S L E E P
"Sleep is the best meditation." - Dalai Lama XIV
Sleep is such a vitally important part of living a healthy life and yet I feel like not a day goes by where I don't hear someone complaining about their lack of sleep or asking for advice or tricks to stay asleep or get back to sleep, or voicing their concern about how to fall asleep in the first place. While we sleep, our body is busy restoring and repairing the damage done to our cells from the previous days activities, meals, stresses, environmental impacts, conversations etc. Without proper sleep, we're preventing our body from doing the job it is born to do.
Insomnia is a pretty major health issue - I know people who have literally gone through periods of their lives where they didn't sleep for more than 2-3 hours a night.... for months on end. How? If I have one bad night I'm a mess, 2 in a row, I'm barely functioning and anything more than that - I'm fully expecting divorce papers!!
Anxiety, Stress, Hormones, RLS, Environmental Noises, Electro-Magnetic Fields, Crying Babies, Bed Hopping Kids, Night Owl Pets, Caffeine Stimulation, Worry, Uncomfortable Beds, Room Temperature, Heavy Meals, Too Much Wine, Unsettling Thoughts, Light Stimulation, Violent Films, Debt, Work Issues, Sickness etc etc....
All of these things (and millions more) can cause us to miss vital shut eye and leave us feeling depleted, tired, depressed and stressed. All of which can lead us to make poor choices which can lead us down a long, dark path to more and more health issues. It's a vicious cycle. Every resource I studied on this agrees that 7-8 (uninterrupted) hours of sleep, is the sweet spot for sanity, health, wellness and longevity. Sure, some people will tell you they only need 6 while others need 9+. You know yourself. If you genuinely only need 6 hours, you awake each morning feeling energized without an alarm, you don't awake throughout the night and you're making good choices because you're not stressed out - you're probably right. 6 hours is probably a great amount for you. But please, don't brag that you only need 4 hours. This is not a badge of honor. I don't care who you are - 4 hours is simply not enough to recalibrate the system, not long term.
Worry and anxiety are so debilitating and can actually cause far more health issues than one could ever imagine. It ties us up in knots, causing stress throughout the body. It messes with our heads and hormones leaving us confused and scattered. It plays with our emotions as we try to solve bigger problems. It leaves us shattered and feeling helpless. Combine all of this and you've got a shell of person forced to function in the real world. Someone whom will most likely go on to make poor choices until his/her sleep muscles are completely re-charged again.
Poor choices like: not doing any physical activity, ordering an extra large, creamy, sugary coffee beverage, skipping breakfast, having a large, greasy lunch. Putting off important tasks until tomorrow or the next day... falling behind. Getting crappy snacks around 3-4pm to deal with your afternoon crash. Ordering takeout because you can't be bothered to cook. Cancelling a social commitment because you're too tired. Saying yes when you know damn well know you mean no. Not returning phone calls because you're too tired. Snapping at the absolute last person on earth you actually want to snap at. Going home with the wrong person. Pouring an extra glass of wine in hopes it will help you crash out tonight. Popping a few pills to assist, just in case the wine doesn't work.....
Maybe that reads extreme to you - but I'm guessing we've all done at least 4 of those things following a night of disturbed sleep.
Once we get into an unhealthy rhythm and start making unhealthy choices - the health issues start to slowly creep in. Putting on a few pounds, developing some skin conditions, having digestive issues. They start out small and pretty manageable. But it's crazy - these issues may have stemmed from a lack of sleep. If we don't fix the sleep issue and we don't address the early onset of these issues, the issues begin to grow. Before we know it, we're on a medication to help with something. That medication causes another part of body to react and before we know it we need another medication for a new issue that was created by the first medication. It's a fast and deep spiral and can literally rip lives and families apart. BUT the good news is that by being aware of it and making small but meaningful changes to your lifestyle and behavior can actually reverse most of these issues fairly quickly.
My very wise and sweet, octogenarian financial advisor had this very simple but effective analogy on the matter:
"I think of my body as a large office building and sleep is like the night crew who come in to clean all of the different business throughout the building. If the cleaning crew doesn't show up or misses an office or two - there's sure to be a mess and a host of new issues."
But here's the thing - sleep isn't just about falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning. We actually go through approximately 5 different sleep cycles each night, each with its own stages and rhythms. Each having a very specific and different role in our overall health and wellbeing. When one is skipped, altered or messed with - it trips everything up. It's not black and white but here's a link to a pretty concise explanation.
An old friend of mine recently reached out to ask for my advice - he wrote:
Me, laying down to sleep on Sunday nights: For the first five minutes I get anxious about what needs to be done on Monday. Then I move onto worrying about the week. Twenty minutes later I am anxious about things I need to do in 2020. Give me another half hour and I will be paralyzed with fear about the end of the world. I hate trying to fall asleep on Sunday nights.
My first thought was "Oh man, I hear you on this!" My second thought was, "This guy needs to learn to meditate!" Now, there's a huge difference between occasional sleep issues and insomnia but both can lead to long-term health issues and I do believe that there are some basic tools that can truly help.
Here is a shortlist of my recommendations for giving yourself the absolute best shot at a great nights sleep.
- Start tomorrow's To-Do List this afternoon (I start my list around 4pm so it's as done as it could possibly be by bedtime - get that shit out of your head and onto paper!!)
- Exercise; the days I hit the gym, dance, swim, go for a walk, hike, do yoga etc. I always sleep way better.
- Switching screens off at least an hour before bed - TV, Computer, iPad, Phone everything - all screens - one hour before you want to fall asleep. Want to fall asleep by 10pm? Screens off by 9pm. Also turn on Night Shift lighting on your handheld devices, if available. I set my iphone to Night Shift from 8pm to 7am.
- Get into bed feeling relaxed. Whatever you can do to get your sleep vibe on, do it. Low Lights, Hot Bath / Shower, Massage, Essential Oils in a Room Diffuser, Soothing Music.
- Getting into bed earlier. It's proven that if you fall asleep before 10pm you'll sleep better, as you'll stay in your natural sleep cycles longer. If you fall asleep after 11pm you have a 90% greater chance of waking up between the hours of 1-3am (I totally made up that statistic but it's based on my own experience so it is actual data!!!)
- Reading a book (the more boring the better - medical books work wonders for me!)
- Meditation. Never meditated before? Try Headspace - they have a free 10 day program which can be used over and over again before you subscribe. The biggest complaint I get from people is that they fall asleep while doing it. Winning!!
- Not drinking alcohol (I drink but on the nights I do, my sleep is disrupted, sometimes it's worth it, sometimes not)
- Having a cozy, warm beverage an hour before bedtime (no sugar or caffeine obvs - sleepy time or golden mylk are my faves).
- Heavy, rich meals can wreak havoc on my sleep. Try to give your body at least a two hour break from consuming, chewing, digesting food before bed - yes, even that square of chocolate can cause major disruptions in your sleep cycles.
- Emptying you bladder before you fall asleep - and conversely - try to limit your liquid intake about an hour before bedtime.
- The right sleep environment - I personally sleep best with a window open (even just a tiny crack), the heat off and a nice warm duvet. A cold nose and a warm body are the perfect ingredients for me. Find what environment truly works best for you. When do you remember last having a truly incredible sleep? Recreate that!!!
When all else fails and I do still wake up, I find that diaphragmatic breathing exercises really help...
- close your eyes
- breathe in for a count of 8 through your nose (your belly should raise, not your chest)
- breathe out for a count of 8 (through your mouth)
- again and again and again until I finally. fall. asleep .... (most of the time).
Whatever you do, try your best not reach for your electronic device. The bright screen will trick your brain into thinking it's morning and it will be even harder to fall back asleep. I try not to move too much. I cradle my head with my nice, soft pillow and focus deeply on my breaths.
Ariana Huffington, co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post, knows how important sleep is - not only did she say this:
But she wrote a book about it. Check it out here: Sleep Revolution - Transforming your Life, One Night at a Time.
Sleep is one of the greatest forms of Self-Care there is but it's not just a should, it's a must. It's a non-negotiable as far as I'm concerned. If you have regular sleep issues - I strongly encourage you to address it head on and get the help you need. I'm not talking pills, I'm talking support. Maybe it's taking off an hour earlier one day a week, maybe it's going in an hour later two days a week, maybe it's starting a new tradition that you're excited to stick with, maybe it's hiring a cleaner, maybe it's committing to being in bed and reading by 9pm, maybe it's turning on your out-of-office auto-reply on, stating - "I've received your email and will get back to you by 10am the following day". Setting personal boundaries is huge. When we don't have them everything gets in. It's important to protect ourselves. Set expectations. Be clear. Don't ignore a problem, it will only fester. Acknowledge it. It's OK if you're not ready to deal with it yet. Just saying something like, "I'm aware of this issue, I'm giving it a lot of thought, let's talk again on ___day" is a totally acceptable request. You're not ignoring it, you're just not dealing with it right now and you're letting the other person know what to expect. Unload your burden. You're not not sleeping because you don't need it - something else is going on and you need to address it.
Whatever you can do to bring in more support and push out the stress, the better. Asking for help is a huge sign of strength!
Most importantly, live a life filled with purpose and love -
As always, I love hearing from you. Do you have a great tip for consistent sleep? Have you been helped by any of the above suggestions?
Do you know someone who may benefit from this? Please pass along!!
Tell me your sleep issues and let's brainstorm some ideas.
Everyone is entitled to a good nights sleep.