I am a champion sleeper. I have been devoted to sleep as long as I can remember. In fact, I’m probably the one child who never had to be told to take a nap — I welcomed the opportunity to crash for an hour or two every single afternoon! I’m still like that in fact. My mom likes to tell the story of an outpatient surgery I had when I was 14. When the nurse told her they were waiting for me to ‘wake up,’ she quickly made them realize that would never happen. After a few hours, they woke up a still sleeping, groggy and protesting teenager and sent her home. I feel sorry for the nurses who had to dress me and push me out the door.
Sleep is very important to me. Even with a current 2-hour daily commute (one-way!) and a six year-old, I still average about 8 hours per night. The chart above is from my sleep tracking app. I don’t know what it is — but sleep sends me into a peaceful, Zen-like meditation state. As a matter of fact, many times a deep meditation sends me right into a deep and restful sleep. After (at least) 7 hours of good and wonderful sleep, I can’t tell you how relaxed and alert I feel and (almost) ready to face the day. I say ‘almost’ because — of course — I’d rather still be sleeping! Or at least laying in bed taking my leisure before having to face the rigors of my morning. The CDC says we need 7 hours or more of sleep per night, and I’ve noticed that’s my sweet spot as well. Any less, and I’m a cranky, disengaged grouch.
I only had one friend who could match my sleeping prowess. She got about 8–9 hours of sleep per night. I handily beat her one night when I went to bed at 6pm and didn’t wake up til 6am the next day. I still like to brag about this accomplishment on occasion.
To answer some of the questions I’m sure you have — no, caffeine doesn’t keep me up much (as long as I drink it before 6pm). And, yes, my child likes to sleep as much as I do. And, yes, my husband is fully on board with my sleep habits. I’m lucky that because I’ve made sleep a priority, most of my friends and family know I’m usually in bed by 9pm most nights. And they respect my quality and sleep time. And I appreciate them for that respect.
So how do I do it? I can’t tell you that I have all the answers, but I can certainly let you in on my little sleep secrets.
Make Sleep a Priority
Yes, there are a million things you can be doing instead of going to bed on time. Netflix, books, hanging out with friends and loved ones. And I love Netflix, reading books and hanging out with my friends and loved ones as much as the next person. But you know what I love even more than that? Being well-rested enough and alert enough to enjoy Netflix, my books and my friends and family. There’s nothing worse than being a sleep-deprived, grouchy individual who just can’t find the simple joys in life. Don’t be that person. Decide that sleep is one of your top priorities and devote sufficient time to figuring out what works for you. There is even evidence that getting enough sleep can help prevent chronic disease! So please begin to make sleep a priority in your life.
Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
This one is easy. The American Sleep Association recommends going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to promote good sleep habits. I happen to agree with this. You know what I find happens when I go to bed an hour or two (or three later) at night? That’s right — I wake up at the same frickin’ time I do every other day! Even though I subliminally tell my body it’s okay to sleep in the next day, my body helpfully wakes me up by 6am just in case I may still need to go to work or go workout or do any of the other super helpful things that make my life better. I don’t of course (on a Saturday), but my body doesn’t know that. It’s just doing its job and I can’t really blame it (thanks body!).
Decide on a bedtime and stick as closely to it as possible. I find that I am on an automated sleep schedule now — I get sleepy starting at 8pm and start waking up by 5 or 6am. Every single day. No— it’s not the most convenient thing in the world, but it makes my life easier as I commute, get my daughter ready for school and generally try to look like a well-assimilated human being on my way to work. And — bonus! — if I wake up earlier on the weekends (and everyone else is still asleep) that means I can get an extra hour or two of reading my latest book or binge watching a favorite program.
Prepare Yourself for Success
Is your room too hot or too cold? Too bright or too dark? Too dry or too humid? Well — you can fix all those things. If it’s too hot or cold, set your thermostat on a reasonable temperature that will allow you to sleep better at night. If it is too bright, get darker and heavier curtains or lighten up with some sheer curtains. Too dry — well that’s what humidifiers are for. I use an aromatherapy/night light diffuser to put scent and moisture into my bedroom air. A dehumidifer does the exact opposite — and pulls moisture out of the room so that the environment is drier.
In other words, take control of your bedroom and make sure you prepare it for a good night’s rest. We have blackout shades in our room and heavier curtains to seal the deal. We also got the best mattress we could afford so that we would have a cozy sleep environment. I also use aromatherapy and a humidifier to keep the air moist because my allergies are a monster and it gets colder and drier during the winter months. I like scents like eucalyptus and mint when I’m not feeling so good and lavender and vanilla when I want to chill. And of course a nice citrus-y scent for a little extra energy and excitement during the day.
While it might seem like overkilll to you, the quality of your sleep environment really does impact your mood. Harvard Med recommends a quiet, cool environment and using a white noise machine to block outside noises. If you are committed to getting a good night’s sleep, you should also be committed to finding a good sleep environment that works for you.
Get a Good Sleep Routine
Sleep just doesn’t just start with sleep. I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t get into bed and fall asleep immediately. I used to be jealous of my husband because he could fall asleep within 5 minutes of laying his head down. Until I realized it was probably because he wasn’t getting adequate sleep in the first place. Most of us probably need more than a few minutes to wind down and relax before hitting the bed.
My sleep routine goes something like this:
- Start putting on my pajamas around 7pm
- Brush my teeth and get ready for bed
- Turn off the bedroom lights, turn on the humidifier and put in a nice aromatherapy scent
- Close the bedroom door or reduce outside noises and lights
- Get into bed and put on relaxation music (I love Pandora’s Liquid Mind Radio)
- Read or skim emails for a little while
- Stretch and start my meditation around 8:30pm
- Kiss the little one goodnight*
- Pull the covers over my head, put my head down and go to bed
*Hubby usually puts the little one to bed (and I get her ready in the mornings). On the nights that I put her to bed, I run her bath at 7pm, let her chill and start my reading, relaxing, stretching and meditation in her bedroom. She also has a humidifer, some mood lights and a white noise machine as well that helps her relax. Ocassionally we listen to a Lullabies playlist by Amy Robbins-Wilson that lulls us both to sleep.
This routine works 90% of the time. Ocassionally, I will not be able to fall asleep due to congestion, having too many things going on in my head or the allergy medicine itself (pseudoephedrine is not your friend when it comes to sleeping). If I find myself ruminating on my worries, I usually go back to music and meditation until I can calm myself down. I can’t emphasize how important learning to meditate and having a good sleep routine has helped me fall asleep more easily over the years (especially after multiple sleepless nights and illnesses with a little one).
All the sleep articles I’ve read emphasize the need to have a good sleep routine. Like this one. Let me say it again: sleep just doesn’t just start with sleeping. It’s something for which you prepare yourself, your bedroom and hopefully your home and your environment to promote better sleep habits.
Find something that works for you. Don’t give up! Some sleep is better than no sleep at all. Learn meditation. Learn methods of clearing your head. And read up on it as much as possible. While I know these tips won’t work for everybody, I do know that many people will benefit from implementing at least one or two of the things referenced here.
Just laying your head on the pillow isn’t going to work for most of us. We have to welcome sleep. Prepare for its coming. And — by extension — find ways to improve our health and sleep environment.
You can do it!