“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you'll see the world
If I'm not mistaken..."
--Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
There has been much debate on how much sleep one should be getting. Most experts on the issue seem to settle on six to eight hours each night, but everyone is different. Sleep is one of my favorite things. It's right up there with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
When I was growing up, there was always work to do. Chores started early, usually before the first rays of the sun would peek over the mountain. I will never forget having to get up at six in the morning to mow the lawn or hang the laundry out to dry before it got too hot outside. I longed to sleep in on a Saturday morning.
During my college years, I was often deprived of sleep, as most students are. With the pressures of getting good grades, meeting deadlines, part-time jobs, and of course, social obligations, I was lucky to get four to six hours of sleep each night.
As I get older, I realize the importance of sleep in how I function each day. If I have not slept well, I often find myself cranky, irritable, and unproductive the next day. In addition to feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sleep is essential to staying healthy.
Many people sleepwalk through their days, mindlessly carrying out their routines, grabbing unhealthy food on the go, and fooling themselves into thinking that multi-tasking will help save them time. The truth is that if we start the day well-rested, we not only have more energy, but we can make better choices throughout the day.
Here are my 7 tips for getting a better night's sleep:
1. When the body is tired, rest. Learning to listen to the body is a useful skill that can be cultivated through mindfulness practices. As we hurry through our days checking off items on our to-do lists, we tend to get so caught up in what we have to get done that we don't stop to listen to what our bodies are telling us.
|My nephew, Atticus|
“Sleep is my lover now, my forgetting, my opiate, my oblivion.” --Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's WifeI've noticed that when I've slept well, I am less likely to reach for a quick pick-me-up. I can sense when I am physically or mentally tired, and that's when I know it's time to take a break. If it is not convenient to take a nap, I find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths. This removes me from my daily schedule and reconnects me to my body. Then I can better assess my energy level and make better decisions regarding the rest of my day. Rather than self-medicating, I can re-prioritize my day and let go of any items that are not absolutely necessary. This helps me conserve my energy for things that are really important, like getting to bed on time.
2. Make sleep a priority. In order for me to be at my best, I make it a point to go to bed early and set my alarm for as late as possible. I strive for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. While that isn't possible every night, I set myself up for success. Sleep becomes the last item on my daily to-do list. It may seem obvious, but I actually schedule it. Just looking at my schedule throughout the day and seeing sleep on the list makes me think of sleep as a priority.
“I’m not a very good sleeper. But you know what? I’m willing to put in a few extra hours every day to get better. That’s just the kind of hard worker I am.” --Jarod Kintz, Whenever You're Gone, I'm Here For YouLike most people, I have many social obligations: work gatherings, meetings, birthday parties, barbecues, baby showers (just kidding, everyone knows I wouldn't go to a baby shower). While I appreciate a full social calendar, I am also aware of how I feel when I have not had enough sleep. I would rather feel well than attend every event to which I am invited. I turn down invitations when they interfere with my sleep schedule. If there is an event that is not to be missed, I will go, but I will leave in enough time to get home and in bed on time. Somehow my social connections remain in tact.
|My friend, Pat, |
taking a rest on a slack line.
“What hath night to do with sleep?” --John Milton, Paradise LostI remember hating naps when I was a child. In Kindergarten, nap time was a daily occurrence. Everyone in my class would lay out their red or blue padded mats and settle down for a mid-day slumber. I hated it. I wanted to play and socialize. As an adult, I have come to savor my nap times. With a full day at work followed by errands and then a possible party to attend, I know that I would need to fit in a nap in order to be my usual pleasant self later in the day.
4. Buy the best bed you can afford. I have a Sleep Number, and it is the best money I ever spent. Sometimes I require a firmer mattress and other times I like to feel like I'm floating in a cloud. The bed I have allows me to adjust the firmness at my whim. When I moved across the country with only what would fit in my car, I made sure that my mattress was one of those items. I simply deflated it, rolled it up like a burrito, and stuffed it in my back seat. It survived the 2,000 mile trip, and I have slept well every night since.
Indulge in the softest sheets and blankets. I didn't think thread count mattered until I bought my first set of 800 thread-count sheets. What a difference! Soft sheets and blankets turn my bed into a sanctuary.
5. Keep the bedroom dark and cool. I recently invested in some black-out curtains for my bedroom. Living in the desert, there is no shortage of sunshine, so when I am able to sleep in or during a nap, the curtains block out a majority of the light, tricking my brain into thinking it's night-time and therefore making it easier for me to fall asleep.
Waking up in the middle of the night is bad enough, but it's even worse when you're drenched in sweat. I like my bedroom to be a little on the cool side, anywhere between 65 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some may like it even cooler, which is great if you have a special someone or a furry baby to cuddle with.
There are many styles of yoga that promote improved sleep. Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a fantastic practice that incorporates deep breathing and the mindful practice of scanning the body to become aware of areas of tension. By bringing our attention to the body, we can give the mind a break and consciously relax our muscles. Restorative Yoga is another deeply relaxing practice. Using props, such as pillows and blankets, we can allow the body to rest deeply while focusing on the breath and calming the mind.
|Bubble baths soothe the soul.|
How will you know if your sleep is improving? Keep a sleep journal for a week. Note what time you go to bed and what time you wake up. Rate your energy level on a scale of 1-10 when you wake up and jot down how you're feeling. Not into journaling? There are a lot of sleep monitoring apps available for download on the smartphone of your choice.
There are less scientific ways to tell if you're getting better quality sleep. For me, I notice that I am happier, more vibrant, more productive, and slightly less bitchy. If you are having trouble noticing any changes, ask someone close to you. Often we only become aware of our behaviors when others point them out to us. Sleep well!