I have found what works for me in a noisy apartment to gain a better night of sleep! I can rejoice. For the past number of weeks I have slept every night - like a log. I woke up refreshed, ready for the day and more creative than ever before. I would say I woke up with a spring in my step. I am a morning person, (unless interrupted sleep happens that is and I have learnt that now). I felt energised and ready for the day ahead. Some mornings I'd wake up with great ideas and ready to put together the next programming exercise, write a blog post and my productivity was increased. On a general sense I felt like my overall form was better, I wasn't as tired exercising, I was simply more energised. The past few weeks I have felt invigorated, excited and motivated to start everyday.
The trains started back a few nights ago and I woke up the next morning a little frustrated and I didn't know why. It sounds so fundamental but I had obviously gotten used to trains running at 4am, waking up and falling back to sleep again. I was a little groggy without any reason. I felt sluggish. It occurred to me really quickly after that. It was all a result of ONE thing - interrupted sleep. I can function on very little sleep, two hours, three hours on a few nights. I've climbed mountains on very little sleep. In fact it is really exciting that you get up at 1am to get to the summit and you gather all your strength to get there. The view at the top is always worth it. I've even slept in mountain cabins with little to no sleep and I've expected that and still felt more energised. However, interrupted sleep in your home, that's a different story altogether.
According to researchers at John Hopkins Hospital, a short amount of sleep is more beneficial than a long amount of interrupted sleep (link is below). Over long periods of time, it can impact brain chemistry, shorten your life-span and we will go into survival mode. We think we are being woken due to a threat and that causes consequences over a long period of time. The study found that it impacts your mood after only two nights.
Context also matters, I grew up in front of a racecourse in Limerick, where, it was and still is very quiet. I remember working in Dublin and going home for the weekend, sleeping an entire night and feeling more exhausted at home because I had finally gotten a full night of sleep. It was noisy in Dublin too. I lived in the north side of the city across from what we would say at home, 'a not so nice area', and there was plenty of times people would be screaming on the road outside or shouting to each other. This was in contrast to living in Galway sleeping in an apartment in the suburbs where you can see the sea, horses were behind the apartment block and also at the roundabout at the end of the road and it was pure quietness.
I always had some techniques for combating sleep and stress - see post regarding biofeedback. I have these strategies built up over time. I know what to do during these times. It's a standard process. Usually our brains are pretty good at telling us when we don't feel safe so anxiety works in a way that tells us to get to safety. When you are under stress this can be a case of telling ourselves that we are safe, for me that has worked in the past. However, interrupted noise still causes alarms to go off - as is normal for every human usually. It is in our 2,000,000 year old brains to protect and conserve ourselves as well as become alert to a threat.
So getting back to the point, the trains started back a few nights ago. I have found a solution that I want to share as I feel so grateful that I found a solution for this. I have an Alexa at home and now I tell it to play sleep sounds. You can choose what types and for how long you want to run the sounds for with a simple command - Alexa open sleep sounds - Alexa set sleep timer for 7 hours (or however long you want the sounds to play for). You can enable that skill on Alexa and look up the site - sleep sounds, it can play white noise or other sounds. Right now I have used this for the past few nights successfully and I wake up so refreshed. It's quite funny the difference it has made. I don't hear any neighbours and it is a pleasure to sleep with the sounds of the mountain lake or river in my bedroom.
I needed that contrast - see post regarding contrast. I needed to have a few weeks of amazing sleep, sleeping like a log and that feeling of waking up refreshed and ready for the day in contrast to a few nights with the train passing by for me to realise how much my sleep was being disturbed. Perhaps I was used to the trains waking me up and me falling back to sleep over and over again. I even went as far as exhausting myself during the day with exercise so I would fall asleep and then wake up even more tired than before after the trains beside the apartment block speed by.
It's right in plain sight and as we are creatures of habit we can fall into these patterns quite quickly convincing ourselves that 'it's fine' as you prioritise something else and stick in earplugs to do the job. The issues with earplugs are that 1) they are uncomfortable 2) they don't actually address the issue and 3) interrupted noise won't be drowned out by earplugs only constant noise will be dampened. I used to wear them working in a pub/club as a student, you can still hear almost everything including taking orders for people's drinks. I still wear earplugs in libraries when I study or when I need to concentrate on something important. I now use noise cancelling headphones on airplanes but also used to wear earplugs when travelling. It drowns out the majority but will not be helpful with a disruptive loud noise, you will still wake or be startled with that.
So I would say, whoever reads this if you have trouble waking up in the night - you may not even know why, it could be to do with external forces that you have gotten used to and a good solution is to play some sleep sounds. Let me tell you that your nerves will thank you as you will be much more serene once you find a solution for a noisy sleeping environment. You will be more creative, relaxed, energised in the morning, more alert - your body is like an engine in a car, it needs some time to recharge the battery and that means good quality sleep every single night. Quality is better than quantity as stated in the study I have linked below this article. So even a little amount of sleep that is good sleep is better than interrupted sleep for all types of reason - I've linked another article from WebMD below.
There are also playlists on Spotify that you can have on loop too. It's a simple, yet effective, solution for a problem that you cannot change. It also allows your brain to relax and go through each sleep cycle. You will feel the benefits are one night after you find the sound that suits you the best. Let's see what the next few nights bring. I feel happy to have found a solution. Good luck, you will figure out what works and it is the best solution until I find a quieter environment.
Some other hacks include using biofeedback which I've written about in the Biofeedback blog.
Image source: https://www.maxandmaude.net/is-your-dog-cat-sleeping-normally-pet-sleeping-info/