This morning I woke up at 4:20 with a bit of a start. It was kind of like the start you have when you have that first sleep for more than 20 minutes with a new baby. “Wait, is the baby still alive?” is your first thought. In this case I thought, “Wait, did I really sleep all night?” “Wait, did I have a dream?”
That’s because quality sleep has long evaded me. Having dreams is so rare for me. Why? Because dreams require a certain level of quality sleep. I’ve battled getting to sleep, staying asleep, getting up a million times to pee and everything in between. Personally, I know my anxious mind has long been the culprit for my problems. Other factors include electronics, alcohol, lights, stress, inactivity, overactivity and diet.
Last night was the perfect cocktail for good sleep. I’ll tell you why:
- I had a great workout
- I was productive toward my goals that day
- I ate really well
- I didn’t have any screen time after 7
- We read for an hour before bed
- I had warm tea
- No alcohol
- No heavy late night meal
- Journaled before bed
In his book Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stevenson lays out some amazing research and habits you can put into practice to get better sleep. I heard from him in a podcast that rounded up three amazing minds, two of which I listen to regularly. If you want to listen to that podcast, go here. Do that as a minimum. Read/listen to his book if you really want to learn and improve your life.
Let me also take a swing at it:
Maybe you need to be convinced of why sleep matters so much.
- Just like a cranky toddler, you’re not a nice person without sleep. Maybe you think you are, but that’s probably because you can’t see it from an outsider perspective. Professor Talma Hender says we lose our neutrality when we don’t get enough sleep-the ability to determine what’s important and what isn’t. “The ability of the brain to tell what’s important is compromised. It’s as if suddenly everything is important,” Hender said. That’s why you’re yelling or snapping or otherwise being dramatic about things that you normally wouldn’t.
- Decreased sleep is medically linked to depression, anxiety and even obesity! Your appetite increased but your ability to lose weight decreased without sleep! Your immune system also declines without sleep.
Maybe you think you already sleep well enough.
- You’re supposed to get 7-9 hours. Yes you, the one who “can survive on 5 hours.” According to the CDC, 1/3 of Americans don’t get 7-9. Moreover, we’ve shaved off 1.5 hours of sleep in the last 100 years on average according to Boston Medical Center doctors.
- But you also need QUALITY sleep. When you sleep, your brain solves problems! That’s why you wake up all refreshed or sometimes with a new perspective or idea about things. You need REM cycles to do that. REM is where the magic happens. If you’re hitting quantity and still not feeling rested or refreshed, it’s because you’re not hitting quality.
Maybe you could use some clues on how to get better sleep.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed. It really can mess with your sleep. I remember in 2015 I was eating really, really well for so long minus one meal: Tuesdays at Johnny Huston’s. Tuesdays at Johnny Huston’s was my one cheat meal. And it was glorious. I ate a hamburger, fries and had a beer. The second best part was kids ate free and I didn’t have to cook or do dishes. It took me MONTHS to realize I wasn’t sleeping well on Tuesday nights. I mean, months. The reason, I suppose, it took so long was because I wasn’t necessarily in pain. I was also not wide awake the entire time, it was just a general level of tossing and turning and sleeplessness. Nothing alarming. However, my typical dinner was early and consisted of protein and veggies. Everyday. I didn’t eat beef much, let alone carbs and such. So when I “treated” myself to that fun meal, my body went to work all night trying to manage the overload. I wish I could say this realization meant I cleaned up my act. Nope. I decided it was worth the sacrifice. What I know for sure, however, is most people don’t realize this because they aren’t eating as clean so they can’t notice the changes. But it’s there for you too. Your body also struggles with the heavy, processed meals and it does affect your sleep.
- Cut the cord. I know you love Facebook and Netflix. Do those things if you do. But give this a try for one week: cut the electronics completely off 30 minute before bed and read. Read anything. A magazine, a nonfiction book, fiction, a biography! It allows your brain to disconnect kind of the same way it does when you’re playing Candy Crush or watching Grey’s Anatomy. But it’s not putting off that blue light that your brain likens to sunlight and actually produces cotrisol. Therefore, it will allow you to settle into a sleepy state.
- Be active. I’m a personal trainer, so you know I was going to say this one! I think we need to recognize sometimes that we haven’t actually put our bodies through enough physically to make them tired. Our modern sedentary life is messing with our sleep! So, get some steps in. Get some exercise. Run the batteries out on your body and it will sleep better.
- During sleep, there are breathing techniques you can use to help you sleep. I’ve always practiced the method where you breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 4 and exhale for 8. Essentially you are putting your body in the relaxed state (physically and mentally) it should have naturally gone into to go to sleep. Shawn calls it a box in his book. My other friend visualized ocean waves as she breathes in and out. I’ve also used a couple tricks: 1) Visualizing my brain like a big red switch where I manually turn it off, 2) Telling my brain, “This is not planning time, this is sleeping time” and 3) Nowadays I really just pray to Jesus and sing a song lyric or verse over and over in my head.
- My last tip is to journal before bed. My journaling consists of listing things I’m grateful for as well as what is planned for the next day. That way I’m not busy trying to plan the day while I am supposed to be asleep.
Here’s an affiliate link for the book that has WAY more science and super cool information about sleeping smarter. I 100% recommend it.