Working With Your Neurospicy Cycles: Sleep Cycles (Lifehacks #2)
In part one, I discussed how to identify your sleep cycles, food cycles, energy cycles and social cycles. Go back and read it now if you haven’t already so that you can understand what I’m talking about here.
Let’s start with sleep cycles
I hope, after you read part one, that you spent some time figuring out your sleep cycles. Do you have consistent or inconsistent cycles? Do you sleep “too much”, not enough, or just as much as you need?
If you’re not getting enough sleep
either occasionally or regularly, you will need to make two significant adjustments to your life. The first is, on days when you’re sleep deprived, lower your expectations for productivity, especially anything that requires learning new things, doing mental calculations, or anything that requires a lot of concentration.
Where you can, swap out difficult tasks for those that require less mental energy. Repetitive but necessary tasks might be good, especially those that allow your brain to wander.
The second thing you can do if you’re regularly not getting enough sleep is work to troubleshoot and solve issues that are getting in the way of sleep. I’m not saying “abracadabra, insomnia is gone”, I’m saying develop a sleep hygiene routine that eliminates as many barriers to good sleep as possible, and try a technique or two at a time, for a couple of weeks each, to see what works for you.
For instance, you might try:
- Changing sound in the room where you sleep: silence, music (with or without words), audiobooks (even testing specific speaking voices), ambient noises, or ASMR.
- Adjusting the temperature in the room.
- Inviting in or kicking out the pets, kids, and partners
- Finding (preferably inexpensive) ways to make your sleeping surface harder or softer
- Try over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids (always consult with a doctor)
- Exercise before going to bed (some people do best if this happens just before bed, and others a few hours before. Experiment a bit)
- Making the room warmer or cooler.
- Add airflow or reduce it.
- Rearrange pillows and blankets to suit yourself better.
- See if changing your diet, especially evening meals, helps.
Remember, try one or two of these at a time, not all at once.
If you’re getting “too much” sleep
First, ask yourself “what problems am I having because I get more sleep than most people?” If the answer is “none”, congratulations. You don’t have a sleep problem. You just either want or need more sleep than average (this also goes for people who get less sleep than most people without problems)
After you’ve determined that yes, you have a “too much sleep” problem, troubleshoot in much the same way I described for people who aren’t getting enough sleep. Is there a food, medication, or health issue that is contributing to increased sleep? If it’s short-term and necessary, perhaps its best to just “go with the flow”, but if its long term, or greatly interferes with what you want for your life, maybe switch up some things.
All suggestions here are options to try, not “cures”. Everyone’s needs and wants are different, so play around and discover what works for you. You might try:
- Standing or sitting more, including when doing things you would normally sit or lie down to do.
- Intentionally move your body (stretch, do some calisthenics, or some other movement) every time you notice yourself getting sleepy when you aren’t ready to sleep yet.
- With a doctor’s okay, try caffeinated beverages or other energy foods or beverages (in moderation)
- Make dietary changes.
- Talk to your doctor to adjust medications if this might be a factor.
- Get assessed by a professional for medical conditions that might be contributing.
If your sleep cycle is irregular
First, same! Second, it’s important to be as flexible as possible in your life to make the most of the days when your sleep cycle is working for you and minimize issues when your sleep cycle is working against you. You’ll probably find, as you pay attention, that you have far more “good” (or at least “good enough”) days than you realize.
All of the above ideas can be implemented in your life, preferably layered into your life as much as you can, so that multiple strategies are assisting you at once.
For instance, during insomnia periods, I tend to listen to audiobooks with female voices or LoFi music. I like my bedroom cold, and I’ll often burn sandalwood incense to help me sleep. If I’m having a particularly rough night, the dog and cat are locked out of the bedroom.
During times when I’m struggling with sleepiness, I like a big ol’ cup of coffee in the morning, I’ll dance to some tunes from the olden days (the 1970s and 1980s) a couple of times a day, make a point of doing yoga or other stretches, and stand and pace while I’m on work calls vs sit.
More on “Layering” Coping Skills and Techniques
You’ll see this concept a lot if you follow my writing. No one coping skill is going to always work, and not all coping skills are useful in all situations. It is often useful or even necessary to keep adding coping skills until whatever issue you’re coping with finally shifts and you are able to return to a relatively happy and productive state of mind.
Dealing with the mismatch between the expectations of the allistic (neurotypical) world and the way your brain works often requires a sort of balancing dance where you are making constant shifts to the way you do things to stay on your feet. And that’s fine. The difference for neurotypical people is that while they too have to adjust day to day, they don’t have to adjust as much. The sort of balancing of your needs that you have to do every day is normal.
Tune in later this week for a discussion of your food cycles and possibly for a continuation of my series on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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