My Sleep Journey
I've long had an interesting relationship with sleep. While in the Army, I picked up the wonderful skill of being able to sleep anywhere under nearly any circumstance: under a bunk in South Carolina, on/in/under a HMMWV in Germany, near a Chinook (massive dual rotor helicopter) landing pad in Kuwait, on an airstrip in Iraq, or in any number of airports waiting to fly back home. The most interesting was learning to shrug off incoming mortar fire in the early days of the Iraq occupation. The first few times mortar fire landed within a kilometer of me or so was unnerving, but in short order, you get accustomed to sitting up and thinking "Nothing hurts and I don't hear screaming, so we are good" and lay back down to sleep. It's amazing how fast you learn to fall back asleep when most people would be grabbing their closest possessions and running for their lives.
Upon coming home, I found sleep to be a different beast. There was blue light from personal devices intruding, every noise was an insurgent, my back constantly ached, and paranoia lurked in every shadow. My proud sleep-anywhere skill was now just a memory and something needed to change. Unbeknownst to me, this was the beginning of my sleep journey that brought me to the Bed Block. I needed to understand the academic side of sleep which started with a module in my Psychology 101 class. I was hooked on the processes our body and brain engage in and why, as well as the chemical processes that occur during different sleep stages. Why do we as a species spend over 30% of our lives unconscious, but really do the bare minimum to support our very real need for quality sleep? I had many more questions than answers. This just cemented the idea that this was way more important than I ever realized in shaping me into a quality human being.
I read about the blue lights on phones, tablets, and computer screens, so I removed them an hour before bedtime. I dug into setting moods and moments, removed my bedroom TV, and picked up a humidifier that doubled as a white noise machine. I organized my room so that what little "office" space I had was gone. My bedroom was dedicated to sleep in order to keep my brain focused on what I was there to do: shut it down. I lit a candle and meditated (part of the PTSD therapy recommended by my doc at the VA). I grabbed some blackout curtains to stifle the early morning sun that penetrated the cracks of my blinds. Painting the room a relaxing light blue-grey instantly changed the feel. To soothe an Army-related frostbite injury, I added a heated blanket to the foot of my bed. I capped alcohol consumption at 9pm and caffeine at 2pm. I have a no-electronic-devices-in-bed policy and try to stick to a nightly ritual to bring all of these practices in line with my desire for a better night’s rest.
While this sounds like a lot, these concepts were phased in over years and have significantly impacted my sleep for the better. A high quality memory foam mattress to decrease my back pain and my sleep plan of attack was complete-ish! Fast forward a few years and a couple of kids later... I was playing city league softball--hardly the competitive type I would like to believe I can play at--but a sport nonetheless. When legging out a wicked lined ground ball, I stepped awkwardly on the bag, causing my left ankle to roll terribly, all within days of Bryce Harper doing a similar nasty-looking roll on first base for me to conveniently demonstrate to my friends. This was the same ankle I rolled multiple times in training exercises and while patrolling in the Army. Unfortunately, I am no longer a tough guy, and I can’t exactly duck tape my loafers like I used to my combat boots, so I needed to baby this thing back to health.
Given that my feet are always painfully cold, I needed to have thick blankets on my bed, and being that my ankle was swollen and throbbing, I couldn’t have these heavy sheets weighing down my foot and ankle. The pressure of the tucked sheets was quite painful. I hopped out of bed and ransacked my closet and garage to create a little tent under my sheets. This was hugely successful in achieving the room/pressure relief I craved while maintaining the warmth I needed. Once my ankle healed, I removed the block only to find both a physical void and a longing for the freedom of movement. I placed the block back beneath my healthy feet and knew I might be on to something. After chatting with my wife and a few amigos, I decided to run to the fabric store to pick up materials to create some prototype blocks for others to test out. Much to my happiness I received rave reviews and great feedback about how the increased room at the foot of the bed helped others to sleep better as well.
Speaking with professionals while researching and developing a prototype out of my garage and soliciting honest feedback from users led me to my final shape. This allows for a variety of heights and closeness regarding the proximity of foot to block, depending on your preference. Testing with my friends and family allowed me to identify particular needs for fabrics and the ability to wash the cover. I treat the cover with an antibacterial coating in order to decrease the wash demand as well. This helps to increase the longevity of the inner core, which should easily last for years under normal wear and tear.
The purpose of this blog, as well as the Bed Block itself, is to help increase a thirst for learning, to seek out ways to better ourselves and to ultimately help anyone to get just a few more winks than they did last night. I will be providing tips and guidance that I consume and regurgitate, as well as commentary from sleep professionals that assist me. As the Bed Block progresses, I will do what I can to help further sleep research and will be targeting a cause near and dear to my hear: the ailments and difficulties of combat veterans, be they American, Canadian, German, Georgian, British or any other dozen or so gents and ladies I saw in Iraq or other locations serving humanity across the globe.
Thank you for being part of my journey and let me know if there is anything I can do to help point you in the right direction for your sleep needs (keeping in mind that I am not a doctor, or medical professional...just guy with a lot of foam and great ideas!).