FRIDAY OPEN THREAD: Let’s Talk About Sleep, Because It Can Be Really Hard!

I have an embarrassing confession: every time I’m single I have insomnia.

Falling asleep has never been easy for me, but when I’m single it’s so much worse. Instead of being able to focus on the person lying next to me, I’m left alone with my thoughts.

For a lot of us, bedtime is when our minds decide to remind us of every worry, every task, every mistake. As someone with anxiety and OCD, I especially dread these hours.

Four years ago my insomnia was at its worst. I found a therapist who gave me several tools I still use to this day. Instead of lying in bed for hours trying to sleep, she encouraged me to get up and do an activity. So much of my late night anxiety was secondary anxiety, anxiety about the anxiety. I was anxious that my anxious brain would make sleep impossible. Placing less importance on the act of falling asleep allowed it to actually happen.

I also started meditating.

My sleeping improved. I still had to listen to music, but it improved. And then I met my ex and it really improved. After a few months I started needing music again, but throughout most of our relationship I slept pretty well.

This summer I realized that my insomnia had returned with intensity. I was waking up multiple times throughout the night and usually around 5 or 6 in the morning I’d give up trying to go back to sleep and just start my day.

By the afternoon I felt exhausted.

The last few weeks I’ve been really trying to create better habits around sleep. I know the actual magic cure would be if I started meditating again but I’m struggling to get back into that. For now, I’ve set new rules around my sleep enemy number one: my phone.

When I’m getting close to going to sleep I queue up whatever music I’m going to listen to and then plug my phone in away from my bed. Then I’ll spend some time writing or reading. Right before turning off my light I’ll click play on the music but try not to glance at any notifications.

And then when I wake up, I resist the temptation to go over to my phone. In fact, even when I’m actually waking up to start my day I’ve tried to make my first activity reading a book even if it’s only for ten minutes.

I can already feel my sleep improving tremendously. Turns out a phone filled with the nightmares of the world, not to mention interpersonal stresses, is not great at reducing anxiety and inducing sleep.

I’d love to get to a place where I don’t need music to sleep when I’m alone. But until then here are the artists I turn to most: King Princess, Solange, Adult Mom, Vivek Shraya, Lady Lamb, Wafia, and a playlist I made that’s Mitski’s “Two Slow Dancers” repeated ten times.

What about you?? Do you struggle with insomnia? How do you work through it? Or, just generally, do you have a routine around sleep? What are the last things you do before going to sleep and the first things you do upon waking up?

Also if you have suggestions for good sleep music please share!


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Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is currently working on a short film about Gordo from Lizzie McGuire’s transition (it’s canon) and a million other projects. She also runs social media for I Heart Female Directors. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 45 articles for us.

83 Comments

  1. I find it increasingly hard because of the temptation of technology. Also – as I get older (I don’t work/work from home), I find it less like I ‘need’ a bedtime, less like I’m tired from one and of course nobody imposes it.

    What I’ve started doing lately is getting rid of all computes except Alexa then playing Akinator on her until I’m tired. I’m not sure how but this helps? I think because my brain has to work overtime and that tires me out?

    • Yes! When you work from home it’s really a different experience. In some ways it’s great, because I can wake up naturally, and stress less if I’m having a hard time falling asleep. But it does limit structure.

      I had a therapist who confessed to falling asleep playing a phone game, which seemed counterproductive. But I love that you found a way to fall asleep playing a game without having to look at a screen!

      • That’s reassuring esp from a therapist – I was thinking having a light in my room at all seemed a bit counter productive (I use a sleep mask but have light sensitivity). But it really helps 🙂

        I find that in summer I wake up early (around 7) and in winter the opposite (around 10). I wonder if we restructured society so we didn’t predominantly work 9-5s all year round, whether humans would hibernate more? I also feel more fresh in summer.

  2. I tend not to have trouble falling asleep, but the past few months I’ve had trouble staying asleep (stuff in my personal life and coordinating a move to a new city being the main culprits). I find that I sleep better on nights when I listen to the Sleep With Me podcast. It doesn’t work for everybody, but I always knock out within 20 minutes when I listen to it, and it’s got a good track record of putting me into a DEEP all-night sleep (as opposed to waking up at 2 am wondering if I switched a “donate” box with a “keep” box or similar).

  3. I have to have white noise to sleep, or my raging tinnitus drives me nuts. I have a little fan by my side of the bed at home, and bring an electronic noise machine with me when I travel. I also like to shower right before bed so I feel clean and relaxed when I’m getting comfy. Staying off phones or anything else with a screen is a great idea, the blue light messes with your body! I switch over to warm soft lighting when I start getting ready to sleep for the same reason.
    Sleeping with partners is hard for me, I’m like the Pea Princess – that bed gotta be smooth and flat and no toes poking me or I can’t stop being AWARE of them and then I get twitchy and end up scooting off the edge of the (king size) bed. Like, I seriously fell on the floor trying to get some space.

    • I feel like your experience sleeping with partners is way more normal! Honestly, if I could fall asleep spooning every night I would, even in the summer…… But this is not always how my partners feel and I can adapt. lol

      • I’ll be the big spoon for a minute, then ease away after they’re asleep or my arm starts falling off. Then I need to establish my safe space.
        oh yeah and I forgot to mention THE CATS. I CANNOT sleep with them in the room, they will snuggle and I will worry that I’ll crush them in my sleep and they poke my face and make my feet too warm. Sorry, mommy needs her beauty rest. My ex is so blasé about letting them run into the room after I’ve shut the door and gone to bed and GRRrrrrr
        Rabbits are even worse, how can I rest knowing that any little quiet munching sound could be the death of my phone charger?
        Let’s also give a shout-out to blinds that block light. I might have to get up at 5 during the week, but sleeping in on the weekend is so much easier when it stays dark in the room.

  4. Audiobooks (ones I’ve read before that aren’t too suspenseful, like the early Harry Potters) played back at 0.75 speed (and always narrated by someone with a British accent) is the way I can absolutely always get to sleep (and back to sleep). So I won’t have to look at my bright screen, I use an Alexa (I know, it’s spying on me, I know, Amazon is awful), so even if it’s in the middle of the night I can just say “read harry potter book 4 and set a sleep timer for an hour” and it lulls me back to sleep so fast!

    Also eye masks.

  5. Hello from a fellow problem sleeper! Before I met my girlfriend, I had a ROUTINE: go to bed *early* (like between 8:30pm-10pm early), use a white noise machine, keep my bedroom cool and dark, lavender sleep lotion from LUSH (it’s truly the best), comfy mattress, and visualization/meditation.

    Then I met my girlfriend and um… all those routines had a wrecking ball taken to them and more than once she has had to figure out how to support a sobbing girlfriend in bed because “I’m so tired, can’t make my mind stop, and every second I waste being upset is another second I’m not sleeping and also maybe I’m mad at you but maybe I’m not I don’t know” (you get the picture, sometimes I get irrationally mad at her for being able to sleep while I’m awake at 2am or for sleeping through her cat meowing while I wake up, sleep-deprived selves are not our best selves). Everything that could impact me does: her cat wakes me up, going to bed later than 10:30pm puts me on edge the next day, her mattress and I weren’t friends, WANTING to stay up and therefore doing so turns me into a zombie the next day.

    Things we’ve come up with:
    -No technology in the bed, I’m investing in a real deal alarm clock soon
    -I still use white noise (rain is my personal favorite)
    -Dark room
    -The understanding that I’m allowed to lock the cat out if I need to
    -Different bed times when necessary
    -Invested in a new mattress
    -Getting better about holding myself to my bed time boundaries and also verbalizing them to her
    -If I’m spiraling about things sometimes I ask her to tell me an unrelated story or just describe a beautiful nature scene she has seen (this used to be a solo coping skill I would use by searching youtube for forest or beach meditations)

  6. I have a weird sleeping cycle as well, I’ve actually had this since I was a kid. Back in June I started a new job and I make sure on work nights I’m in bed at 11 since I have to wake up at 6. Lately I wake up at different times during the night but usually I’m able to fall back asleep but if I’m not the whole day just drags for me. I feel like a big problem that I’m guilty of is being on my laptop before bed and sometimes I’m listening to music and I don’t mean slow tranquil stuff either! I’ve been told to meditate and turn off all electronics before bed and I really need to start doing that because I feel that could change my sleeping habits. When I remember I put an eye mask on before bed and that blocks out everything and I usually sleep better with that. The funny thing is when I wake up in the morning my eye mask is on the pillow next to me so sometime during the night I guess I take it off! So I guess I need to invest in a better eye mask!

  7. insomnia is the WORST. i honestly don’t think it can be overstated how much not sleeping fucks up everything.

    i have idiopathic insomnia, which means that even as an infant i couldn’t sleep – even now i’m lucky to get a few hours a night. i’ve been awake through croup, mono, bronchitis, pertussis, fevers, flus, colds, and every hangover and migraine i’ve ever had. anyone with sleep problems has all of my sympathy and love.

    sleep routines can be really helpful, especially when it comes to limiting technology. i have several white noise machines, a silk eye mask, special pillows, smooth sheets, an ideal room temperature, favorite relaxing teas, and a facial mist that i use each night to help me sleep. i love to travel but it usually takes me a few days to adapt to sleeping in new places, and i have a lot of trouble sleeping with partners. i don’t think of myself as super high maintenance in general, but my sleep needs are next-level.

    getting up in the middle of the night to take a break from trying to sleep is a really great habit to get into – sometimes just 20 minutes away from bed can make a difference. seconding the recommendation for lush’s sleepy lotion, and they also have some great relaxing bath bombs. i love yogi’s stress relief tea with cbd oil, vitruvi sleep mist, dohm white noise machines (the travel one is great!), and brooklinen sheets.

    hope y’all can get some sleep asap 🖤🖤🖤

  8. I don’t have insomnia but I do find that I have sleep related issues, stemming from not being able to put down electronics (specifically my phone). I’ll keep scrolling on instagram past every single self imposed limit I give myself, until eventually I pass out at like 1 am. ASMR has helped me greatly, along with reading for 15-30 minutes before bed.

  9. I don’t suffer from insomnia as my watch as been telling me I am not getting up at night. However, I did have a bad dream last night where feminist who align with colonialism & spew racist ideas about gender were hunting me as I was hiding. One was quoted at me she will finish what the British couldn’t. It has fucked with my mind a little & honest need a dip in the Pacific(Malibu colony is nice and quiet) is needed.

    How’s everyone’s week going? Mines has been kind of long. I’ve been the only person at my work a few times this week and it is wearing me down a little as one person can’t help three or even two people at a time with good service. I miss my bff, tired of hoping dating sites will finally work in my favor. I used an opening line(got it from FistYou podcast) and the person hearted the comment on tinder, but no reply. I didn’t know how go on from there. Another matched with me only to say her wife does not approve(OKC on this one). Not sure of what, which I asked, but got no response. On the plus side,

    I spent my Sunday at a bike co-op working on the bike I am building, and the got offered to stay afterward for a drink & smoke. Turns out they did have a woman & trans night event, but because they were not able to have a mechanic host the night it is on hold until they can find someone. Part of me wants to, but I am still learning. I also got to video chat with my bff while having a smoke there and she knows the person who use to host the nights. Even in SoCal everyone seems to know everyone. She also said she loves me more than she loves Lizzo, which I told her is blasphemous, but a very nice compliment. She will be back next month Yay! I think I will be at the beach Sunday morning for a swim to clear my mind.

      • Not a super new image, but one I really like – I was sick as hell when I went to this show but I got some great shots. This was Crystal Castles back before we found out about the shit Alice Glass was dealing with. I like that we get to share photos on Fridays on here!

        Crowd surfing in Salt Lake City

    • I’m sorry you had that dream! I’ve always been someone who has really vivid dreams, including nightmares. I usually write them down, but sometimes they’re so bad I decide not to so I can forget what happened.

      I’m happy your bff is back next month! Mine just visited me from New York. There really is nothing like getting to spend time with that one person.

      • I’ve thought about writing dreams down, but then not sure what to ever do with it. This was vivid enough that it put a downer on my morning. Thankfully, podcasts and new music changed my mood.

    • I also had a bad dream last about people who’d want me dead but we were traveling as a group and they mistook me for one of them til we were at this house with chronically ill and disabled kids on the bottom story and undocumented people in the top.

      It allowed me to get close enough to kill the one trying to instigate killing the kids and undocumented people, he was in disbelief I was vocally defending the “drains” on our society.The other people in the traveling group only wanted to maybe call the police but once that dude was saying “fuck the police, we can handle it ourselves” they started to back off in horror and helped me take down the other violent fucko.

      Didn’t matter that I “won” and the people in the house were now safe still felt adrenaline and fear when I woke up.
      Been kinda jumpy and wired all day today.

  10. I’m pretty sure I’ve plugged the BBC shipping forecast before, but I’m going to mention it again because it’s so soothing and puts me right to sleep. https://youtu.be/CxHa5KaMBcM
    I’ve also found that even though it’s tempting to be extremely warm and cozy in bed, keeping my room cooler at night helps me stay asleep.
    Except for reading before I go to sleep, I don’t watch TV, answer emails, do Duolingo lessons, or work in bed. I’m training my brain and body to start shutting down when I’m in bed, so I’m very strict with myself that sleeping and sex-having are the only things that happen in bed. I don’t know if psychology or sleep science supports this, but it feels like it’s working.
    And extra-strength sleepytime tea, ofc.

    • Sleep science totally supports the bedroom being only for sleep and sex ! I was in a clinical study using a neuro cognitive approach to sleep management and that was one of the first conditions set. It totally helped.

      The other thing I learned which was very significant was to give the power of sleep back to the body. The body knows what to do, and it will bounce back from lack of sleep. They had us deliberately restrict our sleep window, and after 4-5 days of that, every single participant had a catharsis and we slept so deeply, some of us for the first time in years. What a revelation that was.

      Also helpful was knowing that even if I think I haven’t slept a wink, my body has secretly been falling asleep for short periods all along. Ha ! Take that you unquiet hamster mind !

      All in all, the thing that stuck with me most was not to worry so much about sleep or no sleep. I “exist” inside a body that knows what to do if I’ll only get out of the way.

  11. I work a lot of night shifts, so sleep is a tricky beast that I proactively need to manage. This works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t at all. Add some day shifts that have me getting up at 5 am, and I’m a caffeine fueled zombie engine pulling into work.
    But! Ever since I’ve started prioritizing sleep, life has gotten so.much.better.
    Since I work in a two shift system, I‘ll tumble out of work around eight if I‘m lucky and around 9:30 if I’m not and have to start back again at 7:15.
    So, in between shifts, I sleep in an on call room underneath the roof of the hospital I work at, and minimize my commute to three minutes instead of 90. This means that those days are essentially „lost“ without friends and my own bed, but it means a lot more sleep.
    So much more. I even get to go for a walk or grocery shopping without having to sacrifice valuable pillow time.Also reception is horrible, which substantially reduces time spent on the phone.
    Honestly, my biggest problems are the phone, coffee, daylight and worry. (After taking the commute out of the equation).
    I was so jetlagged this winter, because ever since switching to daylight saving time in November there is so little daylight where I‘m at, that I couldn’t readjust. I‘ve invested in blue light lamps, in melatonin and this year I‘m going to get myself a light alarm clock.
    Honestly, shift work works a lot better for me than a regular 9-5, because sleep is a thing I have to consciously care for.
    Turning my phone off and getting the perfect curtains and not drinking coffee at such and such time is not a „ Yeah, I oughta..“ but a regular necessity.
    There’s no more TV or fanfiction that I sacrifice sleep for and even my friends are pretty much up to speed on whether we’re having brunch or going to the gym late.
    If I fail to fall asleep, it’s not because it‘s my fault, but because of my crappy schedule, and I don’t fuss so much anymore and make sure to play catch up whenever I can. It’s like I forgive myself a lot more for not sleeping and allow myself to sleep when I’m tired. Even if it‘s at ten am, after breakfast and I meant to get so much done today.

  12. The only time in my life I had trouble sleeping was when my work schedule was erratic. Like drew said, it became more about anxiety about the anxiety.

    Now my schedule is steady and sleep and I are bff’s and within 3 minutes of rolling onto my left side into the fetal position I’m out.

  13. Uh I’m really good at staying awake for long periods at time then sleeping like the dead because I’m dead tired. When that’s not happening I read or night bake, often something breakfasty that will last for days.
    Don’t have insomnia per se just naturally a night owl stuck in this stupid early bird world. Had a sleep study done to me and everything because my dad has an actual facts sleep disorder.
    See it’s a real disorder when you can fall into REM or what just by sitting down, but it’s a fake something something circadian rhythm disorder caused by industrialized society when you follow the correct pattern and process of sleep just at the manufactured “wrong” time of day that can’t really be “fixed” by medication.
    Boy was my mom pissed about that one, real waste of money trying to prove her husband passing his faults to her kids.

    I’m gleeful about it because that monitoring strap really fucking hurt my IBTC chest and some strain of neurodiversity solidarity against neurotypical pigeonholing.

    When I was a kid masturbation used to help when I wasn’t tired, but as an adult who has had sex (one all night long like the AC/DC song) does the opposite of help. It’s more like a wake up button now.

    Once when illness and a medication would only let me sleep 4 hours at a time and only stay awake for also 4 hours at a time this 6 long youtube video of waves and a lullaby did help
    But no idea if it still exists or where the user might have got or made it from.

    I do find Gabriel Faure’s In Paradisum very chill

    so here’s that.

  14. Argh, sleep… when I am with my girlfriend, I seem to sleep extra bad… I sleep very lightly and get up multiple times to go to the toilet (I feel like I need to or might, so that if I wouldn’t go, I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I would need to go soon…) and have a hard time to get back to sleeping
    (it’s like a little somebody in me who monitors and comments on every effort towards sleeping – and makes it impossible so just let go and sleep…).
    The other day she decided to leave in the early morning so both of us could possibly get some sleep instead of being exhausted all day… this was a reasonable decision, but I feel bad that I just don’t seem to be able to relax enough to sleep properly so that both of us can rest…
    What could I do!?!?

    • I can’t help you, other than say maybe accept it? I know that’s prob not the answer you ”want”.. but I absolutely cannot sleep in the same bed as anyone and would honestly rather lie on the floor in another room!

      • I would prefer that too. There’s a number of studies about partners getting better sleep in separate rooms, and I feel like that would be a great set up for me. I’ve heard some people get offended by the idea, like it means you’re rejecting your partner, but damn some people just need some alone time to sleep!

    • Get back in to cuddle/fuck/whatever your thing is, by all means! If they’re the kind of person like Snow says that might get offended, getting in for even ten mins in the morning to snuggle can offset that

  15. Y’all I have a dvd copy of the 1988 Hairspray with commentary from John Waters and Ricki Lake recorded in 2001. He talks about Eminem and white kids being into rap being just like the white kids in the early 60’s being into black music of the time.
    My dvd is aged 18, just the way Jeanine Stifler likes it.

    I’m dying.

  16. To add to what other commenters have mentioned, I like the German shipping forecast even though I don’t speak a lick of German. It streams daily and goes for about 20 minutes, you can find it by searching for seewetterbericht (marine weather report).

    Then you can also read beautiful photography books in low light, I am reading one from artist Liu Bolin at the moment. Landscapes are also nice, it’s like travelling without the plane ticket.

    Or for a variation on that theme, I read/listen to picture books from pibo.jp

    These are some of my obscure suggestions, I hope you can find sleep soon.

        • Well the whole thing just made me giggle so I thought it was worth carrying on 🙂
          Also now I want to write a story where for some reason the BBC is mysteriously invested in anime and fanfic, and there’s a character in the background whispering to themselves, “no no it’s boats…just boats.”
          I seriously need to go to bed now but while I lie there trying to fall asleep I’m going to entertain myself trying to come up with the backstory that would lead to these facts making sense. At all. Bonus if they make sense together.

          • I will leave the plotting of this to younger and more agile minds, and remain the middle aged woman who doesn’t understand the kids these days and their fascination with international shipping news. Sleep tight everyone.

  17. Unrelated note, but the video for the new Mannequin Pussy song Drunk II has the singer at one point making out with a girl, along with a few cis-het(?) couples making out and a few other lgbtq couples.

  18. I have to dilate for half an hour twice a day. I try not to do it just before sleep, but sometimes a girl has to stretch those love muscles out, which can make it hard to get to sleep right after. Doing it the second I wake up at 5am really helps get my day started though.
    Dilating as I write this

  19. I don’t have insomnia but a lot of sleep problems ever since I was a kid – I have a brain with no off switch amongst other things.
    I have to be very careful about how much caffeine I have. Ideally, I would also cut out tech, but I rely on tech for everything; alarm clock, books, music, etc etc so it just isn’t an option for me. Meditation is very good too and I really should get back in the habit of doing that too!
    I can only ever fall asleep with my face shoved into my pillow and hands underneath and idk if that’s healthy when I wake up with numb hands but it is what it is I guess

    • I am also a hands underneath pillow person!

      Also it’s funny that everything being on our phones is this great advancement, but actually if I had my old alarm clock iPod speaker it’d probably be healthier for me…

  20. That seems to line up with your username, unfortunately. Sleeping like that can’t be good for you! I have recently been trying to get my friends to sleep in hammocks, have you ever given that a go? Random, but hammocks are so fun!

  21. This is a tough one. More often enough, I drink a little more wine than I should. But not always, and even if I do, it needs help. I started putting on a playlist of music by the band Over the Rhine. They’re classy and slow-to-medium-paced, but with rich lyrics that always capture my attention sufficiently. Since I’ve been living with my partner, we fall asleep to documentaries, and if I need extra help, I read during them. But no phones, ever.

  22. I have the opposite problem! I can fall asleep and stay asleep just fine by myself, but I sleep horribly if there’s another person in the bed. So if I have any dates over to my house…sorry, y’all gotta head out by 10 pm, 11 if it’s the weekend.

    To help me get to sleep I like to read something boring like a textbook or a random Wikipedia article on my phone. I probably shouldn’t be on my phone that late at night but I have “night mode” turned on so I feel like that helps?

  23. I’m usually someone who sleeps really well whatever’s happening around, but this summer has been killing me. First it was the mosquitoes waking me up at 3 a.m. (unfortenately it seems that whatever essential oil I used wore off at that time). I made it through the terrible heat we had in Europe (I slept with a wet towel for a blanket and ice packs, it feels gross, but I slept). And now, it’s been a week and I cannot sleep before 2 a.m. My brain won’t shut down and my whole chest feels strangely heavy. I think it’s because I recently understood that I am gay (an not bi or ace or whatever I previously thought) and I’m starting to experience what it feels like to be lonely, to want to be with someone (I have been intimate with women before but I’ve never had a girlfriend). It’s kind of awesome, I feel more alive and like a full person than ever during the day, but at night I’m really struggling. If anyone’s French around here, Sophie Marie Larouy’s podcast A bientot de te revoir helps falling asleep sometimes (it’s really silly, a bit absurd, so it helps disconnecting from reqlity). I also sometimes wish I had a weighted blanket, has anyone experience with that ?

    • My ex got a weighted blanket and it seemed to help her a lot. At least it made it harder for her to steal all the other covers, and less able to reach over and put her foot on me. Win/win!

    • I definitely relate to having more trouble sleeping when in the middle of a transitional period in life, even a positive one! It’s like all day you’re trying so hard to embrace the changes and be excited about your identity and all the possibilities and then when it’s time to sleep it’s just impossible to wind down.

      I have also considered a weighted blanket…

  24. Delta Sleep System by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson! My ex used to listen to it because she had insomnia. Falling/staying asleep isn’t a huge issue for me, but I listen to it when trying to fall asleep on planes and it helps tremendously.

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