It's also been helpful to understand that a lot of my insomnia was caused by a delayed sleep cycle. If my circadian rhythm had its way, I'd go to bed at 2:30 in the morning, and wake up at about 11:45. Before I understood this, I'd either try to force myself to fall asleep early, which never worked, or I'd stay up all hours and wake up wasted. I don't fight the rhythm so much anymore. I try to be in bed by 12:30, and since I work at home, and have a very flexible schedule that allows me to sleep a little later than most people, that usually works fine.
I have to be careful though, because the body's natural cycle is a powerful thing, and it's easy to backslide into bad habits. For example, if I'm on a tough deadline, and I spend a few nights working into the wee hours, I'll find myself back at square one — wanting to hit the sack at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., then sleep until late morning. When that happens, the whole sleep experiences starts to unravel. I go to bed at different hours each night, I abandon my bedtime ritual, I find myself lying in bed, brooding about all the work I didn't get done. It takes a real effort to turn things around. But now I know how to do that.
Raising a Child with Good Sleep Habits
Ironically, there was an upside to being such a night owl. When my daughter Carmela was a baby I intentionally let the rhythm take over. I was a natural for night duty, which allowed my wife to sleep soundly and wake up fresh for work in the morning. I'd sleep until late morning, work until early evening, my wife would hit the sack after putting the baby to bed, and I'd take the night shift without breaking a sweat.
Carmela is five now, and a pretty serious night-owl in her own right. From the moment she graduated from the crib, she refused to stay in her big girl bed. Her day was not yet finished. There were puzzles to finish and stuffed animals to attend to. We'd tried to put her to bed at 8:30, but that made her miserable, and she'd have trouble sleeping all night.
So we came up with a new routine: now she gets a bath, puts her PJs on, brushes her teeth, gets her stuffed animals in order, and then crawls into bed. We read her a few books, then she's allowed to play quietly in her room until she gets sleepy. She usually plays until 9:30, then goes to bed on her own and sleeps through the night. If I hadn't learned to understand my own sleep problems, I might still be trying to force her to bed an hour before her body was ready for it. Without knowing it, I'd be teaching her to be an insomniac, just like her old man.