Sleep. . . or the Lack Thereof

"Dog days of summer" Golden Retriever puppyCan we talk about sleep?

I’d love to know your falling asleep tricks, because I need some!

The first problem is that I’m a natural nightowl and always have been. As a little kid, I couldn’t wait to go to bed so I could lay awake making up stories. It probably took me two hours to fall asleep every night because I was busy weaving tales that would have curled my mother’s hair, had she known what was going on in my strange little head. When the alarm went off in the morning I was, naturally, exhausted. I had a bunch of pillows on my bed and I kept adding one to the pile behind my back until I was fully vertical. I’m not kidding. It was the only way I could make getting up bearable.

This pattern lasted well into adulthood, the only difference being I was now getting paid for making up stories, so at least my nightowlishness had monetary value. But in the mid-nineties, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the symptoms of RA is fatigue. Soon, all day felt like first-thing-in-the-morning to me. Only people who have suffered from some version of chronic fatigue really understand how debilitating this can be. It’s a sucking down, overwhelming tiredness and the only cure is to climb back into bed. I slept for about ten hours each night and added a couple of naps during the daytime. Then the drug researchers invented the good stuff and I got my life back. Ever since then (about ten years now), I feel as though I’m making up for all the time I lost to fatigue. I may nap twice a month, if that, and I hate losing the time when I could be doing something more productive. I also am once again a nightowl, staying up until one or two . . . or three. . . working or reading for pleasure. I get up around eight, so that’s not too bad. And I don’t get tired during the day, so I must be getting enough sleep.

So what am I complaining about? I want to be tired at night, like normal people. I want to turn out the light at midnight and fall asleep instead of thinking about my book or my life or my loved ones or everything on my to-do list. I’ve tried the typical relaxation techniques. I’ve tried meditating. Listening to soft music. Counting backwards from 100. Listing the states in alphabetical order. You name it, I’ve tried it.

Am I alone in this? Are you one of those lucky people who falls asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Or are you a nightowl who’s found the secret to beating your internal clock? How’s your sleep?


  1. MaryC on July 25, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    This is really interesting, Diane (though maybe you’d prefer it not be;) )

    I’m like you – a nightowl who stays awake creating stories. That’s really the only way I know to make myself fall asleep.
    During the school year, I’m physically and mentally exhausted so I do fall asleep – usually before I want to – but in the summer I’m back to wide awake.

    Last night I was waiting for my daughter to get home and I was wide awake at 4am.

    The only solution I’ve found is to bring my nook to bed with me. Reading in bed does make me sleepy.

    I’ll look forward to seeing if anyone has any good solutions.

  2. Gina on July 26, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I love my sleep and usually have no trouble falling asleep. However on those nights that I can’t fall asleep, my trick is to drink a small shot of black zambuca. Try it.

  3. Margo on July 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    What an adorable photo!…where do you find such perfect pictures to go with your blogs Diane!
    I’m a ‘hit the pillow fall asleep girl’, but I usually have a half a glass of white wine just before bedtime…my routine is to crawl in bed with my book and sip my wine while reading…usually Gary has to take my glasses off my face and put the book on my nightstand since my eyes close while reading…Diane, I am very active and practice Yoga everyday…this probably helps…on the rare occasion that I cant sleep, I get up and do some Yoga routines, crawl back into bed and usually fall right to sleep.

  4. Cher on July 26, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Hey Sis,
    I have the opposite problem. It’s usually harder for me to stay asleep in the morning than to fall asleep at night, even when I’ve gotten too little sleep. But when I do have trouble falling asleep, two things work pretty well. One is to chant to myself (silently): “Nothing to be, nothing to do.” This often stops the busy voices in my head. The other, as others have mentioned, is to do something physical. I’ll get up and do some yoga stretches. Or, a trick I learned from a book I read… do about 30 pushups (I do them on my knees). That works surprisingly well.

  5. Maria Tadd on July 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Diane – I too am a night owl by nature – always get my second wind around 8 or 9 and then can keep going until midnight or later. But that came to a screeching halt when I got a puppy! He gets me up every day around 6 or 6:30.

    But let me back up a bit, and go back to my delightful night owl days/nights. There were times that I’d stay up too late and couldn’t fall asleep. I find that “watching” my breath and even altering how I breathe can help me fall asleep. If all else fails, I take 1/2 a valium. Not the best solution, but it works.

    The other component to getting good sleep is to get plenty of exercise. Pre and post puppy I walk 3 miles a day.

    Good luck, Maria

  6. Diane Chamberlain on July 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Cher, I know you and I are the reverse when it comes to being night or morning people. I like your chant, though. Margo, you get a lot of exercise with your swimming in addition to yoga. I’ve fallen away from the gym and that might be the magic elixir. As soon as I finish these revisions. . .
    Gina, I think a shot of black zambuca, whatever that is, would kill me. 🙂
    Mary, reading in bed (which I will NEVER give up) only seems to perk me up!

  7. Margo on July 26, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Diane…when my mother can’t sleep (which is often), she gets up and makes herself some hot cocoa…after drinking she turns on easy-listening music and usually falls asleep.
    She says those 2 things work wonders.

  8. Diane Chamberlain on July 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    A puppy! LOL, Maria. That would be the cure for sure. Margo, the chocolate would wire me, but I’m glad it works for your mom.

  9. Margo on July 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    LOL, me too Diane!…I think its the warm milk part that makes her sleep.

  10. Tabitha Parker on July 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I love to watch sitcom reruns of shows I watched when I was younger. For some reason these shows lull me to sleep!

  11. Loraine Shaughnessy on July 26, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I was always a nightowl and had difficulty getting to sleep early. I can’t stand complete silence and I now find the sound of a fan, the tv or sound machine puts me right to sleep. However, I can no longer sleep in when I want…lol

  12. Michelle Michael on July 26, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I have to read! I will read until my eyes are half closed….light off…straight to sleep. If I am away and don’t have anything to read – I am in big trouble!

  13. Cindy Mathes on July 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    The fatigue you talk of is horrible. I hate it. And even though I don’t suffer it all the time, I hate when I do. I have this whole hang up on time as it is. You can read about that here I always feel like there is a bajillion things I need to do when I am wasting my time sleeping. My thing is not since high school or the first year or two of my marriage have I been a person to stay in bed. I would get up early even on my days off. Every time I got still, I would fall asleep.
    Lately, I have been staying up all night…gee and then sleeping till 9 and 10 am. Even going to bed early, I do the same. Next month when school starts back I will have to drag myself up unless this cycle is broken. Sorry I have no help here, but I can sympathize with you. I can fall asleep fairly easily when I actually lay my head down. I am just so stubborn that I don’t want to sleep my life away. If I am sitting up reading at night, I might stay up until 4am.

  14. Krysia on July 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    I chase a two year old around which wares me out. Also the stress from my job does to. I’m ready for bed by 7 pm, no one else is though. If i can’t sleep I play solitare on my phone, usually can get through 1 game. My son doesn’t like sleep, if he gets a nap well we are up all night 🙂 he takes after his dad’s side of the family.

  15. Cindy on July 26, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Sleep?? Whats that?? lol
    I also have trouble sleeping.. Well I can fall asleep pretty quickly but an hour later I am up again and wide awake..Wish I had some answers for you but I’m thinkin’ I need to watch this blog to see if you get any answers..
    Of course I am sure that your RA doesn’t help matters either.. I have RA too.. Actually that is where I first met you on the RA website with Kimmy and Tina (KJ).. Sometimes I will take a pain pill and it helps but other times it doesn’t even help and I am back in here on my puter…lol
    Good luck!

    PS: I am hoping responding to this blog will also enter me for the sisters frame?? My sister and I are complete opposites it would be perfect!!

    Hugs to you and maybe I will send you some sleepy thoughts so you can get some rest! lolol

  16. Karen Helms on July 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I have no problem falling asleep however staying asleep more than a couple of hours is a chore. I read, watch TV which everyone tells me is a mistake however I am to restless to just lay there.

  17. Michelle on July 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I can fall right to sleep. My grandma always had trouble falling to sleep she said that her mind was never tired. It reminded me of You Diane. so try to think of something that would not interest you.

  18. Joanne grover on July 26, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Sleep ahhhhhhhhhh ,by 10:00 my eyes drift . I pick up a book and a few pages is all it takes. Now by 5 am I am wide awake.

  19. Audrey Bonnell on July 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Re: Sisters
    I have one sister who is five years younger than me. We are so very different. She is taller and much thinner than me. She has always been a clean freak and me not so much. She is the most emotional person I know as she will cry when she is happy, sad, angry, hurt, or afraid. I keep my emotions mostly under control. My sister Randi is the best sister that anyone could ever have and I hope some day to visit her at her home in Maiden, N C where she and her husband have lived for the last 19 years. I wish I could make her really know how much she means to me and how much I love her.

  20. Terri Davis on July 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Usually don’t have a hard time falling asleep but sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and start “thinking.” My mind starts up and I feel like there is a hamster on a wheel in my head going around and around and around. I spell the 50 states to slow down my brain and bore myself back to sleep. It works unless I forget a state & then I start thinking again.

  21. Leanna Morris on July 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I’m also a nightowl…but due to working, I had to try to change that. Seems I was always tired enough to fall asleep. Now I’m retired, but I get up at 5 a.m. to fix hubby’s lunch and breakfast, so I still have no trouble falling asleep. I have more trouble staying awake in late afternoons!
    If I should wake during the night, I have to try to keep my mind “blank” because otherwise I will get to thinking, and would be awake for sure!LOL!

  22. Coach Laura on July 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I find the best way for me to have no trouble going to sleep at night or waking up in the morning is to stick to a regular sleeping and waking schedule. I get up every morning at 6:00am and I go to sleep every night at 11:00pm. That way I have trained my body to be in this pattern. It is a bit of a drag on the weekends because I’m up at 6:00am, but for me in the long run it has really helped me to accomplish all the things I need to do in every day and not feel tired. If I do feel tired sometimes around 4:00pm, I will take a 20 minute “Oprah nap”. Nothing against Oprah, I like her show, but if I lay down on the couch & turn the Oprah show on, and I’m tired, I’ll fall asleep for 20 minutes and no more and feel really refreshed. I only do this about once or twice a month. Most of the time I don’t seem to need a nap. I hope this is helpful.

  23. carla on July 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I get sleepy reading. So I just sit down with a good book and read until I can’t keep my eyes open. And I listen to the radio. Have to have noise.

  24. Diane Chamberlain on July 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

    We’re as varied in our sleep habits as we are in our reading habits! I think Laura’s “regular sleeping schedule” is very sensible and in the old days when I had to be at work at a certain time, that’s what I did and it worked. Being self employed has its advantages but one of the bad things is that I can just hit that snooze alarm in the morning. The more I snooze, the harder it is to fall asleep that night. When I finish these revisions (IF I ever finish these revisions!) I’m going to try to get on a “sleep at midnight, up at 8 schedule” and see how I do. Thanks for all the tips!

  25. Stephanie S. on July 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

    As long as I read (even if it is just a page or two) I am able to fall asleep as soon as I turn the light off. if I don’t read then I will lie awake for an hour or so, thinking of all the things I need to get done.

  26. Laura on July 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Hi, I was just having a nosey but had two OMG moments while reading these posts. Firstly, I have SJRA/RA too and was amazed at how accurate you portrayed life for CeeCee in The Lost Daughter (UK Title), now I understand why. The second was the mention of Kimmy and KJ, I used to be a regular on those boards too, small world!

    As for sleep, I was exactly the same wake-dreamer when I was younger but with the fatigue I tend to fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow then have a two hour period during the night when I’m wide awake again. I tried everything to get back those precious two hours but nothing worked so now I use it to work on character/plot development until I drop off. Only problem is if I think I’m on to something good, I end up switching the light on and scribbling away til dawn, which doesn’t help matters.

    Anyway, I feel like I’ve gatecrashed so I’ll be quiet now.
    Best wishes.

  27. Diane Chamberlain on July 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Laura, I bet your first paragraph above is a total mystery to most of my readers. LOL.

    I find those middle of the night writing sessions are so productive. . . even though they totally mess up the next day.

    Gatecrash any time you want!

  28. brenda on July 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I had to accept the fact that sleep comes when it comes…as we get older, (sorry) we need less…the wine is a great suggestion-I don’t do that but I know Margo has told me about it as have others. When I am in the midst of hectic work at school (teaching or when doing the degrees) I did not sleep. By Thursday nights, I am so wired from work…I know there will be little sleep. I do not drink caffeine at all (unless am traveling will do a little diet Coke)…also herbal tea works well. Other than the wine and herbal tea, I just accept that I sleep when I can…My mind has a difficult time shutting off when I know I have things to do. When I was married and raising two little children, I always read a chapter or two before bed and fell asleep-I was young…active…and had the little ones to get me tired…I will say this-and it has been said a million times before-when the doctors took my hormone patches-because of the dangers…sleep left almost for good. I BELIEVE IT IS ALL about our hormones…

  29. Lynn S. on July 30, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Diane, I had a bad case of Lyme disease, and developed chronic fatigue with it that lasted several years. I took up backpacking and that seemed to help break the syndrome. Then I went back to school and became a nurse (was an accountant). The thing is that you need a combination of sleep and exercise in order to achieve balance. I don’t have RA (yet) but I have achy feet and legs that keep me up at night. I found relief by balling up a down sleeping bag and putting my legs on it. This unfortunately only works in winter because it is way too hot in summer. For you, maybe a daily swim would be good because swimming is less damaging to joints.

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