Writing about sleeping cycles last week made me really excited about the prospect of trying one out! Well let me tell you, adjusting your sleeping patterns is not as easy as it sounds…

Why not?

As per my own advice, I did not try to go straight from a Monophasic to an Uberman Cycle.  (If you do not have a clue what I am talking about, go read last weeks’ post on sleeping patterns).  Where was I? Oh yes, I was busy telling you about my failed attempt at changing my sleep cycle. So here I was, following my own sage advice on how to change my sleeping habits… Well for the first day anyway.

I decided I want to try out moving from a Monophasic Cycle to a Biphasic Cycle. In short, from sleeping once a day to sleeping twice a day. Apparently most of us do it like this anyway, even though we are not aware of it. (That terrible after lunch hour at the office where you think you are fooling everyone with how intently you are watching your computer screen). Yeah, about that… We think we are awake and that everyone else thinks so too. In actuality we are asleep and everyone else thinks so too. Shocker.

Back to my story. After posting my article last week, I decided to sleep only for six hours that night and to take a hour and a half nap the following day. This would become my sleeping routine from then on out. So I set my alarm for early the following morning and when it rang, I got up and out of bed. This is not an easy feat for me, I’ll have you know! So far, so good. It was not incredibly difficult to fall asleep at the allotted time for my nap and getting up wasn’t too bad either. On waking up, I felt insubstantial.

What went wrong, then?

Let me tell you! That night, after taking my hour and a half “nap” I just could not fall asleep! No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to work. No scented candle or herbal tea could do the trick. I was stuck in bed, wrestling with the sheets, the heat and my disappointment about my failed experiment. After what seemed like hours, I eventually drifted off to fitful sleep, interrupted by bad dreams and mosquitoes.

Not one to give up after my first attempt, I went back to my notes to try to find out where I went wrong. It turned out that I took my nap too close to the time when I intended to bed down for the night. With this in mind, and a lot of sleep to catch up on, I took an earlier nap the next day. Once more, the nap was smooth sailing. It took me no time to fall asleep and when I woke up from the alarm, I felt relatively fresh. But come night time, sleep was as elusive as the previous night.

Was wine the answer?

That next day was dreary. My eyes felt sandy and itchy, my head ached and my mood was sour. How on earth do the Mediterranean countries do it? How do they sleep at night and day and live such care free, happy-go-lucky lives? Ah, I had it! They drank red wine! I was sure that this was the answer to all of my adjustment problems. Thus I went to the shops and got myself a bottle of red wine…

At dinner, I had a glass of my magic potion and what do you know, soon afterwards I was snoring away in bed. Actually, I was snoring way too soon… To make matters worse, I got up with my alarm the following morning (after sleeping three hours more than I should). But after being awake for two hours, I went back to bed (the perks of being a blogger, working from home).

As you can see, my attempt to change my sleeping patterns was a big flop! I could not even stick to my intended Biphasic Cycle for one week. A poor performance, to say the least.

What does this mean?

Maybe it just means that I am not suited to a full blown Biphasic sleep cycle. Or it might mean that I need more sleep than the seven and a half hours that goes with siestas. It could also mean that I should take shorter naps if I want to sleep properly at night. Who knows? I feel like I should try to find out, but right now I just could not be bothered. I like sleep too much to deprive myself of it for the sake of science.

Could there have been other factors affecting my experiment?

Quite likely. You see, I have recently applied for a more permanent kind of job, and up until the point where I realised my experiment was not working, I have not had any feedback from my prospective employee. It could well have been that my uncertainty was gnawing  away at my subconscious without me knowing it. This kind of thing can be a sleep killer! If you are stressed out and you are aware of it, it is one thing, but stressing out without knowing it can be horribly paralysing.

And then, my prospective employee let me know that I got the job! This was great news, but now my subconscious stress became very conscious. Instead of tossing and turning without knowing why, I am now tossing and turning because I am anxiously awaiting my alarm. I do not want to miss that alarm, or snooze through it, or accidentally switch it off (this has happened to me in the past).

Can you believe it!? I can’t fall asleep, because I have to wake up early. How stupid and counterproductive is that? The sooner I can fall asleep at night, the more sleep I get and the better my quality of work the following day. This is not rocket science. And yet, every single night before I have to go to work, I struggle to fall asleep.

What can you do to ease the pain (or to fall asleep)?

Sure, we have written many a post on how to prepare yourself for bed. What to wear, what to drink, what not to drink, what to smell and which lotions to put on. And yes, I stand by it that all of those things do help one to fall asleep. But what can you do to shut your mind off? (Without using sleeping pills or all sorts of other sinister medication).

It seems that the key is to stimulate your brain in such a way that it becomes tired. That does not sound right. I mean, most stimuli to the brain makes it tired, isn’t that right? No, it is not! Playing computer games or watching series, for example, stimulates the brain to want more. If you have ever binge-watched a series or a couple of movies, you will know what I am talking about. As soon as you are done with that Lord of the Rings trilogy, you feel like sleeping for a month. But when you close your eyes, all you see is orcs.

What you need is monotony. Do something that does not stimulate your visual senses. Do not look at movies or programmes with rapidly changing scenery. Rather read a book or play Sudoku.

Other activities that could help you to fall asleep

If your brain is over active and you can’t switch it off, write. It always helps me to write, whether I write about what I feel or just some random mambo-jumbo.

Here is a little trick of mine that I would like to share with you. When I am unsure of my feelings or anxieties, and I struggle to go to sleep, I write down a dialogue between me and myself. One of me acts like a psychiatrist or just a concerned friend, while the other me acts like the patient. Let us say that “me” is the concerned friend and “myself” is the patient. “Me” will write down a question with my left hand and “myself” will answer it with the right.

It may sound silly, but have you any idea how taxing it is to write with both hands if you are not ambidextrous? Apart from the coordination required to write like this, you will be amazed at some of the honest answers I came up with. The cool thing about this is that you do not need to be a writer in order for it to work. Anyone can write out a simple question like: “What is bothering you?” and anyone can write the reply of: “I am not sure.”

Keep going with the conversation. How would you follow up on your first question if someone gave you an answer like that? Something like: “Is it your school work?” or “did that guy bully you again?” and so the list of questions goes on and on. Obviously you will know your own circumstances, so you will know which questions to ask. This can lead to breakthrough results and relieve a lot of stress. This in turn will lead to more and better sleep.

Writing with both hands, are you serious?

There is a couple of “brain training” companies that claim becoming ambidextrous will improve your brain capacity. But the truth is, there is not enough scientific research on this topic to give conclusive evidence to back up this statement. Luckily for you and for me, I am not trying to sell a brainwave or a “train your brain” programme.

I can tell you with one hundred percent honesty that I, on my own, came up with the plan of writing with both hands. At the time I was into rock climbing and slack-lining, and to become ambidextrous seemed like a great way to improve my overall balance. I am proud to say that it worked! (Or maybe it was just the continuous core muscle training that did the trick). Either way, I can throw and catch a Frisbee with equal ease in either of my hands and I can write myself to sleep with both hands in relay. Neat, huh?

If all else fails, write a to-do list!

A person making a checklist in a notebook

That is right! We made mention to this before, but since we last spoke of writing to-do lists, more compelling evidence came to light to support the fact that writing down what still needs to be done increases the quality of your sleep.

What does this have to do with sleeping patterns?

It is just a couple of cute ideas (that I forgot about when trying to alter my sleeping patterns), which you might want to consider when you struggle to sleep.

Oh and one other thing. When you write down these questions, answers and to-do lists don’t do it on your tablet or laptop. Pick up a pen and a sheet of paper, and physically write it down. Besides, everyone types with both of their hands…