Sweet delicious sleep! Sometimes so refreshing, sometimes so elusive. Did you know that scientists still haven’t figured out exactly why we need to sleep? Why can’t we just get horizontal and binge-watch “This is Us” on Hulu, or play Minecraft or Candy Crush until the light of dawn and feel refreshed and alert?
Sadly, it seems we have been slow to catch up on the evolution train, our natural rhythms from paleolithic times resisting the pull of the modern world. This ancient rhythm is so embedded in our genetics that we have not yet fully adapted to artificial light (Thank you, Edison! Truly the best thing since sliced bread!), much less able caught up to the warp speed of life today.
Why care about that? If you wake up every morning saying “Good Morning, God!” have all the energy you need to live your best and most awesome life without prematurely killing yourself – CONGRATULATIONS! You have discovered the secret elixir, and have no need to read on. In that case, go forth and prosper…. catch up on Season 12 of The Voice, or play with your kids….
For the rest of you who wake up saying, “Good God! Morning!”, is this YOU???
- Struggle with falling asleep?
- Wake up in the middle of the night, and can’t return to the land of nod? (Ugh, this is my monster under the bed!)
- Wake up exhausted when your alarm goes off?
- Find yourself nodding off at the 2pm staff meeting?
- Leave work thinking only about going straight to bed, but first, you’ve gotta feed the hungry beasts (and the pets, too), take the kids to practice, make sure they did their homework….. then you get that second wind around 9 or 10pm. You’re good for a few more hours now, right!?
- Find your pants don’t fit like they used to, darn that dryer, shrinking them again!
- Find it way too easy to make excuses not to go out with friends or have that weekend BBQ, because you don’t have energy for one more thing?
Why do you care? Sleep is the single most important priority in your self-care! Lack of sleep results in:
- Fuzzy thinking, and poor decisions, like deciding not to go to bed until midnight when you have an early morning meeting. Research shows that people who routinely get less than 6 hours of sleep each night perform more poorly on coordination tests than those who are legally drunk?! Yikes!!!
- Difficulty in completing tasks. Fat chance of getting a high quality output.
- Irritability. Ok, only some of us can blame lack of sleep for this. The rest have other issues…..
- Weight gain. It messes with your hormones, increasing your appetite and decreasing your metabolism. There is nothing wrong with your clothes dryer!
- Premature aging and death. Like we need anything to speed THAT up! Your body uses the downtime of sleep to do much needed repairs, and to clean up the oxidative stress from the day. There is a growing body of research showing risk of premature death from heart attack, stroke, not to mention the other scary things happening when your body is overly stressed.
- Digestive woes. Good-bye sleep, Hello indigestion! Your belly would love to have at least 12 hours to patch and repair the damage from those nacho’s supremo and Bennigan’s Death by Chocolate (I love chocolate, but, so aptly named!). Did you know most of cells of your digestive tract die and are replaced every 1-2 weeks! Research indicates that the prime time for digestive repair is between 10pm and 2am, and if you ain’t sleepin’, it ain’t happening’, at least not in optimal manner.
- Losing out on pure enjoyment of life! Many of us are so sleep deprived, we don’t know how it feels to be rested, with a full tank of gas (in a good way).
So, what’s the magical solution?
Sorry, if I have led you on….I am pulling back the curtain on the Wizard – there is no “magic bullet”, it’s up to YOU to make sleep a priority. If you are one of the lucky ones, who can sleep when you want, you’re just too busy, this one is EZ PZ 123Z.
- Just Do It! Be an adult, and go to bed by, say, 10pm! Think of yourself as a young child who doesn’t know better, and (your better half is) “Father Knows Best”. Shoo yourself off to the Land of Nod before the appointed hour. Sure, its hard to do, especially the first few nights. Isn’t this better than premature death?!!!
- Be alarm-free on weekend mornings. This is a great way to find out just how much sleep you thrive on, once you whittle down your sleep deficit.
If you are less fortunate, and sleep simply eludes you, check out Arianne Huffington’s Book The Sleep Revolution in addition to the following suggestions. Worst case, if her book is boring, maybe it’ll put you to sleep! 🙂
- Avoid eating heavy or highly seasoned meals after 7pm. Many experts recommend making dinner your lightest meal of the day. Trust me, you don’t want a second helping of that spicy Indian curry dish when it comes up for another vote as reflux at 2am.
- Avoid intense exercise the three hours before bedtime. This tends to rev you up, and you want your motor idling slowly.
- Avoid naps during the day. Exception – you can take a brief nap lasting no more than 10-20 minutes. You will be astonished at how much 10 minutes can revive your energy!
- Get frisky before bedtime, sex can be very relaxing.
- Progressive relaxation meditation can lull you back to sleep. If not, hey! At least you are more relaxed! Here is a link to Jamie Zimmerman’s version on YouTube. Relax and Relieve Stress Meditation
- Breath-based meditations. Dr. Andrew Weil teaches the “4-7-8 Breath” that quickly relaxes your mind and body Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 Breath
- Develop a practice of bedtime prep.
- A hot bath or shower if you find that relaxing
- Put lavender essential oil in your diffuser a few hours before bedtime
- Make your bedroom environment conducive to sleep, including blocking all sources of light (or wear an eyeshade) and ensuring the room is cool. If you find it helpful, use “white-noise” sound, or just run a fan if you find that soothing.
- Turn off electronic devices with a screen at least an hour before bedtime, to give your brain time to wind down. If you have a TV in your bedroom, don’t walk, RUN, to your bedroom and remove it!!! Nothing good comes from watching TV in bed, in the sleep department or the romance department, if you get my drift….
- Read in bed before bedtime. BUT, read a real book, not e-book, and, this can backfire if it is a real page-turner. When my daughter was into Harry Potter, we would read a chapter together, she would go to sleep, and I would take the book to bed to finish devouring it at 2am! Now I read something interesting but more sedate, like a self-help book.
- Herbal sleep aids are non-addictive and relatively safe to use occasionally. Find the right one for you, everyone is different. Ask your friends and Mr. Google for ideas, and see The Sleep Revolution for more.
If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, try these ideas, that sometimes work for me (sometimes, not so much):
- As much as possible, avoid turning lights on, including screens on your electronic devices. Light fools your brain into thinking its morning, the last thing you need right now!
- Meditate (see above). It’s easy to forget this technique when you are trying so hard to sleep, and it works really well if you give it a chance.
- Listen to soothing music, or (my favorite trick) to an audio recording in spoken voice, like an audio book, interview or podcast. As with a reading choice, sometimes this backfires, and I get interested in the topic. In that case, I figure it must have been a message I needed to hear…..
- Try reading with a small book-light for a few minutes. Same caveat as above, no page-turners, or you will get sucked into the story.
I would LOVE to hear your ideas – how do YOU get enough sleep? How do you get BACK to sleep, what is your bedtime routine? Share, please! Speaking of sharing, if you like this information, please share it with your family and friend on social media, or, as in ancient times, by email or printed copy or pass it along in the oral storyteller tradition. Whatever works for you!