Self-Care Challenge #1

Last week I posted about why I was beginning these challenges, and why I suggest downloading the app from Health Storylines to chronicle your progress. I am hoping that you will join me in these challenges, and comment here or on my social media pages to share your own insight, success, or thoughts about them.

My First Self-Care Challenge

The basic idea here is that we can use these challenges in our lives as part of an ongoing health plan. This isn’t about doing it one month and then moving on, but rather building upon these challenges by continuing to incorporate them into our daily lives. I’m choosing to begin with something that should be simple enough, but I think might be more broadly relevant than any of us realize. For the next few weeks, I’m going to diligently work on this task:

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential to good health. The necessary amount varies slightly from person to person, and probably day to day (or night to night). I never understood the sleep habits of my parents — or why they were so vastly different. And I can hardly explain why my wife and I have such different sleep habits. Don’t even get me started on my daughter. We are all unique, but one thing I have noticed more and more since beginning my cancer treatment is that I simply do not get enough.

Lately, I have had fewer side-effects and a much easier time overall with my current treatment, but I have a very difficult time going to sleep when I should. Sometimes I will still manage to get seven or more hours, but usually, it ends up being less than six and often closer to five. Some nights it is even less than that — compensated for minimally by an afternoon nap on occasion, but not often enough.

Granted, it doesn’t help that I often do my best writing at night. Years ago, before marriage and fatherhood, I frequently worked at my computer until 2:00 AM or later. It was easy for me then, with no reason to rise early in the morning. I still got plenty of sleep, but my rhythms did not sync up with much of standard society. Now, of course, I try to be up at 6:00 AM every day, getting things ready for school and work, even if I still find myself getting creative in the middle of the night.

All that aside, however, there is no doubt that my years of various cancer treatments have given me many nights of insomnia. The past few weeks have been especially hard in this manner. I have to do something about it.

Starting tonight, I am committing to lights out and all devices off an hour earlier. I am going to do what it takes to add an hour of sleep to my nights. My plan is to try increasing the amount of sleep I get as naturally as possible. I want to avoid resorting to drugs like Tylenol PM or that Zzzquil stuff, or anything else along those lines. It isn’t that I have anything against using them — I have done it plenty of times in the past, and I’ve certainly used much stronger medications along the way. The goal here is to train myself to fall asleep without “help” if possible, but if that does not pan out for me, I might well test a few options that I have available and see what works best in terms of creating a restful and restorative sleep.

First, however, I am going to try the approach I developed as a child, using “sense memory” exercises to try and recreate the feeling of that moment when I slip into sleep. This technique served me well for many years, allowing me to go to sleep virtually anywhere or anytime (provided I was at least a little bit tired), but it began to fail me as my cancer treatments took their toll. If this still does not work, I will try meditation, breathing exercises, or whatever else I can think of.

While this challenge is going on, I hope that you will share your experiences with me here. By comparing what works for each of us, maybe we can help one another. And even if you don’t have trouble getting enough sleep, perhaps you can share what you already do that helps create good sleeping habits or the best sleeping conditions. I can certainly use a few new ideas! We’re all unique, but we can still learn from one another, and, like I said in my previous post, it’s more fun together. Scroll down for the comments section, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Or, you know, all of the above.

In the meantime, here are a few links to other blogs offering some self-care challenges of their own:

Whole Lovely Life

Survival Is a Talent

Resources if you need some help beyond a lullaby:

Cognitive behavior therapy is a step beyond basic sleep hygiene. You can learn about both from SleepEducation.org.

Another good site, Sleep.org, has a terrific primer on sleep hygiene as well.

When all else fails, these are some good practices to fall back on. Good luck getting those zzzzs! Don’t forget to share your stories in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Self-Care Challenge #1

  1. Sleep is so important to everyone, and I know I am lucky to have always been able to get to sleep pretty quickly…I do make sure Not to think of any problems, or plans, and just think, and picture, something I love to do , like picture myself walking on the beach watching the waves and listening, feeling the sand…just simple, peaceful thoughts…and as I walk on I usually just fall asleep. Good luck with your longer rest time Jeffrey.

  2. Well, I admit to not getting off to the best start. Of course, it was still the night BEFORE the official start of this challenge, but I could not bring myself to put away my tablet without reading for almost 45 minutes while lying in the bed. I did, however, manage to get INTO the bed about half an hour earlier than usual, so I guess this is all about baby steps.

  3. I’ve come a long way in my own sleep progress. After diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer anxiety kept me awake and anxious beyond what was healthy. So I made a few changes that have now become habit and I have great sleep health now. First, I use lavender essential oil which now just cues me to relax. Then I turn on an app called CALM that reads me a bedtime story. With my eyes closed the story just relaxes me right to sleep. I seldom hear the end of the story. I track my progress on my Fitbit and have increased sleep by an hour. There are some times when it’s hard to put away the electronics but I think by being more consistent and creating the habit it’s easier to call it a night and get that good sleep.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I like how you have trained your mind to associate lavender with relaxing. I think there is a lot to be said for the power of rituals. I also like the idea of the CALM app, but I’m pretty sure I would be a disaster with bedtime stories — it is more like me to struggle to stay awake to hear the end every time. I’ve got some music that was designed to help sleep which I plan to try, however. Glad to hear you beat your sleep problems and hope that you keep that anxiety far away.

  4. Midway into my first week with mixed results. I managed to get a little more sleep Monday night, but less than average on Tuesday night — probably due in no small part to the additional nap I had on Tuesday afternoon. Although I had a good sleep leading into Tuesday, I still felt tired by mid-day. That nap, however, was probably a mistake, because I was not tired until close to midnight. When I slept, it was very restful — I even woke up a bit earlier than the alarm and felt quite refreshed. In fact, I’ve been going strong all day with no sleepiness in spite of the shorter hours in bed. But going forward, I will be avoiding the afternoon nap, even just a short one, so that I can ensure the ability to actually go to sleep earlier.

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