Not your basic sleep hacks. 5 minute read.
Sleep is the most important aspect of health and wellness, yet is incredibly undervalued. If it’s not critical to our existence, why haven’t we evolved out of it? I spent the majority of my life as an over-caffeinated insomniac with a I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead and always-max-out mindset.
I believed I was one of those rare humans who didn’t need a lot of sleep to perform.
Spoiler alert: I’m not that special.
I worked out ALL the time and my body did not adapt (i.e., never built noticeable muscle or saw major improvements in my fitness). I stayed out late on the weekends and many times, overdid it on the alcohol. Mentally, I experienced frequent anxiety, irritability, and mental fog. But I was thin, so obviously I was healthy…
I was tired, so I drank more coffee, which then inhibited my sleep at night and round and round she goes.
So how did the girl who never slept turn into a sleep-oholic?
Here are the biggest learnings from my journey to better sleep and ultimately a better life:
1. IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO GET ON TRACK.
It’s true that you can’t turn back time and make up for lost zzzs, however; it’s never too late to change your thoughts, perceptions, and habits around sleep. All it takes is a few nights of good shut eye to put you back on the right track.
When setting any goal, you want find intrinsic motivation. A real WHY behind changing this behavior.
So ask yourself, “why am I not prioritizing this? and why do I want to sleep better?”.
Here’s a list of potential why’s:
- fights chronic disease
- prevents and fights cancer
- prevents neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimers)
- rock solid immune system
- improves memory and learning
- yields creative utilization of learning memories
- recalibrates blood pressure
- improves mental health and trauma processing
- emotional regulation
- reduces anxiety
And on and on and on….
When we have an emotional connection to a goal, we are more likely to see it through.
My why? Establishing good boundaries with myself and the prevention of disease. I stay in tune with which habits make me feel my best. Those results then motivate me to do those things more (also know as, motivation) and I put a lot of effort into a creating a healthy lifestyle so why would I ignore the most critical component?
2. NOW THAT YOU’RE ON TRACK, MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRACK.
Sleep trackers aren’t necessary but they can help shift your perception around sleep. You might think you’re not sleeping at all, but the data reveals you’re much closer to closing the sleep gap than you thought. On the contrary, you could think you’re a sleep champ and find out you’re getting very little SWS or lacking in REM.
Humans are pretty bad at self-estimating. “I was up all night” could really be you were up for 45 minutes tossing and turning. It’s no secret that I love my whoop for many reasons, but the most valuable information I gather is around my sleep. Every morning I check my sleep performance and %ages spent in each sleep stage. (more on this another time)
3. THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL.
Ok, here’s the fun stuff…
Don’t underestimate the associations you make between your bed, bedroom, and sleep.
THE GOLDEN RULE: YOUR BED AND BEDROOM ARE ONLY TO BE USED FOR SLEEP AND SEX.
- Work in your bed
- Be on your phone in your bed (shouldn’t even be in your room)
- Eat in your bed (ew)
- Watch tv in your bed (you have enough screen time, you’re fine)
I do not touch my bed during the day except to make it, but I’m also single so there’s that… 🙂
Only get in your bed when you are tired/sleepy and only after you have completed your bedtime routine.
Now, since we don’t want any association between wakefulness and your bed, that means getting out of your bed when you can’t sleep. If you are in the early stages of retraining your sleep habits, stick to the 20 / 20 rule. If you are awake in your bed for more than 2o minutes, get out of it. Avoid stimulation/light (*cough* your phone) and remove yourself from your bed for 15-20 minutes before attempting sleep again.
- Breathing techniques (inhale 4- hold 4- exhale 4)
SET THE MOOD
Your bedroom should be a minimalist vibe. My bedroom houses zero technology, not even a clock. It also doesn’t have trinkets, clutter, or bright colors on the walls. It’s a calming space that I look forward to retreating to each night. TGIB.
Gradually dimming the lights to mimic the sun setting and lowering the temperature to 60-67 degrees, 1-2 hrs before bed is key to cueing your brain that it is time to sleep (ya know, instead of paying for melatonin.) Also, try to keep your room as dark and quiet as possible with blackout shades and/or ear plugs.
Sub-Zero temperatures when I sleep is my love language.
CHOOSE YOUR ROUTINE
I’m not going to go into what my bedtime routine looks like because it probably won’t be something you can stick to since we all lead very different lives.
Respect yourself enough to establish a routine at night that works best for YOU.
Some of us might not have an hour to wind down but there’s a good chance you have 30-45 minutes. If you don’t, go back to your why. Why don’t you have 45 minutes to set your body up for the best night of repair as possible? And what changes do you need to make to get that time back?
It matters less what the routine looks like and more about whether you can actually stick to it. The more predictable you are, the better your body runs.
We’re so over the “8 hrs a night rule”. More important than the total number of hours you sleep, is the consistency of your bedtime and wake time. Just like your bedtime routine, your sleep schedule should reflect one that works best for you and remain the same on weekdays AND weekends. If you’re sleeping in for 2 hours on Sunday, you basically just switched time zones and your body is going to experience stress as a result. When it’s fighting stress, it has less resources to put towards other things like fighting viruses, creativity, muscle repair and growth, athletic performance etc.
These behavioral changes have the MOST evidence-based practice supporting their efficacy- way more than any supplement. Behavioral adjustments are not a quick fix. Hence the reason why most Americans do not sleep or address their sleep habits. But if you’re reading this, there’s a chance you’re a part of my team and you know we don’t ever take the path of least resistance.
Humans are so quick to create lifestyles that run us into the ground and don’t prioritize restorative sleep and recovery habits. Our baseline shifts to a new normal and we forget what it feels like to be ACTUALLY running optimally.
So here’s the thing, we all have a million excuses for why we can’t sleep. I had them, too. A big part of my journey in health and wellness has been around boundaries and self-respect. When I started respecting myself enough to prioritize sleep, every aspect of my life improved.
Go the f to sleep.
4. EXTRA CREDIT
“Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker a fascinating read.
An informative listen on the correlation between sleep and Alzheimers Disease.
Thinking about a Whoop? Here’s $30 off your membership.
The more you know… ❤
Questions about sleep? Drop them below.