I am up bright and early this morning reveling in the silence and solitude of my house (well, besides my miniature schnauzer licking his chops from his breakfast…yeah, pretty gross) just feeling so grateful for a much needed night of sleep. Just a month ago, I would have never thought those words would flow through my fingers to a keyboard.
Sleep. Ah, a word I have dreaded most of my life. This exercise has more commonly been known as “torture”, “a waste of time”, “something that I am forced to do or I will destroy my brain permanently and irreversibly”. Yeah, not my favorite thing in the world. All throughout my years, all twenty-two and a half of them, I have had problems with sleep. From as early as I can remember, I have never liked sleeping alone. I have always slept with a stuffed animal tucked under my arm, slept with my dear gram (she’s lived with us since I was 5, I slept with her almost every night until I was 12), or had my dog Baron to snuggle with. Even now I sleep with my little Baroni who tries as much as he can to take up as much of my queen size bed as possible.
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
– Ernest Hemingway
Throughout high school I struggled with insomnia staying up after midnight on most nights, only to consistently wake-up at 6:30 in the morning for school. I would sleep in classes (I taught myself to sleep with my pencil in my hand like I was writing…), procrastinate my school work, and could never seem to get enough sleep. Waking up in the morning has always felt like the worst thing in the world. I am that person that has always set five alarms, yes, FIVE alarms: Wake Up, Wake Up Now, Leave, Leave Now, LEAVE RIGHT NOW. The snooze has been a dubious P.I.C. in my pursuit for “just ten more minutes.” Little did I know that those ten minutes were what was harming my morning rise. Those extra few minutes were fooling my body into sleep while my mind was awake, torturous to the psyche…
I have read countless articles on sleep: how to get better sleep, how to go to sleep, how to wake up from sleep, how to get more productive sleep, how to “power sleep”. But, it wasn’t until my life truly called for a naturally regulated sleep schedule for working at home that I experimented with just the right combination of sleep skills.
As I posted in my first blog, I have found my perfect routine. Combining my pursuit for a naturally fulfilled body through diet, exercise, and natural hygiene and my little sleep tricks, I have found my sweet spot. Now, I may have gone into depth about my tools of the trade, but this is post is specifically about sleep, so I’ll go over everything from top to bottom again.
It all starts with your mindset to want to fall asleep. I am brainwashing myself to love sleep, love the feeling of sleep, love the thought of a full restful night of sleep. By putting myself into the mindset that “sleep is a beautiful thing“, I take the first step in setting myself up for success. Also, I am now aware of the amount of blue light that I am exposed to before I go to sleep. I have my sweet night shades that block blue light to let my brain know that sleep is coming; putting these on a couple hours before bed helps get my melatonin cookin’. (Melatonin a naturally produced chemical that regulates your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle.) If I’m not tired enough through just my shades or my allergy meds, I just pop a 1mg melatonin* and the Sand Man whisks me away…
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
– Thomas Dekker
Next, find out the best position to sleep. Whether you’re a back sleeper, side sleep, or stomach sleeper, there is a proper way for you to sleep. I am a side sleeper with ears that stick straight out and a wide set of hips…yes, sleep gets pretty personal. Because of all of these things I have learned I need to sleep with two softer pillows for my head (one for each side of my ear to avoid earaches from smashing one or the other against my head all night long), a firm pillow for between my knees to align my hips to avoid joint pain when I wake up, and just an extra pillow to create some extra fluff to snuggle against for added comfort. Some of this I had researched to figure out and some of it I had to figure out on my own. Not sure if there are any forums for people who have trouble sleeping due to earaches, because their ears stick out a little too far… So, research your optimal sleep position to avoid the extra tossing and turning.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.”
– Anthony Burgess
Now that we love sleep and know which way to sleep, it’s time to find out why you might not be getting the best sleep if this stuff is just not workin’ for ya’. Someone once told me, “There are three things you need to sleep: warmth, quiet, and darkness.” Now this may sound like a very basic principle, but I had never thought about it so simply. I have always made sure I was warm enough with a slightly chilled nose, I can’t sleep without a heavy blanket, but the darkness and quiet were new goals to obtain. I tried a regular sleep mask for a while, but found I couldn’t sleep with something touching my eyes, so I had to invest in molded sleep mask. Now for the quiet. Sleeping in the basement has it’s pros and cons. I always have a perfectly, slightly chilled room for optimal sleep, but I also hear every creak in the floor above me, every time the faucet or shower is on, every time a toilet is flushed, the dreaded sump pump when it downpours, and my little puppy prince is a snorer…can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. So, I found some earplugs that are comfortable to sleep in and block just enough noise to create my swaddling of silence for soundless sleep.
Let’s see, now we know how to set up your mind for sleep, what position to sleep in, how to sleep…sounds like it’s time for the process of going to sleep. Like I said, mindset is key, but getting into that mindset is all about your routine. I used to fight putting on my jammies until right before bedtime, but it really helps get me to the relaxation mentality of upcoming sleep. So, get those comfy clothes on! Make those sweet night shades part of your jammies too. (Don’t worry, there are other blue light blocking glasses out there if you don’t like my aviators.) Jammies should be your blocker from doing anything that requires effort, find a boring/relaxing activity to do before bed that will shut your brain down. I love to crochet, so this is my usual before bed activity. I choose not to read or I will read all night long. Your pre-sleep activity shouldn’t stimulate your brain. After your good and relaxed, prepare yourself for sleep: wash your face, brush your teeth, brush your hair, floss, whatever it is that puts your brain into the final steps before sleeping. Lastly, my brain usually stirs around thinking about the next day’s plan when in the final steps of sleep prep, don’t do this to yourself. Be sure that you prepare yourself adequately for tomorrow before your last minute sleep prep: lay out your clothes, double check your planner, set your alarm, write a list of things you don’t want to forget for tomorrow so you can lay down with a blank mind. All you have to do now is crawl into your welcoming land of slumber, put your dreamland duds on, and let the melatonin take you away…
Waking Up. This is why I’ve always hated sleep, besides bad dreams, but I avoid them by doing what I’m about to talk about… Just wake up when your eyes pop open! This is how you know you’re getting adequate rest, your body will tell you. I have always been the one to look at the time, say it’s too early for the living, and slump back into sleeping again, but this is when the weird dreams start. My brain is awake and my body is asleep, so I start “living” my dreams instead of knowing that it’s just a dream when I wake up. Let your body tell your when it’s time to wake up. If you’ve got work during the week and have to set an alarm, experiment on the weekend. Go to bed at the same time you would during the week and see how long it takes until your eyes pop open. This is your body letting you know that it’s time. Let your body tell you how many hours of sleep you need. If you’re not sleeping through the night like I was, a little melatonin* can help get you through the 4am toss and turn struggle.
“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.”
– William Blake
Now that you get to sleep, get great sleep, and wake up with your brain: Treat. Yo. Self. (I love Parks and Rec…) In the morning, I reward myself with a cup of my favorite tea, read a wellness article, write here on my blog, and even make myself breakfast. Waking up early in the morning can be a beautiful thing. You get to catch the first rays of sunlight of the day, the silence you may need to have first thing in the morning, and you are now rewarded with knowing you have the whole day to accomplish your goals. By waking up earlier, you give yourself the time to do what you need to so that you may go to sleep with a more sound mind later that night. Take advantage of the moments that you get on this earth for time is fleeting.
“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
– Bil Keane
So, here’s to a restful night of sleep! Hope some of my tips may help you and can assist you in your own journey to slumberland perfection. Be back soon to let you know how my experiment with henna-indigo hair coloring goes…
“We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.”
– Earl Nightingale
*Always consult your physician before taking any dietary supplements.