Sleep and I have been in a battle for several years. I would say that I’ve always been a bit of an anxious sleeper, even as a child. When I was younger if I knew that I had a big day ahead of me (first day of school, anyone?) I would stare at the clock willing myself to close my eyes and fall asleep…and losing that battle every time.
Now in my 30s, and after having two children of my own, the new battle is staying asleep. If I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s hard for my brain to shut off. I’m thinking about all the activities that I need to get done the next day: did I remember to send that email? have I made that doctor’s appointment for my daughter? did I book the hotel room for our upcoming vacation? have I checked on my retirement funds lately? did I pay that bill? what groceries do I need? what should I make for dinner? It’s a constant barrage of what needs to get done and what I may have forgotten. Then there’s this teeny-tiny voice in the background trying to break through and get me to go back to sleep (nine times out of 10 that little voice loses).
I want sleep to be as easy as breathing. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I want sleep to become an automatic reflex where I feel energized and refreshed every morning. But the more that I think about sleep, the harder it seems to accomplish this goal. And I know there are tons of benefits to a good night’s sleep: better heart health, increased focus and productivity, improved memory, improved immune system, to name a few.
Not all is lost. I have found successes along the way. I’ve read several articles and books about best practices for better sleep and one of the most helpful tools that I can share is a book called Sleep Smarter. This book includes 21 strategies to improve sleep. And while I know that some of these practices work well for me (because I track my sleep score religiously via Fitbit), it’s still a challenge for me to follow through on them consistently. Not to mention kids waking up in the middle of the night or jumping into bed with you at 5 a.m. (it’s like they know when I just entered into a deep sleep and decide to start poking me in the face to wake me up at that exact moment!)
So, here’s what worked for me from the tips in the book, it’s definitely a multi-pronged approach:
- Meditation: Although this is a fairly difficult practice for me because I have a very active mind and I don’t like to sit still for very long, I know that when I do take the time to meditate I get better sleep. I recently spent 15 minutes meditating and that night I got more REM and deep sleep than I have had in months! (see image below). For me, this is the one game-changer that if I could do consistently well it would have a significant impact on my sleep. (Why aren’t I doing this, you may ask yourself?!? That’s a great question that I am still trying to answer for myself)
- Exercise: I need to stay active, so I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day running, hiking, walking, yoga, snowboarding, biking, barre, plyometrics, or something else that requires my heart rate to rise and keeps me moving.
- Sun: I try to walk outside for at least 15 minutes every day. Natural sunlight is great for sleep.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: I end my nights with a hot cup of herbal tea. This helps me slow down and curbs my chocolate cravings (most of the time).
- Nutrition: When I eat “real” food I feel more energized during the day and it’s easier for me to fall asleep at night. I have a hard time giving up chocolate before bedtime, though.
- Avoiding TV/phones an hour before bed: I love my shows (Walking Dead, anyone?) but I know that I get better sleep if I read an hour before bedtime instead of looking at a screen.
Having a bedtime routine is another important strategy in the book that I haven’t gotten the hang of yet. With the two kiddos and work and life stuff, my days never seem routine enough to make a plan and stick with it. But I’ve seen enough of a silver lining in some of the other practices I’ve put in place that I am motivated to continue fighting this battle! After all, every day is a new chance to get this right.
I wish you all a good night’s sleep tonight and I hope that you too can get to a point where sleep is like breathing.
For more helpful information related to sleep, check out the Sleep Awareness Week 2021 webpage.