My entire adult life, I have worn my sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. I equated a full schedule and little sleep with success and strength. While I was at University, I would fill every second of my day planner with appointments. I was working three jobs while trying to get straight A’s, and also have a social life. I surprised myself one day, when I dissolved into tears upon finding out I got a B on an exam. A wise friend who was with me said “something’s got to give”. Of course I knew she was right, but it took me many more years until my over-achieving, people-pleasing (and night owlish) habits wore me down enough (combined with finding out the true dangers of sleep deprivation) that I tried to change my ways.
The turning point
About a year ago, I began feeling constantly tired, with lots of disparate issues including tingling in my hands, night sweats, digestive problems and feeling anxious. I took it seriously but had a feeling it was all due to stress and sleep deprivation. After seeing a few specialists with no solid diagnosis, I knew I was on the right track in my thinking, and that my body was sending me a solid message to start prioritising my health. I decided it was time to make some serious changes, and sleep was a good place to start. I wanted to learn more about sleep and how it affects us, in the hopes that knowledge would give further weight to my commitment, so I researched on the internet, watched the documentary Dead Tired, and read The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington.
Why sleep deprivation is horrible, aside from feeling exhausted:
Listen to our latest podcast for a myriad of reasons why sleep deprivation is incredibly dangerous to mental, physical and emotional health (not to mention beauty), but here are a few that stood out to me:
- Women need more sleep than men. Our brains juggle more things at a time so need longer to recover.
- Death from all causes is 15% more likely with sleep deprivation.
- Sleep deprivation causes women to feel more hostile, anxious and depressed, whereas men do not experience the same symptoms with a similar level of deprivation.
- Fine lines and wrinkles were 45% greater after 5 days of 6 hour sleep nights. So our first priority in our beauty regimen should be sleep!
- It has a major detrimental effect on productivity, creativity and cognition.
- Being very sleep deprived impairs us to the same level as being drunk does.
The challenge (and my sleep routine)
A few weeks ago, at the end of a podcast, Vic and I set a goal to get 30 extra minutes of sleep per night, in the hopes that having accountability and a deadline would help us stick to a routine. For this night owl, the challenge was getting to bed on time. This was more complicated than I thought; it required a few steps for me:
- A conversation with my husband (who was thrilled with the idea, as he’s an early riser anyway) about teaming up to get the house in order early so we could retire earlier.
- Setting an alarm to remind us when to go to bed. As we all know, if you end up getting hooked on a great TV drama, it’s very difficult to even be aware of the time. Scroll down for a Portlandia clip I love about this problem.
- Making the bedroom a nice place to be. I mentioned in my previous post on tidying that we got new bedside tables, lamps and flowers so our bedroom is now a beautiful, peaceful environment to relax in. We also have air conditioning in our room (via a heat pump) which I can’t recommend highly enough for pleasant sleep.
- Making the bedtime ritual pleasant and fun. In order to leave all of the other enticing activities that I will happily stay up late doing, I had to have something fun to look forward to during the going-to-sleep routine. I did this by having a delicious novel to read in bed (not only self-improvement or educational books, as I often have at my bedside). That worked great, because reading is one of my favourite activities (although even here I had to have discipline - I can happily stay up reading in bed for three hours if I have a good book).
That was my starting point; but then, in bed with the light off at 10:30pm, my mind began to race. I grew more and more frustrated after laying there for an hour or two, so I knew I needed to re-commit to things that would calm the mind and help bring sleep on.
- Meditation: You’d have to be hiding under a rock to escape the popularity meditation is gaining now. I am adding my voice to that choir. I have been meditating sporadically for a few years, and I know without a doubt that it helps me not only to sleep better, but to be calmer during my day, more present and more powerful in myself as a result of how much more grounded it makes me feel. If you have tried it once or twice and thought it wasn’t for you because you’re mind wanders, please try it again. Everyone’s mind wanders - that’s the point. Meditation is like a muscle that needs strengthening; you get better at it with time, and the benefits compound on each other.
- A hot bath: my aforementioned proclivity to be manically busy has always prevented me from valuing a bath. My go - to for relaxation has previously been going on a hike or reading, but I tried a bath before bedtime and wow, it helps SO much. I am always freezing, and often it takes me awhile to warm up once I get into bed; but having a nice warm bath keeps me comfortable and allows my temperature to drop, which is another sleep inducer. It has a side benefit of releasing negative ions into the air, which studies have shown reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety. This is one reason we all feel so much more peaceful around moving bodies of water such as waterfalls, streams and the ocean.
- Planning: Making a list of everything I need to do the next day, and even little things weighing on my mind is very important so my mind can rest.
- Avoiding caffeine: I don’t have much caffeine anyway, but I do notice if I have any later in the day, will be up late for sure.
- Limit viewing back-lit electronic devices: We are still trying to find an alarm clock that looks good and has a gradual alarm like our phones do. In the meantime, I just set the phone to charge and dive into my book. If I do check social media, I keep it to just a few minutes and dim the screen; that way, there isn’t enough time for the light to make a difference and keep me awake.
Once I incorporated all of these things, I found I dropped off to sleep very easily. Meditation and baths are absolute game changers for me. They’re very simple things to do, and require a combined 20 minute investment at the minimum, but wow, what fantastic benefits they yield!
Vic’s sleep routine
Vic has a few additional things she does as part of her routine:
- Block Blue Light : I use f.lux on my laptop to block blue light and alert me to when I am due to be awake if I am on my laptop. I have recently started to use the sleep function on my IPhone to ensure that I am get at least 8 hours sleep
- Magnesium : I take magnesium or use a magnesium oil on my body in the early evening.
- Restful Tea Blends : Drinking restful tea (a combination for me of camomile, peppermint and rooibus) before bed.
- Spa : I spend some time decompressing the day in the spa to relax and warm up.
- Vapouriser : A vapouriser in my bedroom that diffuses lavender, ylang ylang or another similar relaxing essential oil
- Black out curtains. Make the bedroom the right temperature, use black out curtains or blinds even a small crack of light can cause wakefulness. Consider a blindfold.
- Ambient lighting. A lamp, candle that emits low light (ambient yellow/orange lighting) is best. Make sure if you use candles to use a good quality one and extinquish by putting a glass over the flame to prevent nasty toxicity in the air.
- EMF Free. Try to make your room device free. A simple travel alarm clock is adequate. If you do have devices in your room, ensure they are switched off or on aeroplane mode.
- Journal Right down a list of intentions in a journal for the following day, I then don't am worry in my sleep.
Since prioritising sleep a bit more (there were still a few nights with sub-par results, but as a whole I’ve done much better), I have felt a lot better. Here is a list of the things that have changed for me:
- I feel less stressed
- I don’t feel like I’m dragging myself through the day as often
- I can focus more easily
- I have more clarity of thought
- It’s easier to meditate
- It’s easier to exercise
- I have more energy to do things for others - I feel like I’ve been a better friend
- I am much more patience with my daughter
- I am more present
- I am happier in myself
Of course, some of these results can also be attributed to being more mindful as the result of meditation, and by opening space up to enjoy focusing on activities I really enjoy, (it makes sense that all of these things must go hand in hand), but I’m a believer. Sleep is our most under utilised elixir. Now to just turn off The Crown early enough that I can stick to my routine!
Give it a try! Let us know if you’re able to get even a bit more sleep per day, and let us know your experiences in the comments or on our Facebook page. We want to learn from you as well!
Here are a few links we mentioned in the podcast: