Sleep - Or the Lack Thereof
Ever since I became an adult (whatever that means), I realized sleep is looked down upon. Sleep is for the weak, for those who can’t hang. Oh - you can’t pull an all nighter working on a project that needs to be finished for a client, wake up, drink some espresso and exceed expectations in the office the next day? You must not be tough. Maybe you aren’t worthy of the job.
Why is this? Why do we glorify being busy over being productive? Being consumed with work over being present? Always being “on” instead of leaving work at the office and coming home to spend time with family? Why is life a constant hustle, even on a Sunday afternoon? This is our culture. For so long I identified with this idea that in order to be successful, I wasn’t allowed to sleep 8 hours. No, anything over 6 is seen as lazy. Instead, I wanted to stay up working late so I could wake up early, do it again and feel what it was like to be in the grind. After all, that’s the only way to have a successful business and personal life, right? Wrong. And while I don’t have the answer as to why our culture is obsessed with the idea that sleep isn’t necessary (and I haven't totally cured myself of the mindset), I know it’s not healthy or efficient.
Glorifying a lack of sleep is counterproductive in so many ways. A few facts about sleep (or the lack thereof):
- It has been shown in studies that with a lack of sleep we lose focus faster
- Insufficient sleep causes a critical reduction in anti cancer cells
- Insufficient sleep is linked to cancer, Alzheimers and car accidents
- When athletes sleep 5 hrs vs. 9 hrs, they experience a 60% injury rate increase
- The World Health Organization has named night time shift work a probable carcinogen
- Being awake is low level brain damage. Sleep repairs this damage.
- A lack of sleep actually shortens our lives. OUR LIVES ARE SHORTENED. If the whole feeling like shit thing doesn’t make us change our habits, maybe this fact will.
Sleep is basically a fountain of youth - so why don’t we capitalize on it? We’re the only animals that deprive ourselves from sleep for no real reason.
I’ve struggled with sleep for years. My sleep patterns go in waves. A few years ago I had a tidal wave of about 3.5 months where I couldn’t sleep for the life of me. The same pattern happened again a few months ago. I tried everything imaginable and I would lay awake in my bed, night after night, so focused on how exhausted I was and how badly I wanted to sleep that I would make myself crazy and stay up all night. I know for a fact I’m not the only one who has experienced something like this.
For me, I believe my lack of sleep has been a combination of things:
- Work: Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day and I would stay up working so late even when I knew I needed to get up at 5 or 6am and do it all over again the next day. The problem with this is that I was actually cheating myself. There is no way to be efficient when we’re that tired. So I would end up working more hours but accomplish less work because I couldn’t think properly. Then I’d go train clients the next day and be a space cadet because I had major brain fog.
- Insomnia: This year I went through another wave of sleepless nights because I genuinely COULD NOT fall asleep or stay asleep. I had major anxiety about things I needed to do the next day, week or later that month. I would be so tired during the day from not sleeping the night before that I would come home and get in bed by 8 to try and get a decent night’s sleep. But I still couldn’t seem to fall asleep.
Over the past five years I feel like I’ve tried just about everything. And this most recent bout of insomnia had me feeling like nothing was ever going to work. However, this time I was determined to figure it out, and I am finally in a place where I am sleeping. I can fall asleep and stay asleep (hooray!). It is honestly the best feeling ever. And not only that, but I wake up (at 5am most mornings) feeling refreshed. I go to work and I can think straight. Most days I’m not yawning non stop. It took me a while to get to this point and I hope it lasts. I spent over three months testing out different factors and aids to help me sleep. Here are a few things I tried, listed from what I believe to be the least important to the most important.
- Marijuana. I got a Dosist Sleep Vape pen several months ago to help me sleep. And for someone who hadn’t smoked weed in a few years, let me tell you, IT WORKED. I would take a couple hits and fall asleep within 10 minutes. I didn’t feel too high, but it definitely had an effect. I started to notice that after it kicked in I couldn’t remember a thought I had 30 seconds prior. I started researching sleep aids and found out that THC can help you fall asleep, but inhibits you from entering REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM is super important for several reasons: it’s the sleep cycle that is associated with encoding memory and dreaming and essentially paralyzes us from the chin down during sleep (which is why we can have crazy dreams but we won’t jump out of bed and physically act on the dream). It’s also the sleep stage that is responsible for that feeling of being refreshed when you wake up from a solid night’s sleep. So for that reason, I no longer smoke before bed and only recommend it as a last option.
- No electronics an hour before bed. I try to go to sleep around 9:30 or 10pm every night because I wake up so early. This means I’ve been attempting to put away my phone and computer by 8:30pm. It doesn’t always happen if I have work to finish the night before, but I’m making a major effort. I find that it helps ease my anxiety a bit.
- Bubble baths, tea and candles. This is my new hide away. I used to feel guilty when I did things like baths - I would feel like I’m wasting time and could be doing work. Guess what? Life isn’t just about working! It’s ok to take a break and feel relaxed once in a while. Scientifically, warm or hot baths help you sleep because when you get out of the warm water and enter the cooler bedroom, your temperature will drop. Our body temps naturally dip at night to help us sleep better.
- Reading instead of TV. Book, magazine, whatever. Combine this with the bath and you’ve got yourself a lethal weapon.
- Don't eat two hours before bed. When I eat late I can literally feel my body digesting food as I'm trying to sleep, and oftentimes it will keep me awake. Going to bed on a relatively empty stomach has helped me feel a lot more comfortable when I'm in bed.
- Meditation. I never really meditate longer than 5 or 10 minutes. It’s just not in my nature. However, it makes a huge difference in my overall attitude towards life, even if it's only a short 10 minute meditation. There’s something about taking a time out to clear my head (even though I’m not always successful at the clearing part) that reprograms my outlook and helps me see the big picture - i.e. If you don’t finish that email/blog post/report tonight the world isn’t going to end. Actually, chances are, nothing will change.
- Keep a To Do list on your night stand. One of the causes of my anxiety was anticipating things I had to do the next day or fearing that I would forget to do something important. I use a Passion Planner to stay on track throughout the year (I’ve been using this for about 4 years now and highly recommend it), and I keep it in my bedroom so I can jot down any notes that might be on my mind before bed. This way I can revisit them in the morning instead of dwelling on them at midnight.
- HUM Nutrition Beauty zzZzz supplement. *I am not being paid to write this and HUM Nutrition doesn’t even know I am including this in my blog post. However, they do send me supplements from time to time because I have worked with them in the past.* I have tried melatonin in the past and, while I heard other people rave about how it helped them sleep, I never felt like it did anything for me. However, this supplement from HUM Nutrition has been working wonders for me over the past 2.5 weeks. It’s a combination of melatonin and B6, so maybe it’s the combination that is working rather than just taking melatonin by itself. I’ve also been making sleep a priority and trying to take time to relax before bed, so I do believe it’s a combination of factors, but I finally feel like I have a routine that works, and it feels life changing.
Do you have a night time routine or something that helps you sleep? Let me know in the comments section below!