How Losing Sleep Makes My Life Suck - and Probably Yours Too!
Let me start by saying I am in no way suggesting that your life sucks or that it is ruined.
HOWEVER, I am suggesting that things I have overlooked (precious snooze time) can wreak all types of havoc on my day to day activities as well as long term health and it is likely that you have experienced something similar.
This journey starts probably close to childhood, but since my memory sucks, probably from not sleeping (kidding), the most vivid time I can recall is a couple of years ago. I was laying awake in bed, so excited to be alive and conscious that I wished it could be the next day already. I have what any non-professional person may call ‘Santa Claus Syndrome.’ Santa Claus Syndrome is a thing I made up to explain why I didn’t sleep at night - sheer excitement for what the next day will bring. For a very long time I didn’t consider this any type of problem. This seemed like something I should be asking for! Who wouldn’t want this?
"Oh, MY BAD, I’m just overly grateful to wake up AGAIN?”
“Oops, let me fix that. Yeah, right.”
It seemed as if inspiration just waited until the lights were off to sneak up on me and hit me right where my eyes closed. And opened. And closed. And opened. And on and on and on and on.
Maybe this does sound like a nightmare to you, and sometimes to me that’s how it felt, but for the most part I enjoyed my times awake late at night. I would roll up to the yoga studio I teach at and practice at 4 in the morning or so. Nap until the sun rose and warmed me through the big window. I would stay up late and wake up early, getting to see each of my favorite times of day. There is something extra special about late nights and early mornings and something biologically upsetting about experiencing both. Believe me.
Fast forward to present day, or a few months ago.
My awake time started becoming less pleasurable. Maybe because I was finding life less pleasurable, or maybe because the two are very, very connected. I started having frequent irritable days as well as no motivation, lots of crying, and a very tired brain to match tired muscles. I was actually pretty productive during the day, but I feel that my productivity was limited due to my limited attention span and I felt guilty for resting when I wasn’t being very productive, so I didn’t, much. I was constantly half-working or half-sleeping/resting and never fully doing either.
Then I continually would get caught in this loop of not feeling rested enough to exercise, not eating well because I was tired and cranky, napping and feeling worse, and being on my phone for hours at a time, all things that caused my sleep to be shitty yet another night.
My boyfriend, Nick, started to notice these patterns and suggested I wasn’t sleeping enough. What a wild accusation! My therapist made the same one. It was actually very funny, our conversation went just like this:
*I bring up the subject*
T - “Are you not sleeping enough?”
Me - “Well I sleep like five to six hours per night.”
T - “Yeah, so not enough?”
Nick decided to give me a book he read called Sleep Smarter. If you’re unfamiliar, this book is a horror story about all of the terrible monsters that come after you both immediately and later in life when you continuously lay awake at night.
Ok, maybe its more of a sleep guide meant to be helpful but Shawn Stevenson should definitely buy that idea from me for a children’s version of the book. Shawn, if you’re reading this, I’m ready when you are.
Anywho, the book describes all types of things that can not only mess with how many hours you sleep at night, but with how WELL you sleep during those hours and both the immediate and long term consequences of poor sleep. I know, right? I’ll give you some highlights later.
So I took Stevenson’s suggestions to see what would happen.
And you know what?
My digestion got better. Yeah… the thing I expected least. After one too many finals’ weeks wondering why my stomach hurt so much, there we go.
My mood definitely improved. I had been starting to think something was seriously wrong with me due to my lack of sleep-induced depressing feelings. Turns out, that is totally normal and in the book he explains why.
My skin got clearer! This one I have known for a while and even used to like getting sick a little bit because I would sleep so much and my skin would clear up. I didn't know to this extent about why, though.
I started enjoying little things more. This is probably the weirdest part of making these changes, but looking back it makes sense. When you’re up waiting for tomorrow, you’re waiting, which isn’t pleasurable even if it canfeel that way. You’re thinking of things. You’re NOT in your body because if you were you might know your body WANTS to be sleeping. Ayyyyeeeeeeeeee!!! So I got excited to turn the lights in my house off. I got excited that at some certain point, people will not be able to reach me through the phone. I started enjoying nighttime showers, comfy pajamas (or no pajamas! ;)), and any other type of thing that could make me feel more relaxed at night and drift me away to dreamland.
I GOT EXCITED ABOUT BEING AND MAKING MYSELF COMFORTABLE.
That is huge! What else are we living to do?
It turned out that practicing deep sleep was a practicing presence as well. Committing to a state you will reside in and letting nothing take you away from that.
I decided to write this post because recently I have fallen off my rhythm and am going to try to make my way back. Like I mentioned before, when I don’t sleep I unconsciously stare at my phone for HOURS of the day, take mid-morning naps which often make me feel like shit, and try my hardest to pick fights about what I believe is worth fighting about (which is often something very small). If you feel off in any of these ways or any previously mentioned, or believe these tips may help you, here are a few of the book’s tips/highlights and potential consequences of lessened precious snoozing, as well as things I have found to help me!
Read on, y’all.
My findings for yummy sleep:
Have a work cut-off time. If your work causes you to be on electronic devices, then definitely do (more on that below), but I think regardless, quit your shit early in the night. I used to think I could stay up all night to get work done, but a) it's not worth it, b) the work is not nearly as good when you're tired, you (and I) are generally less effective, and c) it may catch you in the cycle I described, hardly working and hardly resting - never really being that productive in either sense.
Notice when your pillows are fucking you up. My pillows sometimes still do, but definitely used to make me flex my neck muscles all night long and I'd wake up sore and unhappy. Find a pillow you love and hold it near and dear.
Let. That. Shit. Go. One of the things that has hindered my sleep most is my overactive imagination. I constantly think about things that happened during my day, things that I want to do the next day, things that don't exist, things that do, and so on. Maybe it's through meditation, maybe it's through a different bedtime activity (reading, sex, drinking herbal tea), find a way to let it all go. You can't conquer the world while you're asleep, or make any decisions for that matter. Leave it for the tomorrow you to deal with. If you're going to meditate, mindfulness and loving-kindness are probably the best kinds prior to bed in my opinion. You aren't trying to bring up childhood trauma before you hit the sack. Both types can help to relax the mind and body. Mindfulness meditation helps me because it causes me to focus on each part of my body, on my clothes, on the air touching my skin, on every small detail happening. This helps bring me into my body, deepen my breath, and leave many thoughts behind, focusing primarily on sensations. Loving-kindness is a great mental exercise before bed. You can start with yourself, finding either two love-filled mantras to say, one on an inhale and one on an exhale, or you can focus your mantras on other people. The way that I do this, which may vary from tradition, is to inhale and internally repeat, "May I be at peace," exhaling to internally repeat, "May I be free from suffering." Over and over until you really mean it. Once you get to the point where you do naturally wish that for yourself, maybe in one sitting, maybe throughout a continuous nightly practice, then move on to others. Find love-filled mantras that involve other people. Maybe people you know, maybe people you know are having trouble. You can start with someone you are easily expressing love to, move on to someone who may be a person of conflict for you, and eventually on to wishing this for the whole world. Focus your attention on genuinely hoping for good things for other people or yourself, to put you in a state that releases day to day stressors. In this meditation we can begin to feel how the world is bigger than something that pisses us off or takes our mind away from what matters, 'cause what matters at night time, is sleep!
If you have lights shining through your window or your door, wear a sleep mask! Mine saves me some nights.
Find an enjoyable way to be active during the day. Whether it's swimming, running, biking, doing yoga, or playing with your kids, find a way to be active so when you get to bed your muscles are ready to rest. Once I started exercising and having to count reps + sets, I noticed that it took a lot of my excess mental energy out, which allowed me to feel more balanced during the day and sleep better at night. Don't be scared to tire out the body and mind, it will want time to rejuvenate and sleep may get easier!
Tips and highlights from Sleep Smarter:
Let's start by going over why these tips are so important. Sleep essentially helps to rebuild things that are used during the day. This makes sense; we mostly see it as energy, but it goes deeper into our biology as well. Sleep deprivation can affect areas of the brain that monitor our critical thinking, decision making, and self-control - when sleep deprived, we are likely not excelling in any of these areas. Studies have found that sleep can be as detrimental to grades college students receive as binge drinking. Along with this, people who are chronically sleep deprived are at a higher risk for diseases and health problems that can bring you closer and closer to our inevitable eternal sleep. This sounds very morbid but it's true! Sleep is essential for a healthy brain and heart. When those two fail because we fail them... well, there's not much left for us to survive with, truly!
Schedule your sleep, especially around times you're extra busy.
Get some sun! Prime hours for your body to receive sunlight in a way that benefits it most are in the early morning, from 6 - 8:30 AM. Take work breaks outside, eat breakfast or lunch outside, etc., etc.! Wear sunglasses if you need to, but recognize that exposing your eyes to sunlight can be very beneficial in general and for sleep! Getting sunlight changes our body's release of cortisol and melatonin to help us wake when we need to and sleep when we need to. Reset the rhythm!
Avoid screens before bed time. This is probably the hardest one for many people. Turn off screens (or get them out of your face), at least 90 minutes before bedtime. (Hint: this means you should know when that bedtime is!) Find something else to wind yourself down. Read, chat, meditate, or just lay in bed and do nothing and be fine with it and with all of the thoughts that come alongside it.
Keep your room temperature cool! Get cozy in bed. Your body wants to regulate, and sleeping in a hot room can cause it to stay up trying to do so. The book also mentions taking a hot bath 1.5 - 2 hours before bed. This helps your body warm up and then cool just in time for sleep.
Going to bed a few hours after dark, somewhere from roughly 9-11 PM, gives your body a hormonal advantage! These hours (roughly 10 PM - 2 AM) are prime time for hormone production. Set your alarm in accordance with 90 minute sleep cycles, so you can wake up feeling as refreshed as possible (ex. waking up at the end of a sleep cycle rather than in the middle of one).
Magnesium-rich foods and topical magnesium or supplements will help get you to dreamland! Along with this, strive to eat (for most of your day) a variety of foods rich in all kinds of nutrients. A diet of hot Cheetos and chocolate cake is fun but not forever-fun.
Make your room ready to sleep in. Whatever makes you cozy and relaxed - organize accordingly!
Get some activity throughout your whole day, but definitely in the morning!
Keep it dark. If you can dim your lights a couple hours before bedtime it will not only tell your body that its night time and prep you for sleep, but it will set the mood for your mind.
Have sex with someone else or yourself! This can help to release hormones in your body and take you on a snooze cruise.
Meditate before bed. (!!!!)
Put your bare feet on the ground during the day! This gives you free electrons and can physically help to balance your body's chemicals and cells and keep you in rhythm.
If you want more tips or details on why these tips are so helpful, read the book or visit the website! Otherwise, try this out and see if it has a similar effect on you, especially if you have what you may consider "smaller" physical or mental health problems. Also, I am most definitely not a doctor, so please see one if you think you need to. This is just my personal experience.
Happy snoozing! :)