“Early to rise, early to bed, makes a man healthy but socially dead.”
Who knew a line in an Animaniacs episode from the 90’s would resonate so deeply with me decades later?
As my friend and fellow early riser Emily Sutton said the other day, no one understands the struggle of being a shift worker, unless you are a shift worker.
“We are eternally tired.” Amen.
However, the more I hear from you all, the more I believe the feeling is mutual. We are a nation of sleep-deprived zombie-people.
In fact, I had such a great response on Sleep Lizdom, Part 1, I decided to collect the best sleep tips I’ve gotten from all of you, along with a few more of my own. I’ve heard from early risers, new moms, insomniacs and shift workers, in our quest for a decent nights sleep.
The Sleep Lizdom Rulebook, Part 2: Your Rules
1. Be selfish with your time
This advice came to me from another local early riser, Colleen O’Brien, the morning anchor and co-host on 97.3 KIRO FM.
“I’ve found few things that can predict whether I’ll have a successful day on the job like solid sleep,” Colleen tells me. And for good reason: the effects of a lack of sleep are well-documented. To remedy this, Colleen lives by a strict, regimented schedule.
“Happy hour? Yeah, right. Dinner date night on a Wednesday? Forget it. Mom’s birthday party? Sorry, ma! I just don’t do it.” Colleen has a good sense of humor about her schedule, but her point leads me to rule #2.
2. Make sure the people in your life “get it”
“Be careful, because the morning shift can ruin relationships,” Colleen says, repeating some pretty invaluable advice she was given before starting her career in Seattle. I’m lucky my husband is on the same shift, but that’s rarely the case. In fact, Colleen’s husband works 9 to 5, so they’ve worked out family dinners that commence at either 5 or 5:30 each evening, no exceptions. Not only does this help her get to bed on time, but it also means they have a little time together each day. Without those small moments during a workweek, relationships can suffer on an early riser’s schedule. The key here is to make sure people in your life understand your sleep rules, and allow you to honor them.
3. Give soothing aromatherapy a try
My friend Deb is retired now, but I’m always stunned when she’s messaging me at 4 AM. Desperate for a full night’s sleep, she’s been trying aromatherapy before bed. “I diffuse lavender and cedarwood at night,” she wrote. “It sounds weird, but it’s been helping.” While I haven’t tried it, a lot of my friends swear by this, especially for their kids, when they get a little extra restless or fussy. Give it a try.
4. Try an over the counter sleep aid
Despite my best efforts, sometimes I need a little extra something. Specifically, Sunday nights, after a weekend of goofing off, drinking wine and neglecting my sleep schedule. Sunday night I might take a little bit of an over-the-counter sleep medication to help me get back on my schedule. I personally like Benadryl or ZzzQuil. While these are non-habit forming, use with care. One University of Washington study recently found long term use of sleep aids or allergy medicines may increase the risk of dementia:
“Dementia risk in older adults starts to rise after three years of regular use of the medications, says study author Shelly Gray, professor of pharmacy at the University of Washington. The longer people took the drugs and the higher the dose, the higher the risk of dementia, although it’s important to note that short-term use was not linked to higher risks.” (More info.)
I’ve been recommended melatonin so many times I have lost count. Many shift workers swear by it. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body. When released, it works with your body clock and creates the urge to fall asleep. I have a few issues with taking melatonin. First, melatonin is the only “hormone” you can actually buy as a dietary supplement without a prescription. While melatonin is found naturally in some foods, supplements are cheap and readily available. Fair warning: dietary supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA. Also, despite being naturally occurring, I don’t feel confident enough doling out the proper dosage for myself. Finally, on a personal note, it gives me terrible, horrendous, awful nightmares. Taking melatonin is certainly not a bad thing, if it works for you. However, I’ve never found it helpful.
6. Get yourself some “blue light diffusing” glasses
This idea came from Colleen and I find it fascinating. It’s similar to the night shift function I use on my iPhone. Blue light from computer screens, smartphones and the TV wreck havoc on the ability to release melatonin naturally and fall asleep. So, Colleen went to her optometrist and asked for reading glasses with a special blue light filter. “It’s a special overlay added to lenses that help block blue light,” she explains. And the verdict? “Scientifically accurate or just a placebo effect, I have noticed a reduction in headaches and more consistent sleep.” Here’s a bunch on amazon if you want to check this option out.
I can’t believe I forgot to add this to my first post. One study found people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day with at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. My incredibly unscientific results prove I sleep better with regular exercise. Exercise helps me manage stress, anxiety and helps me tire out my body so it’s ready for much-needed rest. Bottom line: exercise is a game changer for sleep.
8. Upgrade your alarm clock
Because I’m desperate for sleep and pretty much willing to try anything, I upgraded from just my standard iPhone alarm clock to this “Phillips Wake Up Light.” So far, it beats the heck out of my iPhone alarm. The clock simulates a sunrise and sunset for a more gentle way to fall asleep and wake up. I’ve only used it for about a week, but so far I love how it puts me to sleep. Since I’ve started using it, I’ve been falling into a deep, comfortable sleep and waking up fewer times during the night. I’ll report back later as I use it more.
9. Sip on herbal tea
A lot of you told me you drink herbal tea before bed. I do this occasionally and I enjoy Yogi Bedtime tea. My friend Deb has been drinking valerian tea, and another reader on the blog suggested the classic Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea.
10. Try a magnesium supplement
Kay Vallejo left a comment on my last blog to give magnesium a try for a more restful sleep. While magnesium is all natural, a quick google search will tell you that in some people, magnesium might cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other side effects. I’ve personally never experienced this. I have tried a ZMA supplement and didn’t have any negative side effects, but my result also wasn’t phenomenal enough to keep taking it. ZMA makers claim this supplement can improve the quality of sleep. However, another quick google search shows there isn’t much research to back these claims up.
For me, the jury is out on napping. If I nap too much, I can’t fall asleep at night. Sometimes I’m so dead tired, I have to close my eyes for a little. I live by a few golden rules if I must nap:
- Limit naps to 30 minutes.
- No longer than an hour, at the absolute MOST.
- No naps after 2 PM.
- Set an alarm, or else you will sleep all afternoon.
- Try my super power nap: have a cup of coffee and nap for 20-30 minutes while the caffeine works its way through your system. (**I have no idea if this is scientifically proven, but it works to give me a second wind.) However, no coffee after 12 PM.
Most importantly, listen to your body. Sometimes, my body is just screaming for sleep. In that case, a nap becomes an early bedtime.
Sleep is vital to our lives and our wellbeing. Unfortunately, we live our lives attempting to be superheroes and our precious sleep routine gets neglected.
Do me a favor and get some sleep tonight. Your body and mind will thank you!
Thank you to Colleen from KIRO Radio, for her amazing advice on managing this difficult sleep schedule. And thank you everyone who read my first blog post on sleep and contributed their helpful ideas. Keep them coming.
Let me know in the comments what you’re doing each night to get to sleep. I would love to hear from you.