SOMETIMES YOU'VE JUST GOT TO THROW IN THE TOWEL. You've been tossing and turning for at least half an hour - and now it's time to get out of bed and get productive, rather than just do more tossing and turning - which is taking you nowhere. Especially as you age it can be hard to get back to sleep once you've awakened in the middle of the night.
It can help to simply accept that there are times when you're going to be awake during the wee hours - and start to view these hours as "found time" - and that's a good positive way to look at the situation. If you've been tossing and turning for more than 20 minutes or half an hour, we recommend that you get out of bed and try to do something productive. After you get back into bed you may find that sleep comes more easily once you've been engaged in some busy pleasurable project or activity - something that absorbed your interest and attention and perhaps gave you some sense of accomplishment as well.
FIRST, though, we suggest you go to EDIBLE & DRINKABLE REMEDIES and take something to help calm your system down. While that's working on you, here are some suggestions for things to do:
WATCH AN OLD MOVIE ON TV(Not that you haven't already thought of this - but we, ourself, like this one a lot - so we're going to put it first on the list.) This is a real easy remedy - a great pleasure - and it often works for us. Especially effective is an old comedy, or one of those wonderful old romantic films - like "Rebecca" or "Casablanca" - or anything with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Cary Grant or Errol Flynn, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Marlene Dietrich. Their films are often delightful and very involving - which is what gets your mind off whatever's keeping you awake and thereby allows you to start getting sleepy in a natural way. It's important to choose films that are not too stimulating, scary or upsetting. What you want is something pleasantly involving. We find that good old movies do this best.And by the way, this is a good time to haul out some of those videos you've recorded but never got around to viewing - now you've got the time.
DO SOMETHING BORING?
Some people suggest that you do something monotonous or boring and that will help you get sleepy - but we say that once you're involved in an absorbing activity or a good story, just like a kid hearing a bedtime story - next thing you know, you're nodding off. This is why we include BEDTIME STORIES FOR INSOMNIACS, as well as POEMS & RHYMES in our program. (See navigation bars to the left.)
ACCOMPLISH SOME TASKS
The middle of the night is a great time to accomplish some tasks that you keep putting off. For instance, you might use your middle of the night time to catch up with that correspondence you're always saying you don't have time to take care of. It's very satisfying and will definitely help you get back to sleep after you've knocked off an overdue letter or two - and you'll feel very virtuous, too.
FINALLY GET TO THOSE PHOTO ALBMS
You might finally start arranging all those family photos into picture albums. Be sure to label the photos so that when you're not around to explain who's who and what's what and why you were all together, people will know.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
How about writing that letter to the editor you've been meaning to write - about something you feel strongly about. In the first draft you're allowed to - encouraged to - really sound off - but if you want the letter to be printed, you'd better tone it down and sound very reasonable and not too passionate - by the final draft. You can write the first draft while you're up in the middle of the night and then do the re-write - the one you're actually going to send - the next day when you're more in command of your presentation.
DO YOUR FAMILY TREE
Start writing up your family tree, as far as you know it. Later you'll get others to help you complete the blanks. Your children and grandchildren will truly be grateful to you - believe me, they will.
GET SOME PAPER WORK DONE
Use this middle of the night time to clear up your paper work: Pay your monthly bills - Balance your check book - Work on your taxes.
CHART YOUR INVESTMENTS
Make a chart illustrating the course of your investments - revise it every month or every three months to show the progress your investments are making. There are several computer programs that help you do this.
GIVE TO CHARITY
Make a list of charities you intend to give donations to, then get out your checkbook and actually write a check to at least one of them. This act of giving, alone, might help you sleep better.
ORGANIZE YOUR BOOKS
Organize the books in your shelves. Finally you'll get all your Agatha Christies in one place, your self-help books in another, your torrid love stories in another and your foreign language dictionaries in yet another. Cull out all the books you no longer want or need and donate them to a charity. You will feel fabulously virtuous once you do all this.
DO YOUR GIFT LIST - OR GIFT WRAPPING
Make up your holiday gift list - or wrap gifts you've already bought. It's much more fun to wrap gifts ahead of giving them because that way you can enjoy looking at the gift wrap, too - rather than doing a sloppy rush job just before giving the gift. And while you're at it - you might want to take the time to make the wrapping especially attractive - or add some kind of personal touch - it definitely enhances the gift giving;
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Make a list of all your blessings - all the wonderful or merely good things in your life - even the most basic things that many people throughout the world don't have - for instance, three meals a day, every day - a roof over your head, good health - or good health-care - a loving family, beautiful, bright, healthy children, an interesting job, a much beloved dog or cat, the fact that you live in a democracy, perhaps the greatest country in the world - where you can vote - and express your opinions without fear of retribution - where your children can get a free education and where you can read any newspaper you wish. You have many privileges and precious gifts in your life that shouldn't be taken for granted. It's good to get a grasp on how rich and privileged you truly are - all of us are - in this part of the world, truly. On top of all this, if you have people in your life who love you - and cable tv - and clothes from Bloomingdales and an annual vacation - well, you just may be one of the luckiest people on earth - in point of fact. It's good to acknowledge that every once in a while - and appreciate it. It sounds corny but it's really quite a satisfying thing to do. And making these realizations can give a nice sense of well-being that might help you sleep better. There was a popular song in the 50's, sung by Perry Como, perhaps (?) that went, "When I'm weary and I can't sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep and I fall asleep counting my blessings..." Not a bad habit to get into...
START A JOURNAL
Start keeping a diary or journal that you work on in the middle of the night. Write down your thoughts and feelings - or simply the activities you did that day or that week - or last summer. This helps in many ways - it gets a lot of stuff off your chest/mind and out of your system so you can look at it, assess it and make wise choices about what to do. It's also quite involving - and altogether might help you get back to sleep after a while.
WRITE YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Start writing your autobiography. This is incredibly interesting and involving work - and very important work if you have any kind of story whatsoever (and who doesn't?). You might want to write for posterity - so that your children and grandchildren - the generations to come - will know your family story as told by you. This is a lovely gift to give your family and your progeny - something they will value greatly. Even if your life was very hard, your childhood one of poverty and misery - all the better to write it down and pass it on! And if you think your life was totally dull - once you start writing, you might find it has more interesting elements than you realized. Even if no one else ever reads it, there's tremendous value in writing down your life story.
SUPPORT SOMEONE WORTHY
Send a check to someone who could really use some support - maybe a starving artist or a new immigrant or someone recently out of work and facing hard times. This kind of giving can be very soothing to your soul and might help you get to sleep more quickly.
WRITE YOUR WILL YOUR WAY
Start writing your will. Write it just the way you would like. Later you can take it to a lawyer and get all the details fixed up, but meanwhile you'll have your ideas worked out. And while you're at it, don't forget your living will and your final instructions for your funeral and burial arrangements. And perhaps organ donation. And very important - remember to appoint a health proxy and a personal business agent - someone to handle your affairs if you're unable to. Your family will truly be grateful for your having been so thoughtful as to plan out and write down all these details.This is not intended to be a morbid exercise but quite the opposite - many people find a deep, satisfying peace once they've taken care of these important tasks. To not do them might mean to burden your loved ones - or to leave important decisions to people or institutions you may not want making such decisions for you. Better to do it yourself so that it's done right - that is, your way - and what better time than when you're alone - undisturbed - in the middle of the night? And don't forget to leave instructions on how your pets should be cared for!
WRITE AN ETHICAL WILL
Write an Ethical Will in which you state your carefully thought out values and ideals for the sake of your children or grandchildren or other loved ones. An Ethical Will is like a final letter to those you care about, expressing what you hope you've passed on to them - or how you hope they will behave morally and ethically - or religiously - once you're gone. You could express your thoughts and feelings about your family and loved ones that you want them to understand. You can tell your family how much you love them, or the wonderful things you appreciate about them. You can let them know your hopes and dreams for them - what kind of people you hope they'll be - what you hope they'll accomplish in life - and what you hope they'll pass on to their children. This is a wonderful gift to leave your family and loved ones - and a true aid in getting back to sleep. Certainly gives you plenty to think about!
Write a letter to someone you owe an apology to - and apologize - sincerely.
WRITE A LETTER
Write a letter to someone who hasn't heard from you in 5 years. Write a letter to a long lost cousin.
GO THROUGH YOUR CLOSETS
Go through your clothing and other belongings and pull out the things you no longer need or want and set them in piles to give away - to friends and family - to your cleaning lady - or the immigrant family you know of - or to a charity. LIST YOUR GOALS Make a list of your goals in life - the ones you've already accomplished and the ones you're still working on - and then write out exactly what steps you're going to employ to accomplish those goals. CLEAN AND ORGANIZEStart cleaning out and organizing the closets or your old files and papers - or the attic or garage. You don't have to throw things out if you aren't inclined to do that - but you should get them organized so you can find that love letter you wrote 20 or was it 30 years ago - or your grandmother's wedding dress - or that Life Magazine from 1959 - or whatever it is you'll be looking for sooner or later. SHARPEN PENCILSGo around the house and gather all the pencils you can find and sharpen them. POLISH YOUR SHOESClean and polish all your shoes. And give your boots an extra layer of protective wax. POLISH YOUR JEWELRYPolish your good jewelry - it looks much better sparkling clean. If you don't have special jewelry polish some people say you can use toothpaste (careful, though - it's not good for some jewels - I forget which ones - maybe pearls? - or something...). Scrub it on with an old discarded toothbrush and make those jewels shine. TEACH YOURSELF TOUCH-TYPINGTeach yourself how to touch-type - in case you never learned. It's easy enough - you just get a book and prop it up in front of an old typewriter - or computer - and follow the directions - step by step. It's simply a matter of correct instruction mixed with repetition - which is helpful for getting sleepy. There are probably learning programs right on the Internet. GIVE YOURSELF A MANICUREGive yourself a manicure - or pedicure. You can finish off with a wild color polish. It's fun and easy.LIST YOUR GOOD DEEDSMake a list of all the good things that you've done in your life - or all the people you've affected in a positive way. There's probably more than you can think of just off-hand. Maybe you've been a loving parent or grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend. Maybe you've done volunteer work - or church or synagogue work. Or helped people in trouble. Perhaps you taught someone to swim or play checkers. Or you regularly visit a lonely, elderly neighbor - or help out in a soup kitchen. Maybe you've given generously to charity. Your good acts make a difference to the world. It's good to list them every once in a while and see, like Jimmy Stewart in "A Wonderful Life," what a difference your existence has made to the world. DO A CRAFT PROJECTStart a craft project. Knitting or crocheting or making a quilt. This is a very calming activity, for sure. Or learn to make jewelry. You might make some money as a result of this new skill in your life. CROSSWORD PUZZLEDo the most challenging crossword puzzle you can dig up. Or, do an easy one. STAMP COLLECTIONStart a stamp collection. This is a great thing to pass on to your grandchildren, too. Kids love things like that - if they haven't been too spoiled and corrupted by tv and computer games. SEWMend your clothes. Sew on those buttons you've been meaning to put back on your shirts and then go on to darn your socks. It's soothing and, of course, it really does make your socks last longer.
Start reading a big, long book you've always meant to read - like the Bible; or Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, or War & Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment or Gone With The Wind. Resolve to use your middle-of-the night-found-time to read all the works of one author you love - it doesn't have to be Shakespeare - but it could be.
Resolve to read all the works of a poet you've always liked - like Whitman or Tennyson or Robert Burns or Dylan Thomas...
Write a short story. Many people have real writing talent that's never been developed. Now's the time to do it - during your "found time" in the middle of the night.
WRITE A POEM
Write a poem - maybe an epic poem - or a short poem - or a funny - or erotic - poem - any poem - or memorize a favorite poem. Reciting a poem as you lie in bed at night trying to get to sleep can be quite effective; some people make a habit of doing this every night to unwind and get to sleep;
WRITE YOUR THOUGHTS
Write an essay of your thoughts or memories - or your account of a true story - perhaps about something that happened when you were a kid - or maybe on your last vacation. Maybe you're good with humor - or adventure - or with memories. Now might just be the right time to start developing your writing talent.
BRUSH THE DOG
Brush the cat or dog - it's always a good thing to make your pet happy.
CALL A FRIEND
Call a friend in Australia, Hong Kong or Japan - or any other place where it's a civilized time of day to make a phone call.
Start taking those French lessons - or Italian - or Japanese - or Yiddish - or HTML! - that you've always wanted to learn. It's a great thing to pick up in the middle of the night and do a couple of lessons and go back to bed that much closer to mastering a new tongue. Now there are many languages on computer programs that make it even easier and more fun to learn.
WRITE A SCREENPLAY
Start a major literary project - a novel or screenplay, let's say - that you can work on during the wee hours.
GO BACK TO FIRST GRADE
Make a list of all the kids in your first grade class; see how many names you can remember. Or, make a list of all your grade school teachers - starting with kindergarten - continue on through high school. Or, make a list of all your friends from grade school through high school - contact the ones you are curious about now.
LIST YOUR LOVERS
Make a list of all the lovers you've had - if you can remember them all - Well, that's the fun of it - can you?...
WRITE DOWN YOUR BELIEFS
Write down your religious beliefs - or, write your own original prayer - or a set of affirmations that work for you.
DO THE LAUNDRY
Do the laundry - if you're at home, or you've got machines in your building - and it's safe. It's unlikely there'll be a line at 3 in the morning - and you'll get this time-consuming task out of the way.
CLEAN OUT THE MEDICINE CABINET
Clean out the medicine cabinet - or clean out the top drawer of your desk - or any other drawer or cabinet. Polish the silver.Do the ironing.Set out the clothes you plan to wear in the morning; get the coffee pot ready to go for breakfast, then set the table.
GO BACK TO BED
Good night! Sweet dreams...This completes our segment on Coping Activities. If you have been up for a while now and it's late, too late to get a good night's sleep, we offer some TECHNIQUES to help get you get through the day when you're feeling wretched from sleep deprivation. (See navigation bars to the left).
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