On being ... mere routine?

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t sleep a lot. I don’t say that as a humble brag or as a complaint. If anything, I simply see it as a fact of my life. I’ve been ok with this fact, especially since deciding (years ago) not to worry about sleep. Indeed, I can’t really even think of any instances when I though my sleep has impacted my functioning. That said, I’ve not been oblivious to news reports about the importance of sleep to one’s overall health.  

Last fall, when I heard my GP’s office has a five-week program on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) I asked my doctor about it. We discussed the fact that I don’t sleep that much and she thought I might benefit from program.  

In mid-December her office contacted me to see if I was interested in joining a group starting in February. I said yes and was surprised to learn that I needed to be interviewed by the social worker who runs the sessions to see if I’d qualify. (I thought my doc’s approval would have been enough.) The interview was set up for late January.  

As luck would have it, in the weeks leading up to the interview, I found myself getting nearly eight hours of solid sleep almost every night while in Mexico. Yes, it occurred to me that that’s what vacation is all about – but I’ve been vacationing in sunny Mexico for many Januarys and I’ve never slept as long or as well as this year. I didn’t want to over-think it, but I did wonder what was going on. (I also wondered whether I might no longer qualify for the CBT-I session as a result.)  

The interview went fine and I qualified for the program. It seems the main criteria is that you are open/curious about your behaviour, and that your expectations about attending are reasonable. In other words, I shouldn’t expect that on completion of the program I would magically sleep a certain number of hours/night. That wasn’t a problem, as I’ve never been concerned with how much sleep is normal or optimal. The curiosity part was also not a problem, as I had already started thinking about why I was sleeping so well in Mexico as compared to here.    

I soon realized there was a big difference in my “going to bed” routine in Mexico versus at home. In Mexico, because I’m in a condo with friends, at the end of the evening we all simply retire to bed. At home I usually fall asleep on the couch watching tv, eventually toddling off to bed. But, I’ve always known that if I take much time getting to bed from the couch, I wake up and can’t fall back asleep.  

The first week in Mexico I had a hard time falling asleep without having the tv on to distract my mind. But, I couldn’t just wake others by turning on the tv, so I had no choice. About a week into the holiday, I had pretty much adjusted to just going to bed and falling asleep. I have long recognized that my falling asleep on the couch is a habit, but I had never really tried to break it. Was the key to more sleep simply breaking myself of that habit? I certainly was curious…  

The CBT-I program started just last week so it’s too early to say much about it. But, it has caused me to question the nature of my sleep routines: to explore whether they’re based on habit or biology. I’m a morning person, but I never stopped to ask myself if that necessarily means I must start my day well before the sun rises, as I normally do. 

I started thinking about what I do when I’m up at the crack of dawn. I typically start the day enjoying a coffee over the morning newspaper. Then I catch the first edition of BBC news, which happens to run at 5:00 a.m. locally. That’s followed by a 6 a.m. stretch program on tv that I usually do. After that I turn to my emails and other on-line news before heading to the gym or out for a walk. 

I reflected on the fact that in Mexico I didn’t sleep the morning away – but I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn, as normal. Ironically, my morning routine in Mexico wasn’t that different: I didn’t catch the BBC and I had to do the stretching on my own, but otherwise I did everything I normally do – but a few hours later, when other folks were up. Hmm… Maybe I was on to something. On my return home, I decided to try adopting my Mexico morning routine. So, instead of hopping out of bed at 4 a.m. – something I normally do, I gave myself permission to turn over and try to fall asleep for a few more hours and then do all my usual things. 

I’m pleased to say: so far, so good – I’ve managed to sleep longer since being home. Of course, only time will tell whether this new leaf – this new morning routine – will last. I’m guessing there’s a reason the CBT-I program runs for 5 weeks – I imagine it takes at least that long to truly adopt new habits. I guess I’ll find out … 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


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