When stress builds, have plan to conquer your sleeplessness

Posted July 24, 2009, at 7:09 p.m.

How many times can you plump up the pillow, tell yourself worrying will do no good, and still find yourself lying in bed wide awake with worry? What do you do when warm drinks, giving yourself pep talks, and even praying don’t do a thing toward getting you some Z’s?

In these challenging economic times, many of us are facing sleepless nights. If we are unemployed, the reasons are obvious. The lack of a regular paycheck is only the tip of the iceberg. The nighttime mind is also whirring with questions of how to keep our loved ones feeling as secure as possible, emotionally if not financially.

It may be necessary to consider big, agitating questions such as whether to sell one’s home and relocate, an enterprise that means distancing oneself from the familiar just when one needs it the most. Even if we still have a job, the relentless layoffs we witness all around us, empathy with friends and family who are jobless, and a continued onslaught of negative news can make the employed person quake at night, too.

Perhaps most sleep-slaughtering of all is the sense that the usual avenues toward fixing things may not take us to the desired goal. While it always makes sense to gather information in order to feel more confident about the wisdom of making a particular decision, these days there is a dearth of information out there. If there are no jobs in your vicinity, how can be sure a job for which you relocate will be secure?

Another challenge to a good night’s sleep is the fact that this uncertainty has been ongoing for months with no letup in sight. While many of us may manage under short-term duress, sustained stress is another nightmare altogether, and it defies our usual strategies for stress management.

When sleep eludes you for these kinds of reasons, what can you do?

Reasoning that, just as networking may lead toward another job, communicating with others may lead to some new strategies for conquering sleeplessness, I informally polled friends and colleagues to learn their when-all-else-fails, sleep-oriented solutions. While I expected to receive advice about breathing exercises, visualizing lovely places and the like, I was surprised to find that a preponderance of people had long given up on these ideas and recommended mental games and challenges instead. And a surprising number of them work.

· Read something really boring.

· Recite a poem you memorized years ago.

· Think of the names of every teacher you ever had throughout your education.

· Say the alphabet backward.

· Challenge yourself to go through the alphabet naming things in a particular category. For instance, pick the category of “Animals.” Breathe in and say “A” as you exhale. Breathe in again and say “Aardvark” on your next exhale. Don’t cheat.

· Think of seven things that do not cost money that you can do over the next week to pleasantly surprise family, friends and colleagues.

· Think of seven practical jokes you can play on family, friends and colleagues.

· Give up; get up; do jumping jacks.

If nothing else, at least one of these sleep solutions is bound to give you a laugh. During these tough times, that may be almost as rare and valuable as a good night’s sleep.

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