Successful Shifts in Sleep Schedules

After months of dread and an incredible amount of anxiety based on that dread, I’ve finally made an important change to my sleeping habits and pre-sleep rituals. Previously, I would do about thirty to sixty minutes of calming activities, take my nightly meds, wait fifteen minutes, take my melatonin, and then play my sleepy-time game (currently Animal Crossing) until I felt sufficiently tired. Then I’d go take care of various brushing, cleaning, and pre-bed sanitation tasks, put in my retainer, and then go to bed. It worked about ninety percent of the time, and usually the times it didn’t work involved me getting lots of sleep multiple nights in a row, days of inactivity, or a disruption to the time I usually spend calming down and being inactive before bed. Now, I still do the inactivity time, but I’ve shifted things so that I am taking my melatonin before doing all the “nightly cleanup and preparing myself for bed” stuff so that I hit the pillow about twenty to thirty minutes after taking it.

I mostly use the melatonin to help me get to sleep on time given that my brain isn’t very good at sending me the signals that it is time to sleep, so I started my attempts to fix my fucked up sleep schedule in January of 2021 with a greater emphasis on quieting my mind and distracting myself from my anxiety about not being able to sleep. Now that over a year has passed and I’ve mostly worked through my sleep anxiety, I decided it might be worth using the melatonin in a somewhat more conventional way, especially given how infrequently I’ve gone to bed on time lately, thanks to my general stress levels.

So far, it has been successful. I’ve had an easier time than ever going to sleep. The heat and adjusting to the Sudden Summer we experienced has reduced the effectiveness of that sleep a bit, so I’m still feeling a little trepidatious that this much shorter pre-sleep ritual might still fail once I’m no longer feeling exhausted by two in the afternoon every day. Still, the fact that it’s working at all is a good sign given that I have a history of struggling to stay awake in the afternoon only to feel alert and one hundred percent awake when midnight rolls around.

This change, combined with the shift from grey and cold early spring weather to High Summer Heat over pretty much a weekend and then back to Good Spring Weather over the next weekend, makes it feel like someone somewhere threw a switch. My life feels altered, like there was a sudden and definite shift in my life. I keep wanting to compare this to the early days of the pandemic, losing my grandfather, or my decision to separate from my parents (all of which were defining moments in the last few years that radically changed my life to the point where I remember things based on which event they’re closest to), but each of those was a slow, drawn-out, miserable experience. Grief lingers eternally. I’ll never move past feeling like my only choice was to push my parents out of my life. The pandemic will echo forever in a mixture of grief, unaddressed systemic issues exposed by society’s failures to protect people, and the transformation of saving lives from a common sense decision to a political calculation. But over 24 hours my sleep schedule is radically different, my seasonal depression has departed, and summer arrived in a burst of still-leafless trees and a increasing amount of pollen.

I feel like I shouldn’t be drawing these comparisons, given that whatever change occurred in me over the last week will eventually be undone by the changing of the seasons and it is still too early to say that the changes to my sleep routine will continue without complication, but this feels like the first time things have just sort of improved. Every other time, it has been tied to the way I feel about my life and it usually fades pretty quickly once I discover that I wasn’t less stressed, just used to it finally, so this time it feels like maybe it’ll stick around? I don’t know. All I know for sure is that is a lot easier to feel hopeful today than it was last week.

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