I’m big on sleep.
Earlier this year when I was still spinning marketing cogs for a software company in town, I went through a two and a half month period of really, really crappy sleep. We were preparing to launch a huge new product and the to-do list that was in front of us was inconceivably long. Some sketchy planning and last minute changes (to the product and our marketing plan) had put us in a real crunch.
Those kind of curve balls are par for the course but it was definitely go time.
I am a “go time” person so I get sucked right into shit like that. I wanted the launch to be a huge success, I wanted us to knock it out of the park… I threw my back into it.
Even when I did get home in time to get a decent night’s sleep, I was so amped up from all the stress and energy at work that it took me hours to wind down. Nothing worked. Not teas, baths, melatonin, valerian, poppy flower, relaxing eye covers… nothing. I actually started chugging Nyquil at one point. (Nyquil did work but made for a brutal morning and, um, chugging Nyquil is probably not a practice one should engage in regularly).
To make matters worse, we were sleeping on a crappy old mattress that had seen it’s days. That all ended one morning when, after getting virtually no sleep at all, I had a mental break. I sat down at my desk at work, ignored the pile of tasks that were stacked in front of me, and called the friendly folks at Sleep by Number. Fifteen minutes and $3,300 later a sleep number bed was en route to our house. I called Sal to let him know, hung up the phone, and got down to work.
All this to say: there are a lot of tips and tricks that you can do to make sure that you get a better night’s sleep but nothing is as important as getting a better grip on what’s going on in your life, finding ways to reduce your stress levels, and sleeping on a good mattress.
With that on the table I give you Ten Tips for Getting Better WinkEye!
- Stay Regular, Man: No, I’m not talking about fiber. I’m talking about your schedule. Do your best to wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. Do this even on the weekends if possible. You’ll establish ingrained sleep patterns and find falling asleep and waking up is easier. This is hard for me as I do like to sleep in until 6:30 or so on the weekends, instead of getting up at my usual 4:30am, but I make an effort to get up as early as possible on Saturday and Sunday. Also, if you find you’re having trouble getting to sleep, avoid taking naps during the day. That may seem like kind of a no-brainer but you’d be surprised. :)
- Eat for Sleep: Don’t eat a huge meal right before you go to bed – digestion can truly disrupt your sleep cycle. However, a small strategic meal eaten just a bit before bedtime can make a big difference. Milk, turkey, and peanuts contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which helps the body produce seratonin, a chemical that can help you relax. I usually eat a small meal of cottage cheese as my last meal of the day – not only do I get the benefit of milk, I also get a huge amount of milk protein, which takes longer for the body to process and subsequently feeds my muscles all night long. A piece of toast with peanut butter or a little bit of turkey can also do the trick.
- Go Out Hippy Style: Find something relaxing to do in the hour or so before you go to bed. Meditate, read quietly, or do deep breathing exercises. Stretch. My personal choice is a warm bath in a candlelit bathroom. Daniel the boot camp guy would strongly advocate breathing exercises and stretching.
- Get Movin’: Exercise! Yeah! Getting a nice, vigorous 30 minute exercise session in during the day can significantly improve your sleep. Be sure to do this early in the day or at least 3 hours before you plan to go to sleep – it wakes the body up and makes you all invigorated-like.
- Make it Hott: Integrating a warm liquid into your nighttime ritual helps raise your body temperature. The subsequent drop has been shown to help people fall asleep more easily. Amp this tip up by making your hot liquid of choice Sleepytime tea (or similar night-time tea). Adding a little milk (if you’re into that kinda thing) certainly won’t hurt.
- Check Your Baggage at the Curb: Does your mind race when your head hits the pillow? Spend 10-15 minutes writing down all of the crap that is tormenting you. Jot down your anxieties, fears, worries, concerns, and even tasks for the next day. Get it out of your head and onto paper. It will be there in the morning and you won’t have to worry about keeping track of every little thing while you are supposed to be falling asleep (you control freak, you ;).
- Alternative Djuggin’: I’d advocate lifestyle and schedule regularity before turning to herbal sleep tinctures, but they certainly have their place. Valerian, Poppy Flower, Skullcap, and Melatonin are just a few that are out there. I have taken to putting valerian and poppy extracts in my sleepytime tea or simply taking melatonin (absorbed in liquid form by placing and holding it under your tongue for 45-60 seconds). Melatonin works like magic for me but each person will be different. Don’t overdo it with this stuff and don’t rely on herbal remedies alone – heed the other points here as well. (I also use a lavender scented salve on my temples and under my nose which I apply just before I turn off my lamp. Lavender is seriously calming!)
- Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke, What Do Ya Do?: You sleep! That’s what. Even though alcohol is a downer, having more than one drink before you go to sleep will seriously mess with your sleep cycle. Nicotine is a stimulant. It will stimulate you. When you are stimulated your body does not want to sleep. Ditto caffeine. (Sugar, too! Especially if you do not typically ingest large amounts. Two weeks ago Josh was complaining about not being able to fall asleep the night before. 10 minutes later in our conversation he mentioned that he’d had a Hansen’s Fruit Juice that night. Hello! Fruit juice is super high in sugar. If you’re not used to it, you’ll be wound up like a kindergartener at field day.)
- Trip Out: Practice visualization. Ala my post a while back, visualization and positive thinking can be incredibly powerful tools for change and success. Apply this theory to sleeping and it goes something like this: lie in bed, envision yourself waking up refreshed, see everything you are going to do when you get out of bed, be detailed, picture yourself going to work or workout or whatever, see yourself being successful and energized. I do this almost every night. It calms and focuses me. Also, I usually get bored with visualizing my everyday life, which means I fall asleep. Another way I think about this is similar to how you take a tight turn on a cylcocross or mountain bike – if you think about where you are in the turn itself, you’re probably going to fall or miss your line. If you look ahead, to where you’ll be exiting the turn, you’re body will naturally find the right line and get you there. Don’t become hyper-focused on sleeping itself, envision yourself coming out of a good night’s rest.
- Fang Shwee: Or whatever. Make your bedroom as peaceful as you can. If at all possible, invest in a decent mattress. If your bedroom is dual-use (like you have an office in it), try to section off the area where you sleep to keep it visually uncluttered. Use a screen or other divider to create a clearly defined area that is for sleep and sleep only. Make sure you have decent ventilation and keep it as quiet as possible. Use a fan or other device for white noise to block out distractions. If you have a partner who snores, whomp on them until they stop. (Kidding, kidding. Sorry dad!)
What are your secret tips and tricks for great sleep? Do you feel you get enough rest?