It’s 2:30am. I’ve just been up with the baby, and now I’m wide awake and can’t get back to sleep. I’m huddled in the living room with a flashlight reading Arianna Huffington’s new book, The Sleep Revolution. I call it research; my husband calls it torture.
I’ve been obsessed with sleep lately.
This is no surprise. I haven’t truly had a good night’s sleep since my first daughter was born, over four years ago. She’s a lot of amazing things, but a good sleeper isn’t one of them. Now, with a newborn in the house again, I’m fully back on night patrol and feeling it. Hard.
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
I have to confess that when my friends without children, or those with children who actually sleep, complain about being tired I want to punch them in the nose. Before having children I was guilty of this as well, but now I realize I had no idea what tired actually feels like.
The benefits of sleep are many and the downsides of getting too little just as plentiful. After reading The Sleep Revolution, I’m more attuned than ever to how powerful it is. It saddens me how much our culture demonizes sleep and celebrates those who survive on very little of it.
[clickToTweet tweet=”There is not a function in the body that doesn’t benefit from a good night’s rest. ” quote=”There is not a function in the body that doesn’t benefit from a good night’s rest.”]
There is not a function in the body that doesn’t benefit from a good night’s rest, and that isn’t likewise compromised without it:
- Immune system
- Memory, learning and cognitive function
- Mood and outlook on life
- Decision making
- Weight and metabolism
- Even our skin reflects how well we’ve slept
Here’s a shocking statistic I learned from this book: The incidence of death from all causes goes up by 15 percent when we sleep five hours or less per night. (Huffington, The Sleep Revolution, p 26)
And so: my obsession with all things sleep.
A lot of the factors affecting my sleep are out of my control, so I’m in search of any possible way to milk every last drop of the sleep I do get. When I look at my own health and what elements are most important to maintaining it, sleep is absolutely top of the list. I prioritize it over pretty much all other evening activities, and am in bed shortly after my daughters go to sleep. Even going to bed so early, I’m often the last one up in the morning.
In addition to maximizing the time I’m actually in bed, here are some of the more unusual strategies that make a significant difference in your quality of sleep:
1) Expose yourself to sunlight before 10am.
We don’t often think of what we do in the morning as influencing what happens at the end of the day, but it makes a significant difference. When we get outside in the morning, we are establishing our circadian rhythm, letting our body know that it’s time to be awake, which then sets the stage for when it’s time to be asleep. This works whether the sun is out or not.
I’ve written about meditation before and how powerful it has been at alleviating stress in my life. This has a direct impact on sleep. The more consistently we meditate, the more we increase our capacity to handle stress, the less that stress negatively impacts our sleep. Now: I must confess that lately the volume of sleep I’m getting is so greatly reduced from being up with an infant multiple times a night that I’ve dropped this one temporarily off my list. According to the Dalai Lama, “Sleep is the best meditation.” (Hat tip to Debra Joy for turning me onto this quote.) That’s my current approach and as soon as I’m getting enough sleep to be up a few minutes earlier, I’ll incorporate meditation back into my days.
3) Block blue light in the last hour before bed.
A few weeks ago I posted this oh-so-sexy photo of me and my hubby on Instagram:
It generated so much conversation about the benefit of these sexy blue light-blocking glasses I had to include them here.
Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin, our primary sleep hormone. With the prevalence of all the screens in our lives from TV to smartphones and everything in between, these glasses are a must. It’s house rule here to wear them in the last hour before bed, even if we’re not on screens. If I can’t get back to sleep after nursing the baby in the middle of the night, I’ll pop these on before sneaking away to read for a bit. They make a huge difference!
Moving your body is one of the best ways to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Anyone with kids knows this. Tire them out with a good play outdoors and they sleep beautifully. Leave them inside with minimal activity and they’ll be much harder to get to bed. Does it matter when you exercise? Yes and no. It’s ideal to exercise in the morning (go for a run outside on waking so you get a two-fer), but it’s better to exercise at some point than to not exercise at all.
5) Eat strategically.
I can’t tell you how many client sessions I’ve had where they are amazed at how their sleep improves with dietary changes. Eating for good sleep is all about managing your blood sugar levels and minimizing stimulants. The basic rules are: no caffeine after 2pm, no alcohol (that night cap might help you fall asleep, but it won’t keep you there), and no sugar. Eat your last meal at least 3 hours before going to bed so that you don’t have food sitting in your stomach. However, if you’re someone who wakes in the night and can’t get back to sleep, then have a spoonful or two of nut butter – almond, coconut , etc – right before going to bed to keep you satiated through the night.
6) Support your immune system.
This one is probably a surprise but hear me out. Your immune system is most active at night, and if your body is fighting something – whether that be something you’re aware of like a cold, or some low-lying infection you’re not aware of – it can actually wake you up at night. The best way to handle this situation is to support your immune system. Curious if your body is fighting something you’re not aware of? That’s where functional testing comes in.
7) Override your monkey mind.
I’m someone who has forever been deeply opposed to video games, so it’s hard to believe I’m about to make this recommendation. Anyone I’ve dated knows that seeing a grown man play a video game is an absolute libido-killer for me. That said…
Research on PTSD victims shows that when their brain is stimulated by strongly visual video games, it can override the obsessive replaying of traumatic images (which is the part of PTSD that is most traumatic – the inability to shut off that replay). I learned this from a fascinating interview with Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Change the World. She explained how visually overstimulating games like Tetris and Candy Crush Saga override that ability to obsess and replay traumatic or stress-inducing incidents.
As someone with an over-active obsessing monkey mind, I decided to give her recommendation a try. On the way home from a less-than-fabulous speaking engagement I was replaying, dissecting, and beating myself up about, I pulled out my phone and turned on Tetris. I played for about 15 minutes and then tried to nap. To my astonishment, little colored squares, L-shapes, and sticks were all that was in my mind. I could recollect the speaking gig, but I couldn’t obsess. The result: I actually fell asleep and felt about a hundred times better about everything (even the gig) when I woke up.
This is now one of my secret strategies. If I’m up in the night obsessing over something, I whip out my trusty blue-light blocking glasses and play a few rounds of Candy Crush Saga, and next thing you know, my eyes are closing up and I’m back to sleep.
What are the ways you find most helpful to your sleep? Please share in the comments below.
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