I have just about a million blog post ideas just waiting in the wings to write about.
Ok, maybe not a million. It’s probably more like ten. Maybe fifteen. Pretty close to a million, if you ask me.
But in the last week and a half, anytime I have tried to sit down to write during the rare moments of solitude I get in which to do so (which is basically whenever Madison decides she’s going to nap on her own or when she goes to bed for the night), I am so overcome with fatigue that my mind goes mush and all I can do is go to sleep along with my baby girl.
This week was even worse because we took our first family trip to New York. Between the stress of packing for myself and Madison, worrying about the plane ride (which went smoothly, by the way – phew), and walking around New York, I am extra tired (I know – first world problems. Feel free to wack me over my spoiled-ass head).
As my self imposed every-other-Wednesday deadline approached, the writer’s block got worse, my mind followed suit, and my nap time got surprisingly more aggressive.
And that’s when it dawned on me:
I need to write about sleep.
The importance of it, what can happen to you when you don’t get enough of it, and what to do to get it even if you don’t think you have enough time to.
As any new mom can attest, sleep becomes a luxury once you’re parenting a newborn (or any child of any age, for that matter, I’m told). Similarly, if you’re a physician or have ever been through any kind of intensive grad school (law, business, engineering, etc), you also know what a luxury sleep can be from pulling so many all nighters.
Uh oh. As if on cue, my daughter – who is supposed to be napping right now – just cried out from her crib…shoot…hang on…
(Her timing couldn’t be more divine as I sit here quietly, attempting to write a post about sleep)
Oh. Oh wait. Nope. Nope. She was just shifting in her sleep. Ok. We’re good.
Where was I?
The reality is that I should be napping with her right now (sleep when baby sleeps, bla bla bla). But I really want to get this post written, and besides – I got a solid seven hours last night, so I’m ok for now. Maybe I will sleep during her next nap.
This exact habit – not sleeping when you’re tired (and make no mistake about it, I have a three month old: I’m tired) – is exactly what I’m going to tell you not to do. Well, not when you can help it, at least.
I guess I’m sort of being a hypocrite, but actually, not entirely. I napped every day this week with her, so I’m mostly practicing what I preach.
Hear me out.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most basic, fundamental needs are the physiological needs (the ones needed for human survival): air, water, food, clothing, shelter, sex, and – you guessed it – sleep. If these are not met, “the human body cannot function properly and will ultimately fail.” Because of this, these are the needs that need to be met before the other four (which are safety, love & belonging, esteem and self-actualization, respectively).
Most of us have the air one covered (we breathe, therefore, we live), and unless you live in a nudist colony, you’re good with clothing (and if you do, good on you!). You probably have food and water dialed in too, along with shelter, and if you’re lucky, sex too.
But how many of us actually make sleep a priority? And how many of us actually know how important it is for our survival (not to mention our sanity)?
Do you make sleep a priority in your life? And if not, why don’t you? Do you think it makes you weak? Do you (mistakenly) think you don’t have time for it? Do you prioritize other things instead, being ok with losing an hour or two of sleep each or some nights in order to “get it all done” (whatever “it” may be)?
Surely you know by now that getting more sleep actually increases your productivity, allowing you to get more done than you may have otherwise intended (not to mention making you a happier, healthier, better version of yourself). Science proves it, and pieces like the one Arianna Huffington wrote for INC Magazine entitled Sleep Your Way to the Top have made it more mainstream, if not even more acceptable among the business crowd.
And as I’m sure you’ve experienced after getting some good rest, there is no disputing it: more sleep makes you more alert, increases your cognitive ability, helps you focus better, and really and truly makes you smarter. If there is any doubt to those scientific facts, just compare how fast or slow you can read and comprehend a book when you read tired versus when you read while well rested. I’m willing to bet that when you’re tired, you end up mindlessly reading an entire page without actually taking in what was written, or end up reading a sentence over and over again without truly understanding what it meant. I know that’s always been true for me.
Sleep isn’t just one of Maslow’s identified basic needs. It is also one of the most fundamental needs of humans: we developed evolutionary to need it. Why else would we get tired and need to sleep so many hours a night? If you compare sleep to something like an iPhone or a computer, it makes perfect sense. You need to plug in your iPhone or computer once the battery runs low (or dies). It simply will not stay on if it’s not charged. If you let the battery charge to 100%, the phone/computer will last for much longer than if you don’t charge it at all (at which point, it will die – just like humans) or just let it charge half way. Sure, you may boast that you can survive on four hours of sleep a night, but imagine the world that could be at your fingertips if you were to sleep five, six, seven, and I dare say eight or nine hours a day?
Noticed I said “a day.” That’s because there is some dispute over whether we necessarily need to get our sleep consecutively, and whether or not that consecutive sleep needs to be at night. It makes sense to sleep according to our circadian rhythms, which happen to correspond with the sunrise and sunset. But it’s also true that there are specific lulls during the day where we could benefit from a little rest (think about your post-lunch lethargy). As such, I’m convinced that as long as we are getting our sleep over the course of a twenty four hour period – sleeping a big stretch at night, but also napping during the day to make up for any sleep deficit – we are the better for it.
Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, JFK, Thomas Edison, Salvador Dali, Lyndon Johnson, and Albert Einstein are but a few among many famous people who made napping a necessary part of their days, and have attributed it to their success. It stands to reason, then, that if a president of a country, a famous inventor, or a military leader consider sleep to be one of their greatest strategies, then surely you can – and in fact, should – too.
Here are 9 strategies to help you get better sleep today:
1. Find your sweet spot.
Some people really only need four hours of sleep a night (Betty White claims that’s all she’s ever needed). But most of us need anywhere from six to ten hours of shut eye a night. To find out what’s right for you, resolve to go to bed by 10pm for the next week, and do not set an alarm (research shows that if you need an alarm to wake you up, you’re not getting enough sleep). Let your body wake up when it’s ready. You should be able to figure out your sleep “sweet spot” after a week of doing this exercise.
2. Meditate if you have trouble sleeping.
If you suffer from insomnia, or simply have a racing mind the minute your head hits the pillow, trying to force yourself to sleep can actually be counterproductive: it will only serve to make you more stressed. When this happens to me, I turn to meditation. I pick a work to focus on, and I repeat that word over and over again. If I meditate during the day, my goal isn’t to fall asleep: it’s just to relax. During the day, I meditate for twenty minutes at a time. If I meditate at night to help me get to sleep, I simply decide to repeat my mantra over and over again until I drift off into dreamland. Think of it as the spiritual version of counting sheep.
3. Make sleeping something to look forward to.
Make sleep something that excites you just as much as a good glass of wine or dinner and great conversation with friends. How? Make sure you have great pjs that make you feel cozy and/or sexy (unless you sleep in the nude). Make sure you have the right pillow with the right neck support. Make sure you have a mattress that best suits you. Cover that mattress with the most amazingly decadent sheets you’ve ever slept in, and cover those sheets with a comforter or duvet that make you want to melt into the bed. If you get cold at night, you might consider putting a hot water bottle at your feet.
4. Set up your room for good sleep.
Did you know that it’s harder to sleep when it’s hot? A good sleeping temperature is somewhere between 65F and 70F. So make sure the temperature in your room meets that bracket, if you can help it. Additionally, consider investing in black out blinds so you can truly awake when your body is ready, and not when the morning sun awakens you. Make sure you don’t have an obnoxiously bright alarm clock or any blue light in your room (ahem, your phone?) that are polluting your perfectly dark room either.
5. No blue light before bed.
A lot of research has been done about the effects of blue light on sleep. Blue light is designed to trick your body into thinking it’s noon light, so if you’re watching TV or looking at a computer or phone before bed, you’re sending mixed signals to your body: it thinks it’s noon, when really, you’re about to try to put it to sleep. If you must watch TV or go on your phone or computer before bed, get an app that blocks out the blue light, or invest in a pair of yellow glasses that do it for you.
6. Practice a wind down ritual before bed.
As a new mom, I read a lot about how important it is to have a bed time ritual for a baby so she/he can understand that it’s time for bed. There is no reason the same can’t be true for adults! Your wind down ritual doesn’t have to be elaborate: it can be as short as five minutes, but it can be as long as one hour. Maybe it involves turning the lights down low in the house an hour before bed, reading a good book on the couch with a cozy blanket, having a bath or shower, doing some restorative yoga poses, chatting with your spouse or children. It’s your choice.
7. Keep a notepad next to your bed.
One of my biggest impediments to sleep is my racing mind. I tend to get blog post ideas the minute my head hits the pillow. For that reason, I keep a notepad next to my bed. That way, if an idea strikes, I can just write it down and go back to sleep rather than try desperately to hold onto the idea in hopes that I will remember it in the morning.
8. Get that TV out of the bedroom…
…and turn off the TV at least an hour before bed. I said it once and I’ll say it again: the blue light makes you more awake, so if you fall asleep in front of the TV, you won’t get good rest, and will likely wake up much sooner than your body would otherwise. That goes for iPads, smartphones and computers too.
9. Sleep when you’re tired (aka, nap).
There is no rule that says you shouldn’t nap. If anything, there should be a mandatory nap time for every office in the world! So many of us push forward instead of just giving our body what it needs. When we want sleep but don’t give it to our bodies, we tend to turn to food. And even if we don’t, our stress hormone, cortisol, goes up because we’re asking our body to run on fumes. New moms are always told: sleep when baby sleeps. It’s tough, don’t get me wrong, especially since there are always five thousand things to do instead (work, dishes, laundry, tidy up the house, vacuum, grocery shop, run errands, etc.). But if you sleep when your body asks you too – even if it’s only a 20 minute cat nap – you will be more productive in your other tasks. Aside from napping, if you find yourself getting tired earlier than your regular bedtime, go to bed! Don’t try to force yourself to stay awake just because you think you need to.
That’s all she wrote, folks. Baby is still sleeping, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some more rest.
Wishing you sweet dreams and clear thinking ahead.
Your sleep deprived but soon to be rested friend,