Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Who needs sleep? Apparently, I do.

When I was a little girl, I would watch Johnny Carson every night on the mammoth black and white television in my bedroom. I'd even watch Tom Snyder's show afterwards. There was many a night when his odd laugh would lull me to sleep.

When I was a teenager, I would watch David Letterman every night on the little 13" Panasonic TV in my bedroom. Then I would start my three hours of homework. Then I would get up at 6:30 in the morning, locate my school uniform in a ball on my bedroom floor, and make the 45 minute drive to school on autopilot.

When I was in college, I would stay up all night reading books, talking to my future husband on the phone, listening to my walkman, and when the roommate wasn't shooting me evil looks, watching TV on that same 13" Panasonic. I would sleep for a couple of hours in my practice clothes and get up at 5:30 in the morning for the first softball practice of the day.

Now I'm thirty-years-old (plus or minus a couple) and I've never learned to fall asleep.

In my teens and twenties I could handle being perpetually tired, but once I hit thirty, my brain just couldn't take it anymore.

And now that we're on our third deployment (actually, there have been at least five long separations) and we have two small kids, I just can't put up with insomnia any longer.

In the last two weeks I've just completely forgotten about three important things. I forgot to take my daughter to her soccer party to get her trophy, even though I had been planning on it all week. I forgot to take the kids to the Sesame Street Live show that I had spent quite a chunk of change to buy tickets for. And I forgot to take her to ballet class.

That last one kills me, because I'm all about commitment. I don't forget things. Ever.

I've done a ton of research on sleep disorders over the years. But a couple of days ago, I just happened to come across an article in Better Homes and Gardens (Shut up! I'm a housewife.) that sounds very reasonable to me. It addresses the one issue I have that always keeps me awake.

The point of the article is that our minds don't allow our bodies to fall asleep until we are at peace. But my brain is never at peace.

The experts suggest setting a nighttime routine including meditation and relaxation exercises to help ease your stress. And I find that helpful. But a doctor from the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston said something in this article that finally, finally, finally clicked with me.

He said that if a worry surfaces during your breathing exercises, just say, "Oh, well," to yourself and return to your breathing.

That is classic thought stopping technique and I can't believe it never occurred to me to use it before.

I was first taught thought stopping by my sports psychologist in college. When negative thoughts intruded while I was on the mound, I would say the word "fwap" and focus on my pitch. (Could that sentence be more sexual?)

For two nights I've been practicing this technique. And although I am still tired (it is going to take me a while to catch up) I feel more well-rested than I have in months.

But it has occurred to me that "oh, well" is an excellent response to most stressors in my life. I've been using it constantly while driving the car, cooking dinner, and working out.

You should try it. Really, I swear. The next time some troubling thought occurs to you just say, "Oh, well," and move along.

And now I'm going to go take a nap. It may mess up my sleep routine, causing me to yell at my kids, and causing them to develop horrible self-esteem issues and never be able to get jobs or sustain relationships, but...oh, well.

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