“2 AM?? What time do you have to go to bed?”
I can’t tell you how often I hear this when I’m asked about my job. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night for work for almost a decade now, so if there is one thing I’m an expert on, it’s sleep. Mostly because I love it, it’s fleeting, I’m desperate for it and I’ve dedicated so much of my time to trying to get it.
Because I go to sleep during the day, I’ve had to create my own personal sleep environment, and this past year or so, my husband and I have gotten very serious about doing this. In creating this space, I’ve learned so much about sleep that I wanted to share what I’ve discovered, because most likely you are like me and struggling to get every minute of shut eye you can.
Let’s get started…
The Sleep Lizdom Rulebook
1. Think of sleep as a non-negotiable.
At this point, the research is in. Sleep is necessary to our vital organs and cognitive function, and it’s clear we aren’t getting enough of it. A lack of sleep effects our productivity, health and quality of life. It can even be dangerous if you operate heavy machinery or drive for a living. So this is where you have to police yourself. Remember back in the day when your mom would give you a bedtime, no ifs, and or buts? Do that right now. Set a bedtime, and stick to it. This is difficult and takes a lot of discipline. There are also temptations. I know Netflix is calling your name, but train your mind to make this rule an absolute non-negotiable. Whatever you think is more important than sleep right now, it won’t be when you can’t lift your eyelids in the morning.
2. No midweek alcohol.
I love a glass of wine or two on the weekend or at Friday happy hour, but I feel like I learned this rule the hard way, and sometimes I still don’t listen and pay for it the next day. Recent research debunks what we all assume: that a nightcap before bed helps us fall asleep. In fact, one study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found alcohol actually contributes to poor quality of sleep. So while you think you’re getting to sleep quickly, the type of sleep you’re getting is, for lack of a better term, pretty crappy.
3. Give the “Night Shift” a try.
If you have the latest version of your iPhone or iPad’s iOS software, you should have the “night shift function” on your phone. Give it a try and turn it on if you plan to use your phone a couple hours before bed. This function removes “blue light” and tunes your phone to a warmer hue, to help your brain prepare for bed.
4. Even better, put your electronics away 2-3 hours before bed.
This one, I find close to impossible, so I prefer the night shift function. However, our electronics and all the blue light they emit, is hurting the quality of our sleep, and our ability to sleep, according to research from Harvard. If you can, get rid of the electronics while you start winding down for sleep.
5. Set a time limit for your emails.
I have committed to not checking email after a certain time of the day. I don’t know what that time is for you, but write yourself a note or set an alarm, and commit to letting go on the email habit after a certain time. I don’t have any research for this one, except my personal experience. Think about it: say you get some complicated email an hour before bed. Next thing you know you’re responding, or you’re on the phone, or you’re not relaxed at all and just fretting. Then you look at the clock, you’ve missed your bedtime, and even if you make it to bed, you can’t turn your brain off and you can’t sleep. It’s a slippery slope!
6. Keep your bedroom cold and dark.
We don’t have air conditioning, and after two miserable summers, I finally threw in the towel and invested in a portable A/C. Now, I can’t wait for summer! All the research I’ve found shows we sleep better when the bedroom is about 65 degrees.
Keeping the room dark has been another challenge for me, because we go to bed about 5 or 6 PM, and our bedroom faces the sunset. If you’re a shift worker, I highly recommend blackout curtains or shades.
I recently purchased these thick tarp-like shades on Amazon. They aren’t totally attractive, but I’m not going for looks and I love them. I’m also not very handy but they were quite easy to put up.
7. Practice deep breathing in bed.
Have you heard of the 4-7-8 method? I swear by it. Here’s how it works: lie in bed and inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Finally, exhale deeply and slowly for a count of 8. Repeat a few times, if you’re still awake. I find I can do this about 3-4 times and I’m out cold. Here is more info: 4-7-8 method for sleep.
8. Invest in a great bed, and some luxurious bedding.
OK, I don’t mean drop a ton of dough on bedding. Frankly, our bed kinda sucked a few months ago, so we decided to do some research and invest in a new bed and some new bedding. Now, I’m obsessed with our bed. I call it the goldilocks bed. It’s not too hard and not too soft. It’s just right. It also didn’t cost us a fortune. We purchased a Casper bed. I got some hotel-quality sheets off Overstock.com. The one splurge I made was a heavy, down-filled comforter from Cuddledown. For me, it was worth it. I love the feeling of heavy, luxurious comforters in a cold room. Figure out what works for you and do some research.
9. Pets or no pets?
This one is a personal preference. I love having our dogs in bed, but for others, they can bounce around all night and bug you, or take up all the space, ruining your quality of sleep.
10. Eat for sleep.
Certain foods are sleep inducing, but others can disrupt sleep. I personally like to avoid heavy meals before bed, because I can’t get comfortable with a Chipotle burrito rolling around in my stomach. If you want a little pre-bedtime snack, Prevention magazine has a great list that includes cherries, chamomile, bananas, spinach and almonds. They recommend a nice little combo of carbs and protein to help fall asleep.
Bottom line: you can’t make up for lost sleep. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Make a commitment to your health and to yourself to get the very best sleep possible for your lifestyle, family situation and work hours. You are worth it.
Hope this helps.