I’ve been going through some weird stuff. In difficult times, I’ve often found sleep is the first thing to go out the window, which is no bueno because it is those times in which I need sleep the most.
I’ve struggled with sleep my entire life. If you ask my mom if I was ever a good sleeper, she will laugh in your face. I keenly remember being four or five and sneaking around the house at wee hours of the morning, peeking through old photo albums and figuring out which snacks are the quietest to eat. (Hint: Anything not wrapped in plastic.)
Nobody tackled my sleep issues when I was a kid, so I never developed healthy sleep patterns. In college, I used to go weeks without ever actually sleeping during the night. I’m a couple years out of college now (whoa, when did that happen?), and I can’t go without sleep as easily as I used to. I typically feel worse for wear, and I look even rougher.
I’m a firm believer that anything you can do to make your body healthier will go a long way towards making you look better, more so than any product will. This is why I’m adamant about a healthy diet, water consumption, mental health, and SLEEP.
Sleep deprivation causes your body to release more cortisol--a stress hormone. In turn, that excess cortisol breaks down collagen, that awesome stuff that keeps your skin firm. As we age, our body produces less and less collagen, which is why under-eye bags often seem more pronounced on elderly people. (It’s not because they’re out all night clubbing, unless we’re talking about my grandma. She’s the best.)
Sleep deprivation also affects your judgment, heart health, appetite, mental health, etc. Also, sleep is fun and it feels good! All I ever want to do forever is have fun and feel good.
In that spirit, I'm really focusing on what helps me sleep, and I’m gonna share some of my tips with y’all. Let’s get to bed, shall we?
First Things First
Sleep disorders are a very real thing, and sleep issues can also be a symptom of much more serious problems. If your sleep issues are consistently affecting your well being, please speak with a professional.
Rituals, patterns, and general consistency are conducive to my well-being in a lot of ways, and sleep is one of them.
If you’re aiming to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, figure out what time you’ll need to fall asleep so that you can achieve that. I function at my best on nine hours of sleep, and I aim to be awake daily by 8 a.m., which means I try to be asleep every night by 11 p.m.
My brain needs a lot of time to “come down,” so I try to be in bed about 30 minutes before I’d like to be asleep. Creating a ritual, and repeating it every night, will help teach your brain that it’s time for sleep.
My bedtime ritual involves washing my face, moisturizing my face and my hands, and climbing into bed with a mug of hot tea and a book.
Try really hard to avoid electronics before bed. Any kind of lit-up screen will work against calming down your brain. I’m guilty of checking my phone just-this-once-more before I fall asleep, but it’s a terrible habit.
If you do keep your phone by your bedside (and who doesn’t?), try and keep the brightness turned all the way down so as to not excite your eyes too much while you’re trying to get them to shut. Turn your phone on silent to keep distractions at bay.
If you work at a computer, give yourself a few hours of screen-free time before bed. This includes TV, y’all. I know a lot of people like to fall asleep with the TV on, but it will actually cause you to take more time to fall asleep and will leave you feeling less rested.
I drink some variation of chamomile tea most nights before sleep. Lately, I’ve been hooked on this chamomile-lavender tea from Traditional Medicinals. Most teas that promote good sleep will be chamomile based. (I should tell you, though, that a doctor once told me you shouldn’t drink chamomile tea if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Solid advice, doc.)
Make Yourself Tired
The largest downside of working from home or an office is that I often find myself just sitting down all day. This leaves me very restless come bedtime.
It’s important to get some sort of physical activity in during the day so that your body is actually tired at night. Similarly, it’s important to exercise your brain throughout the day as well.
I waited tables for years, and it was physically exhausting. While keeping track of orders and making small talk with rando customers definitely required some mental work, I didn’t really use a lot of creative energy. I would get home and crawl in bed with my aching, tired body and just think, think, think until around four or five in the morning.
These days, I spend seven or eight hours writing each day. I use up a lot of brain juice doing that. Writing is tiring in some ways, but it’s not exactly athletic. (And neither am I, much to my parents’ chagrin.)
I like to exert my pent up physical energy by taking long walks in the mid-afternoon. If it’s cold or rainy out, I just stay inside and crazy-jump-dance to some rap music.
Here are some easy ways to get some physical activity into even the busiest days:
· Ride a bike.
· Get really into cleaning, JLaw-in-American-Hustle style.
· Hula hoop.
· Find a treadmill on Craigslist and periodically move it from one room to the other in your house.
Keep a Close Eye On Your Caffeine Consumption
I’ve written before about my attempts to kick the caffeine habit, but I’m still all Brokeback Mountain with some coffee. (Why can’t I quit you, dark roast?!) I can easily down an entire pot of coffee on my own before noon, but I’ll end up spending most of the day in a jittery haze of caps-lock tweeting and marathoning Broad City. (AGAIN.)
I try to limit myself to no more than two cups of coffee in the morning, and I never consume caffeine after 1 p.m. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, though.
I discovered a fun app called Up Coffee which you can use to track your caffeine consumption, whether it be from coffee, soda, tea or whatever. The app will let you know how much caffeine you should consume and when you should stop consuming it depending on when you’d like to be asleep by. It uses various factors such as your body weight and gender, and tracks your caffeine consumption over time. Neat, huh?
Be Wary Of Naps
When you’re not sleeping enough at night, naps can seem like a great way to sneak in some more shut-eye, but don’t overdo it. Try to keep your naps at 25 to 30 minutes or risk feeling even more sluggish afterwards.
I generally avoid napping. Since it takes me too long to fall asleep, naps feel like too much time wasted. If I do take a nap during the day, I have a much harder time falling asleep at night.
Instead of opting for a nap in the afternoon, consider taking a brisk walk outside, a shower, or calling a family member or old friend on the phone for a quick pick-me-up. In lieu of naps, I do sometimes enjoy a quick lie-down. This just involves lying down with my eyes shut for 10 to 12 minutes with no intention of falling asleep. I often find myself coming up with my best ideas during these “rest” periods.
Use Scents To Trick Your Brain
Scents are extremely triggering because our olfactory nerves are located in close proximity to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which control emotion and memory respectively. That’s why scents are such a powerful way to bring back memories or feelings, like the time this dude in a bar was wearing the same cologne my dad wears and I started crying because I miss him. (Hi, dad!)
We can use scents to our advantage in lots of ways, including sleep. My go-to sleep scent is lavender, and I use it in a variety of ways to induce sleepiness and calm. Some other soothing scents to consider are chamomile, bergamot, jasmine, rose, or vanilla. Many of us have scents we already associate with sleep, whether we realize it or not.
Turn Bathtime Into “Pre-Bedtime”
Speaking of scents, I have to give a shout-out to my new (unlikely) obsession: the Sleep line from Bath & Body Works.
If I could Oprah all my friends with cool stuff on the regular, the Sleep products would be next up. Scented with lavender and vanilla, this stuff has been putting me in a happy place for a few weeks now.
The Sleep Luxury Bath is one of the best bubble bath products I’ve ever used. Just a little bit of it poured into the bath will create heaps of lasting foam. The scent is lovely, but not overwhelming, and it leaves me smelling so good for hours afterwards.
Supplements, Vitamins, Etc.
I’ve always had issues with sleep, but at some point in the past four or five years, I started hearing about melatonin. These days, I can’t mention being tired in public without someone asking me, “Have you tried melatonin?” Yes, I’ve tried it. Many times. It didn’t do anything for me.
My sister, however, loves it. It can work for some people. Check with your doctor first just to be safe if you’re worried about how it will react with your body or other medications you might be taking.
I have had some success with valerian root. I dilute it with water, and drink a bit of it an hour before bed. The sleep I’ve gotten from valerian root has definitely been deep sleep, but it also gave me some seriously weird nightmares. It also has a very strong scent that I am not fond of, so that’s something to consider. Also, I spilled a bunch of it on my bed once and my boyfriend got VERY mad at me because our room smelled like farts and licorice for hours.
Make Your Bedroom A Sacred Place
Something I’ve been told by multiple sleep specialists is to make sure your bed is used ONLY for sleep, which always makes me giggle because I am a perv. It’s good advice, though. If you want to sleep well once you get into bed every night, make your bed a welcoming and relaxing place.
In the morning, get out of bed right away. Make your bed. Keep your room clean. Wash your sheets and blankets regularly. Quality bedding is always worth the extra few bucks, and the same goes for a good mattress.
You want your brain to associate your bed with sleep, not work or Netflix. In fact, I think television or computers in bedrooms are tacky. There, I said it.
If your room is a mess, it will stress you out and you will have a harder time sleeping. I know cleaning is a total drag, but if you’re refusing to do it because you’re too tired, maybe it’s the mess itself that is making you too tired. Just do it already. You will not regret it.
I know a lot of people who really swear by sound machines, and these days there are a lot of apps that will play calming sleep sounds for you, such as soft rain. I can’t sleep without my ceiling fan on. (Why do people on HGTV always hate on ceiling fans?)
Plan Ahead, But Don’t Freak Out
While some of my sleep issues have no explanation, the majority of my restless nights can be blamed on anxiety in some way. Once I get into bed, without fail, a thousand “What if?”’s and “Oh no!”’s pop into my head, causing me to toss and turn and stay awake.
Anxiety sucks, but I won’t let it ruin my life. A huge part of tackling my anxiety involves being proactive about planning ahead. As far as sleep, this means making lists and taking care of things at night. I like to plan outfits ahead of time, so that I won’t lie in bed wondering what to wear for an event the next day. I plan everything down to my lipstick sometimes.
I also keep a strict schedule of to-do’s and reminders on my phone so that I won’t forget to do them in the morning, and so that I won’t lie awake trying to drill, “Remember to ______ tomorrow” into my brain.
Even though I take great strides in assuaging my own anxieties, sometimes I’m just not going to fall asleep. It happens. The worst thing you can do if this happens, though, is to stay in bed berating yourself for being awake.
If you’ve been trying to fall asleep, and it just isn’t happening, get out of bed. Go sit in another room and read a book. Take a hot bath. Sit on a porch if you can. Drink some water. Worrying about your own worrying isn’t going to make anything better.
Give it thirty minutes to an hour, and then go back to bed and try again.