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How a Change in Routine Opened the Door for Insomnia

On an academic level, I know that maintaining a routine during the day helps you regulate sleep at night. Eating meals at consistent times helps set your circadian rhythm. Having a nightly wind-down routine is good sleep hygiene. I repeat these tips all the time in my professional life. But I relearned that lesson on a personal level last month when my routine got thrown out of whack.

I’m a creature of habit

I’ve eaten the same thing for breakfast almost every day for the past 10 years. I workout most days around 5 p.m. and then eat dinner.  And I’ve got my “get in PJs → watch The Daily Show → read for 20 minutes before bed” wind-down routine down pat. I wonder if Trevor Noah knows the important role that he plays in my life.

A break in my routine

At the start of last month, I had to work an evening shift for 3 days. That wouldn’t have been a big deal for most people. But the change in my schedule threw me completely off-kilter. I ate “early bird” dinners that week, which meant I was starving at bedtime. It was tough to concentrate late in the evening when my brain has been trained to start winding down.

I was getting to sleep much later in the evening, but I couldn’t sleep in, so I was sleep-deprived throughout the day. That also made it hard to complete my daily workout. And when I could finally get into bed at the end of the night, I was mentally wired. It was hard to fall asleep even though I was exhausted. Above all else, I was frustrated that such a minor and temporary shift in my schedule disrupted my sleep so dramatically. I hate that insomnia is seemingly always lurking in the background, waiting for an opening.

Getting back to normal

At the end of my weird work week, I got back into my routine as quickly as possible. I resumed my regular mealtimes, got my workouts in, and revived my wind-down routine. Fortunately, it only took a few days to re-regulate my sleep. That again highlighted how important my daily routines are for my sleep. My predictable days may seem boring to many, but they are crucial for me.

Accepting my vulnerability to insomnia

It’s upsetting to me that my sleep gets disrupted so easily. Plenty of people work rotating shifts and adapt. I know lots of healthy sleepers who can fall asleep whenever the opportunity presents itself, regardless of when they ate dinner or whether they read before bed.

It’s frustrating that I have to pay such close attention to my schedule and routines in order to get good sleep. But once I finish throwing my adult temper tantrum, I accept that this is likely a lifelong vulnerability for me. People with diabetes have to continuously monitor their blood sugar and limit carbs. People with arrhythmia may need a pacemaker to regulate their heart rate.

In the big scheme of things, maintaining a daily routine is hardly something to whine about...even when The Daily Show takes a hiatus and I have to watch The Office instead. I blame you, Trevor!

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