Sleep hygiene: protecting your sleep and your sanity during an information war

Cat Sleep Mask by Etsy seller sleepmaskboutique.

Regardless of your politics, I think we can all agree that we are in a culturally agitated time, and that a lot of the conflicts we're watching play out are happening via news and information. As one of my favorite researchers, danah boyd, put it: "The news media have become a pawn in a big chess game of an information war." It's happening, and we're all on the battlefield via our smartphones.

We'll see how it plays out, but based on conversations I'm having with friends and colleagues, the first place we're ALL feeling it is in the bedroom. Mostly notably, most folks I know are struggling with sleep. Having trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night freaking out, waking up early and deciding to just get up and start reading the news for the day… it's fucking with everyone.

A friend mentioned that in order to combat it, she was focusing on creating nighttime and morning routines to help protect her time in bed as precious and not to be fucked with. Basically, she's making rituals to protect the sacred space of FUCKING SLEEPING. This is what's known as "sleep hygiene," and of course it's important all the time… but maybe extra important during times like these, when the cultural anxiety is through the roof. You can't get shit done if you're exhausted. Sleep is crucial.

So, let's crowd-source our bedtime and morning routines, in the hope of helping each other have better sleep hygiene, better sleep, and hopefully more energy to do what need to be done during challenging times. Here are some options that you can play with:

BEDTIME POSSIBILITIES

  • Put phone on airplane mode an hour before bed
  • Meditate for 10 minutes
    (I like the Headspace App, other people love Insight Timer)
  • Brush teeth, wash face
  • Warm shower
  • Journal to get the shit out of your head
  • Read something comforting
  • Lights out 15 minutes before you hope to be asleep
  • Charge your phone outside the bedroom
    (Get an alarm clock if you need one. This cute one is like $15.)

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT COMFORTS

  • Breathing exercises
  • Warm milk with honey
  • Explore options like eye shades, ear plugs, fans, or white noise machines
    (I have one of these and it changed my whole sleep life)
  • Do not check your phone, I repeat: do not check your phone

 

MORNING POSSIBILITIES

  • Make your morning cup of whatever before checking your phone
  • Shower before reading the news
  • Turn off all push notifications from news sources.
  • Ease in gently with the news

I realize that lots of these things sound… silly. Self-indulgent. Privileged, even!

But the reality is this: We all need to pace ourselves and stay healthy. Exhausted, sleep-deprived people aren't able to make good decisions, take action, or get involved. Put on your oxygen mask first, THEN apply the oxygen mask to others. Keep donating, keep resisting, keep working… but GET REST.

What are YOUR bedtime routines? Share!

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  1. Throwing out a plug for the Sleep With Me podcast. I've been listening for the past 3-4 weeks and it's been really effective for me. The guy behind it creates rambling, stammering stories that are just engaging enough to take my mind off my political anxiety, but not so interesting that I stay awake to listen to them. I'm typically drifting off by the halfway point of the episode (each one is about an hour).

    3 agree
    • Thanks for this! I need quiet talking for the same reason you do to help me fall asleep and I've just been listening to the same one audio book over and over because I won't pay for YouTube red, but even the slightest bit of light disturbs me.

  2. This is a great list. I love the idea of keeping healthy and mentally calm as a political act. I suppose it really is the first step that everyone can take.

    I try to recognise when reading more news is going to make me feel more empowered and when it is just going to distress/frustrate me – and if I can see that on balance, reading another news website isn't going to do me any good, I just try to leave it alone, especially in the hour before bed, or in the morning before work. I work from home, so not getting sucked into news websites in the morning helps me to get more done.

    5 agree
  3. A few months ago I made a habit of drinking a glass of water as soon as I woke up, and it's made a world of difference. I don't know why such a small action has such a large effect on me, but I recommend this also. I try to fill a glass when I brush my teeth and leave it on the nightstand so I can drink it before my feet even touch the floor in the morning, but sometimes I forget and drink it at the sink while I wait for the kettle to boil.

    3 agree
    • I do this too! For me, it's to go with my thyroid pill, but it still means a huge glass half an hour before I eat or drink my tea.

      1 agrees
  4. I've had a meditation practice on and off for years, and the current political events encouraged me to be much more consistent. After the election, I got into the bad habit of consuming WAY TOO MUCH news all the time, including right when I woke up in the morning (which set the tone for the whole day). Now, I meditate FIRST THING. I literally don't even get out of bed. I wake up, get myself into a comfortable upright position, do 5 min of alternate-nostril breathing which helps wake me up and balance me, and then I do about 20 min of meditation. IN BED. BEFORE I GET UP. The way I see it, I'm taking back my head space from the 24/7 crazy that is happening right now. I'm reclaiming my peace of mind, dammit.

    1 agrees
    • Also not sure why the word 'meditation' is linked to Headspace…I didn't do that I have no idea how it happened. (Also I'm in the Insight Timer camp, but I don't use it for my morning meditation)

      1 agrees
  5. I have an app on my phone called twilight which reduces the blue light it emits as the day goes on. Also, experience has taught me, boring as it is, wine helps you get to sleep but doesn't keep you asleep for very long.

    My phone is also on silent and I wear earplugs every night (that's due to husband snoring, although I am now hooked on them and use them even if I'm on my own).

    2 agree
    • How does Twilight work? I have an app I like quiet a bit that just neutralize blue light, but it will randomly stop working for a few seconds every once in a while and blind me. I tried using the one pre-installed on my Fire tablet, but it makes everything reddish, which I found much more irritating.

  6. Thanks for writing this! Somehow I thought I was the only one waking up in the middle of the night with political panic. I feel a little less alone after reading this.

    My way of coping has been two fans for sleeping, classic literature, meditation, therapy, and just avoid all news, FB, and Twitter. I do get email to let me know when there is some way I can be of use, and I signed up to volunteer politically, but mostly I just keep my head in the sand.

  7. I love the Do Not Disturb setting on my phone. No noises, no vibrate, NOTHING, until my alarm goes off in the morning.

  8. One of the conversations currently going on in my group is the balance between self-care and the privilege associated with being able to "take a break" from the news. I definitely lean towards it being a responsibility to be informed and stay engaged, but also recognize, it's not the healthiest.

    4 agree
  9. You mention political tensions causing insomnia, but it can also work the other way around, insomnia causing political tensions, and back again in a vicious circle.

    At last autumn's PsiberDreaming Conference, a major dream researcher said that most people don't even know that there's a dream deprivation epidemic in this country, or that it has terrible consequences. Unless you're narcoleptic, when you're sleep deprived your body puts physical restoration first in the little sleep that you do get, delaying most dreaming till you get out of what it thinks must be survival-mode. Also, most sleeping pills, tranquilizers, stimulants, caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, and a whole lot of other substances can constrict dreaming. What you get might be more intense, but that's because it's trying to squeeze a lot into little.

    But your dreams enable you to make neural connections out of what you learned that day. Take that away and people lose the capacity to extrapolate from what they've learned–they can only memorize and regurgitate information, and they can't always discriminate between good and bad "facts". They can't apply something they learn to a similar situation. They can't think fairly because they can't see how A resembles B or how what's true for one group might be true for another. They cling to what thoughts they do have (often taught to them) increasingly fiercely the harder it gets to think. They become irritable, then combative. They become suspicious, and gradually paranoid. Extend it long enough and the memory starts to go. Alzheimer's, in fact, might well be caused or triggered by dream deprivation.

    Have you noticed lately how more and more people are flunking the Turing Test? Whether they agree or disagree, whatever their party, they respond more like robots than people, answering not what you say, but the closest thing in their programming to what they expect you to say. It's more obvious when they disagree, but even when they agree you will often find that they don't actually know the details of your position, just that it resembles something that they feel they ought to support. And they will post lots and lots of memes rather than original arguments, including some that, when examined, champion things that they disagree with (sometimes vehemently!) once it's pointed out, but they won't take it down because it came from the side they aligned with. And yes, you can find this in all parties. It's classic dream-deprivation thinking.

    Never think that sleep hygiene is self-indulgent. It is your duty to your community to maintain your brain in fit shape to play your part as a citizen.

    10 agree
  10. YouTube has a plethora of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos that I find very helpful when I can't sleep. Even if you don't experience the full ASMR effect, the videos are very soothing and soporific. If the light from your phone/tablet bothers you, you can now shut off the display and YouTube will play in the background ( i.e. you just hear the sound ).

    1 agrees
  11. I used to suffer from insomnia years ago so I developed a pretty involved evening routine to help me sleep (happily once I'm out I tend to stay asleep).
    Now I will admit, I'm not nearly as plugged in as the vast majority of folks out there, so adjust as needed.

    1) Cell phone stays out of the bedroom.
    I use an old phone as an alarm clock. I have to adjust the clock occasionally because it's a brick with no contact with the outside world; it doesn't even connect to the house wi-fi. It wakes me up in the morning with a charming default tone. I can't stand the buzzing of typical alarm clocks.
    2) Minimize electrical devices.
    I have a lamp by the bed and that's it. My alarm phone gets charged at my computer (which isn't in the bedroom). Because afore mentioned phone has very simple duties, it can go a couple weeks between charges.
    3) Only have books of a spiritual/inspirational/light-hearted nature in your room/by the bed.
    Easy for me: we're a book-loving family so there's book everywhere; it's not too hard to control what's in the bedroom.
    4) Keep the room neat and tidy.
    In theory there should also be nothing under the bed. I stuck with that for a while, but had to cave eventually. On the upside, the piles under the bed are organized 😉
    Laundry should be put where it belongs (closet, dresser, hamper, etc). If that's too much, at least keep the piles minimal and out of the way.
    5) No strenuous exercise within two hours before bed.
    Don't hit the gym at 9:00 hoping to be exhausted enough to sleep. It won't work.
    Nookie of course is perfectly fine though 😉
    6) Minimize all "intake" before bed.
    This means both food and water, but also information. Try not to sleep with the TV on (unless you *really* need the background noise to sleep). Try not to check the phone *right* before turning out the light.
    7) Brush teeth/wash face/shower.
    They're simple, easy, good for you and are a great way to train the brain that it's time for bed.
    8) Meditation/light yoga/reading
    One of those is fine; two is better; all three is golden. For one, they eat up time; for two they calm your mind. Yoga has been taking weird twists and turns in this country of late. By "yoga" I mean gentle, *mindful* movements and stretches. Pay attention to your breathing, where your body is in space and how it feels turn each hold and transition.
    By "reading" I mean "from a book" (no phone!!). It should be thought-provoking in a calming manner, or just calming. Keep it short, and preferably don't read under the covers (save the sheets for sleep and sex)
    9) Keep the room dark and quiet (preferably)
    Some people need white noise, some need *some* form of light. Fine, just keep it low-key.
    I personally have sheer curtains on my bedroom windows. It gets pretty bright on winter nights when the moon is full or summer mornings when the sun come up at four in the morning, but I'd rather have those natural rhythms beaming into my subconscious than sleeping in a cave. (I also sleep with pillows over my head) 😉

    4 agree
  12. "Based on conversations I'm having with friends and colleagues, the first place we're ALL feeling it is in the bedroom" My mind went straight to sex, because while I've always been a good sleeper, my libido has just been SLAMMED by all the sad and crushing political talk my partner and I have before bed. And while he can flip a switch and start touching my boobs, it feels like the most outlandish idea to me and I totally recoil. My body is light-years away from pleasurable thoughts and tingly feelings. I need to suggest some no-politics evenings because I could really use the glorious release at night to fight capitalism and patriarchy by day.

    5 agree
  13. For me, shutting down the computer half an hour before bed and instead reading or crafting (knitting, spinning, or weaving) is amazing. My husband and I also snuggle and talk for a while before going to sleep, and that's soothing. We have a no-politics-first-thing-in-the-morning rule, and I've promised to stay off Facebook as I was in tears too many mornings reading about what had happened overnight.

    As for waking up in the middle of the night – just masturbate back to sleep.

    2 agree
  14. I’m British and in the UK with a European spouse and I’m going through the anxiety about my country thing too over Brexit and I’m also experiencing a lot of anxiety over Trump. I’m also (still) grieving my dad who died in 2015 and trying to finish a PhD which I had to delay to care for my dad as he was dying and which he was so proud of me for and which it kills me he won’t see completed.

    I’m completely off facebook (and I don’t do twitter) and that’s my biggest tip/it worked for me thing. I find it much easier to bear the news if I choose when I and how engage with it rather than get side swiped unexpectedly when I just went on to see if my friend put a new baby picture up yet or whatever. What I find hard is when the news is repeated endlessly across social media with each post carrying the fears of the person who posted it. In the blizzard of coverage fact checking and critical reflection goes amiss and this is true whatever political persuasion. Ariel has written before about co-rumination on forums etc and to a certain extent that’s happening on a global scale on social media but I’m not criticising, it’s really really hard to keep the line between healthy conversation and sharing of information and something less healthy and more scab picking, I’m as guilty as anyone else. I know I just don’t have the energy right now and am too brittle to cope with the intravenous need feed that is social media so I’m taking responsibility for me and regulating my news intake.

    At first it felt very irresponsible though, to step back from the world right now at such a time of huge change but I really do believe that self-care, as Audre Lorde put it in A Burst of Light, is an act of warfare. She was talking of her specific experience as a poor black lesbian with cancer and I hope as middle class white lesbian it’s not appropriative of me to take the sentiment on, but the idea of caring for oneself in the face of a system which not does not promote your welfare and seems bent on actively putting it at risk rang a lot of bells as we filled out my wife’s residency application, something she never would have previously needed to live in my country.

    I find that if I am not so exposed to constant news I am energised enough to actually do something, like attend the amazing Women’s Solidarity March that was organised here in Manchester or to support my wife in her application. We minimise conversation about Brexit/Trump at home by which I mean it’s not what we talk about when we both get in and we don’t talk about it before bed. When we were filling out my wife's residency application we made sure we always had a treat afterwards, like cooking a nice meal or going to see a silly film. Sleep hygiene is also very very important and we pretty much do all the stuff in G Wilkins list above (but we use awake up light rather than an old phone).

    I think Ariel is right, you do have to put on your emotional breathing mask before helping others, and maybe even to be able to do so is a privilege some might not have but denying yourself respite if you are lucky enough to have it will not make anything better for anyone else’s situation.

    In fact if it depletes you and makes you useless then arguably it makes it worse for those less well off, but I say this only because it can be useful to combat guilt over respite not to invoke guilt in the other direction! Be kind to yourselves and take care all x

    2 agree
  15. SUCH a great article–100% relating to it in every way! I am far from alone, omg!
    Ever since Trump won I thought I would be able to just avoid the news or social media a bit more to distract myself from it, but in fact I have been consuming x10 more than ever before!! I've been staying up late and getting out of bed later (I'm a freelancer so I can, but–!!) It has started to take it's toll so even as I read this article, I felt bleary-eyed! I am going to follow your advice starting tonight. I thinkyour best tip is charging the phone OUTSIDE the bedroom–because it's just too easy to grab it when it is on the nightstand. Thank you for such a spot-on post.

  16. Katy Bowman (go read Movement Matters) suggests putting the wireless router on a timer and have it shut off between 11pm-7am.

    I also am a firm believer in the zero electronics allowed in the bedroom overnight rule.

    I also have no internet in my house.

    I sleep great! Feel super refreshed in the am! And also in lieu of the utterly and completely mind blowing post above, I need to reexamine my relationship with marijuana as I RARELY dream and have a shitty memory and frequently smoke pot before bed. Plus, I miss dreams.

    1 agrees
  17. I listen to audiobooks on audible (works best if I know them already), or to hypnosis mp3s. Unfortunately that means I have to have my phone in my bedroom but I have it on silent mode – considering to even use flight mode instead…

  18. My husband and I have been doin' it a lot more since the election… and the sex is good too! Helps us both sleep much better. Just sayin'.

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