Ever since I was fairly young, I’ve had sleeping “problems”. As a teenager, I had full-blown insomnia. I can vividly remember mostly running on 3-4 hours of sleep, which obviously isn’t healthy. I never wanted to not sleep, it just sort of happened. I sometimes liken my brain to a computer – it’s analytical and sometimes kicks into a period of high-gear processing of information. At worst, it happens at night, which keeps me awake. So, in high school, I had a really difficult time waking up early, which didn’t work out so well with my school schedule. To this day, I’m still not sure why schools insist on making teens start as early as 7 or 8am, considering most teens need 8-9 hours of sleep a day. But alas, the world makes no sense.
As an adult, I’ve gone through periods of insomnia. When I lived in Spain, I experienced the best sleep I had ever gotten. I believe that it was a combination of the sunshine, being in a teaching environment (which knocked me out every single day!), and simply walking a lot. The lifestyle I led there was a lot more conducive to being healthy in general, healthy sleep habits included.
Now that I’ve been back in Canada for a while, my sleep patterns depend on what I do throughout the day, how I’m feeling, and all of that. Because we don’t walk as much as people do in Spain, I find that I have to do certain things throughout the day in order to sleep. I can “run” on a few hours of sleep and do work tasks, but unless I’m setting my own hours, I rarely do so optimally. Studies have shown that people need their adequate amount of sleep in order to perform tasks at their best, and that sleeping enough prevents a lot of diseases. Studies have also shown that we all have varying sleep patterns, meaning some of us are naturally “early risers” and some of us aren’t. Some of us need 4-5 hours of sleep, some need 7, some need as much as 9. Still, a lot of workplaces and schools insist that people wake up at the crack of dawn or that they follow rigid hours that are set only to benefit a small minority of people, which is illogical and quite frankly really stupid.
But for the day-to-day, there are ways of managing sleep: sleep early enough (10-11pm, which is still hard for me to pull off every night), make sure you’ve tired your legs out, shut your brain off (still hard to do!), and have a dark, cool room to sleep in.
When it comes to travel, though, I’ve always noticed that I can rarely fall asleep the night before I take a flight, train, or need to travel anywhere that’s relatively far away. If I’m going on a day trip, or a 2 hour flight, I’m okay. But if I’m going on a 4-5 flight, or beyond, my brain never seems to settle down the night before my travels. This is probably because I know a trip that’s further away requires more prep, and planning, and sometimes I don’t think I’m ready. Other times, I’m actually just really excited, and can’t calm my mind down.
Although I’m still working on maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule, and handle jetlag fairly well, I have yet to figure out how to make myself relax, and get a full 8 hours of sleep, the night before a long flight. And until I figure out what works, I’ll be stuck in a limbo of travel insomnia.