a baby. Probably did. But as soon as I got old enough to worry about things like homework, tests, music performances, and relationships, I stopped sleeping well. That was probably in my teens.
But, here’s the thing. All that time, I didn’t know I wasn’t sleeping well. I just accepted it; that what’s sleep was like.
I wasn’t totally clueless, though. I knew that since I was emotional and tended to take my problems to bed, sleep was difficult at times. But since I slept well enough the rest of the time, I would never have said I had a problem with sleep.
Until last year — when I finally slept, and felt good, deep, restful sleep.
This isn’t going to be a post on the importance of sleep. I think we all know it is important to sleep.
It’s not going to be a post on how a nutrient-dense diet plays a role. (Still, I want to mention that it’s important not to skip meals or to replace meals with coffee, especially breakfast.)
It’s not even going to be a post on taking your problems to the Lord. Not that I wouldn’t like it to be — but if I’m honest, I would have to say I’m still working on that one.
This post is going to be about me — how I learned what a good night’s sleep is. And what I do to achieve it.
This is the story of how I woke up to the fact that I wasn’t sleep well.
The Teeth Issue
Last year about this time, I transferred pictures from my camera to my computer and saw something in myself I’d never seen before. Where my top front teeth had been pretty straight and even, one of the front teeth was sitting a bit forward. (It is subtle but can YOU see it?)
What? How did my tooth get out there? Is that really what I look like? Is my tooth moving?
I have to admit, discovering this was quite alarming because…. well, I like having straight teeth. At least on top — my bottom teeth could use some help. But the top! They’re straight!!!
I called my mom and asked her if I had always had a front tooth sitting forward? She didn’t think so, but like me, she looked through old pictures. She concluded, as did I, that my tooth had probably moved.
It was not like that my whole life.
Though I was not happy that my tooth was moving, I suppose it would have been even more weird to just not know something like that about myself for 37 years.
My mom asked me if I was grinding or clenching my teeth at night.
No. Of course I don’t do that.
She said: start paying attention and see if you notice anything at night.
Well, I did start noticing things. I noticed that I would wake up during the night with my jaw all tensed up. I noticed that I would wake up with a fair degree of pain in my jaw. I truly did not notice these things before — so yeah, I am clueless at times.
I went to the dentist (on my mom’s advice) to ask his opinion, because by now I was pretty sure that I was clenching and I wanted to know if clenching could be moving my tooth.
At this point in time, I was most concerned that my tooth was moving, not with that I might be clenching and why. Just a wee bit of vanity there.
The dentist looked in my mouth and saw all kinds of proof that I was clenching, including wear patterns on the teeth. He pointed out that my bottom tooth, which juts out a little bit, connects with the top tooth — the one I thought was moving. He said clenching could very well cause the bottom tooth to push out the top tooth.
Totally possible. Very likely. Yeah, the tooth was moving.
He advised a night guard. One of those retainer-like things but made of tougher material.
I was still in a bit of shock about the whole thing. Yet I went ahead with getting the impressions and ordering a night guard. But I wasn’t sure I would wear it.
When it came in and I put it in my mouth, I wanted to gag so badly that I put it away and didn’t touch it again for a month.
My mom kept asking me, “Are you wearing the night guard yet?”
“Practice wearing it during the day for just a little at a time so you get used to it.”
(You’d think I was a child because of the way I was acting about it.)
Well, I took her advice and I “practiced” with it and I got so I didn’t feel like I was choking. It only took a few practices, by the way. Can we say ninny?
Then I wore it all night for the first time. Without any difficulty. Without waking up so often. And without waking myself up in pain. In fact, I woke better rested.
That’s when the lightbulb went off. Granted, why I’m clenching in the first place is a problem of its own — yet to be solved, I might add. But just realizing that my sleep was impaired was huge. Huge.
I haven’t been sleeping well? Do I really know what sleep is?
At this point, I was beginning to get a taste of what good sleep is. Yet I had no idea what was coming.
The Noise Issue
Fast forward to June. I took a trip to Arizona. I couldn’t sleep at all on the trip until the last night of the 3-night stay. That’s typical for me. Any little ruffle — emotional or physical — and I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep if I rearrange my own bedroom!
So when I got home from the trip, I was so tired I headed straight for a nap. But it was daytime and people were doing things and you know… household noises.
Maybe I should try ear plugs.
My husband has always worn ear plugs to sleep. My dear friend in college wore ear plugs. I tried them once but because it felt so different, it made sleep worse. Remember, any little ruffle?
I guess I’ll try the ear plugs.
Heaven on earth. I’m not kidding. Blissful, silent, deep, restful sleep. I took a 4-hour — completely uninterrupted — nap that day.
Since then, I have worn ear plugs every night and for every nap.
I’ve gone from wakeful sleep to completely uninterrupted sleep. Just like that.
I don’t wake when my husband turns over in the bed, climbs in bed, or climbs out of bed. I don’t wake if the kids open the door to see if I’m sleeping or not. I don’t wake from dogs barking or the wind whistling. As long as I don’t hear it, I don’t wake.
I had no idea that for me, sound rather than movement is wakeful. (Perhaps it is different for you.)
We live in Oregon. Where it rains a lot. Now I get up in the morning, pull out my ear plugs and say:
Wow, it is raining. I had no idea.
I am not one of those people who are dead to the world when they sleep.
The world’s noises keep me up. Rain, wind, dogs barking, people noises.
My mind keeps me up, too. But. If I can turn off the sounds, it’s like my mind gets a free pass to take a break, too.
So, I am an ear plug girl now. All the way!
(Let me take a moment and say that I could not have worn ear plugs earlier in life when the kids were little, dependent, and their needs were both constant and unpredictable. I am thankful God waited until now to reveal this to me — when I can benefit from it.)
The Light Issue
And one more thing happened.
We have a security light outside installed on a big pole. It shines right into my bedroom. I have hid under the covers many nights trying to get that light out of my space.
When my husband worked outside the home, he had a Blackberry and was often on call. When he had to use it at night… oh, the misery. The lights and the clicking buttons. The worst possible combination for me and my sleep.
Last fall, I finally made dark curtains for my bedroom windows. They’re not totally dark, but enough to make a huge difference.
My husband no longer has that Blackberry.
Problem solved. No more hiding under the covers for me.
My Bottom Line
With those three changes — night guard for clenching, ear plugs, and dark curtains — I am almost sleeping like a baby.
I say almost because while those physical things help, my emotional nature will always make sleep challenging at the best and worst of times. That’s the stuff I take to God.
And I should mention, now that I am really, truly sleeping deeply and uninterrupted — I have been more productive and more rested. I have always been an early riser, but I’m able to rise earlier and am more rested when I do so.
I just can’t say enough how thankful I am to sleep in peace! I cannot believe that I can sleep all night without waking up or being waken up.
I had no idea what sleep was really like. Now that I do — I look forward to each night’s rest like I do a good, nourishing meal.
I know other things are important for good sleep. What I’ve shared here is just my story (which probably isn’t over).
Nutritious food, exercise, less stress, no stress, a good bed (ours is natural latex and wool deliciousness), spiritual growth, and emotional stability…. all of these are so important.
Sometimes we’ll use this Serenity essential oil blend to aid sleeping. It really works! (Please note: that website is incompatible with Firefox on Mac. Also, if you order please use my referral code 91353 to tell them I sent you.)
So now you know all my deep, dark secrets. It’s time to share yours.
Do you sleep well? What helps you sleep? What do you recommend for those having trouble sleeping?
Graphic courtesy of Wordle.net.