My Lifetime Struggle with Sleep

Posted December 4, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Life After Five

Arianna Huffington is on a quest to get women to do something we all, frankly, suck at doing. Sleep! We brought you her awesome (and only 4 minute) TED talk a few months ago, all about how sleep will help you succeed. But somehow, even when one of my greatest role models, Arianna, says it, I don’t listen.

Struggling with sleep is not a new concept for me. My mother will tell you that as a very young child, I would crawl out of my bed and repeatedly ask for water. In middle school, I listened late into the night to the radio, and in high school, I slept more often on the basement couch than I did in my room because only the dull glow of the television could lull me to sleep. This struggle has continued off and on into adulthood for me, going through periods of OK sleep, and periods of terrible sleep. But more than anything, it revolves around not being able to fall asleep. Once I’m asleep, I’m generally alright to sleep through the night.

Recently, sleep has become more of an issue than ever in the past. Maybe it’s the constant running of being the CEO of a tech startup, the fact that my brain simply won’t stop thinking about our upcoming events or partnerships or meetings with advisors and potential mentors, or maybe it’s just worry about being successful – something all women do. For whatever reason, though, I’d been sleeping only 3-4 hours a night, and badly.

Enter coach Rebecca Niziol. She’s put me on a strict prescription to get better at sleeping:

  • No screens in bed. I am notorious for falling asleep at 3am in front of the television, with an iPad on my chest, or looking at my phone. If you counted all the screens within 3 feet of me when I go to sleep, it’s pretty astounding. Rebecca tells me that these kinds of lights may actually be adding to my insomnia, not putting me to sleep after all. So they’ve been banned from my bedroom (my husband still watches John Stewart on his iPad next to me, but that’s ok because I’m just listening to it, not watching).
  • Bring on the tunes.When I can’t fall asleep, I generally get out of bed and head to the living room to watch TV. Not anymore. Now I break out the iPod and listen to music that will help me fall asleep. With earbuds in, this also seems to help calm down my brain. I literally can’t think through music pumping in my ears.
  • Write it down! I’ll find, often, that at night my mind races. I’m thinking, “don’t forget to book that event space, make sure you call so-and-so, did you remember to send in the catering order for next week, did they ever even send you the menu, remember to put that on your list, crap, now I’m going to forget to put that on the list.” My mind just races and races and races and ultimately I get up and lave the bedroom to get it all done somehow, working until 4am. Rebecca’s advice is to keep a pen and paper next to the bed and get these thoughts and to-do’s out of my system. Then, when they pop back up, I can mentally exclaim, “No. Stop! You wrote that down, and you’ll be able to transfer it to your to-do list in the morning.
  • Use technology. Rebecca recommended to me an app called Sleep Cycle. This revolutionary app uses the accelerometer in your phone to track your sleep. You put your phone under the corner of your fitted sheet and it can tell when you’re in deep sleep, regular sleep, and when you’re awake. Over time, you’ll see when you sleep and when you’re awake, and be able to pinpoint issues in your sleep cycle. The best part of the app, though, is that you set a range of wake-up times like from 7:00-7:30 a.m. and the app automatically wakes you at the height of your awake cycle during that time. Genius!

I’m only on Day 6 of my sleep experiments using all of these tactics, but my sleep has changed drastically. Last Saturday night, I probably had too much caffeine and too much on my mind and struggled for nearly 2 hours to get to sleep. But I stuck with it. I tried all of Rebecca’s tactics, one by one, and eventually drifted off to sleep. Hopefully this diligence will, over time, help me to become a good sleeper. One can only hope!

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."