I have findings to report to you! These are my first findings for the Laws of Bliss, so this is particularly exciting. If you read my last post, you know that the practice I adopted for this week was to schedule a bedtime every night so that I get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Why seven to eight hours? Because the slexperts (short for sleep experts, catchy, no?) have found that healthy adults perform well with at least seven hours of sleep but that some adults may not need a full eight hours of sleep. And getting below seven hours of sleep on a regular basis sets you up for a whole host of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. It will also turn you into a grump, and no one likes an Eeyore.
If you closely read my last post, you’re probably thinking, doesn’t this chick already get seven to eight hours of sleep every night?
Good reading skills, my friends. Yes, I do attempt to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. But sometimes my attempts are not as valiant as they should be. I’ll get distracted surfing the nets, and I’ll end up getting in bed closer to 11:30 p.m. than my desired 10:45 p.m. Or, I’ll get in bed by 10:45 p.m., but I will allow myself to indulge in one of my guilty pleasures: exploring literally every thought that enters my mind until I’m mentally drafting a business plan for the next AirBnb, and by then, god knows I’m too invested in plotting my takeover of the universe to fall asleep. Or, sometimes, I’ll snooze past my alarm clock in the morning and sleep more than eight hours. Rebel, I know.
So what did I do differently this week in order to actually get seven to eight hours of sleep every night instead of merely attempting to do so?
Set a Bedtime Reminder
First, I set myself two alarms. One for my morning wake up and one for my bedtime. If you are like most normals, you probably hate alarm clocks so much that the thought of setting a second alarm clock for bedtime is abhorrent. But you don’t have to call it an “alarm clock.” You can call it a friendly reminder or a helpful hint. I referred to it as my “nightly nap note.” Nothing pleases a type-A nerd more than alliteration. The nightly nap note was my signal to start preparing for bed with my nightly routine.
For many of us, getting ready for bed is often the hardest part of getting a good night’s rest.
I know that after a long day of work and particularly after I’ve dipped my hands into the cookie jar/red wine stash, it can be a monumental task to drag my rump off the couch, put the snacks back in the kitchen, and walk 8 steps to the bathroom to remove my contact lenses, brush my teeth, and not wash my face (I have a well-vetted beauty routine). Sometimes the whole endeavor seems too much to bear, like climbing Mt. Everest but without a sherpa carrying your $5000 Louis Vuitton luggage set.
I set my nightly nap note for 10:30 p.m. every night so that, even after my nightly routine and the time it takes me to fall asleep, I would wake up the next morning at or before 6:30 a.m. Of course, on the first night this week, I eagerly got off the couch exactly at 10:30 p.m. to start preparing for bed. But I must admit I wasn’t perfect for the entire week. On Day 3, I came home from a late dinner, so I didn’t start prepping for bed until 10:32 p.m. Are you guys sensing that I’m a rebel yet?
Some of you night owls might be giggling at my early sleep schedule, but the joke’s on you, fools! Early risers tend to be healthier than late risers, as the latter tend to consume more processed foods and sugar than the former. This study seems like it would be great news for me, but unfortunately, the study doesn’t address early birds who are exactly like me: those who don’t consume copious amounts of processed food and sugar late at night, but instead do the same thing in the afternoon hours at their desks.
If that health study wasn’t enough to sway all of you night owls to go to bed at a reasonable hour, try reframing going to bed early as a luxury instead of as a chore or burden. Our lives today are fast-paced, jam-packed, and increasingly controlled by little blue screens, so it really is a luxury to allow yourself to enjoy at least seven hours of sleep and to follow your body’s circadian rhythms. After all, getting a solid night of rest is as restorative for your body as is getting a steamy, deep-tissue massage from a half-naked Italian hunk named Lorenzo. Probably. I have no data to back that one up. Lorenzo, if you’re reading, call me ;)
If you’re done fantasizing about Lorenzo working out all of the kinks in your body, you’ve probably moved on to thinking about how I dealt with my prolific night thoughts this week and whether they distracted me from getting my seven to eight hours of sleep per night. You guys are really so thoughtful for always thinking about me!
Check-in with Yourself Before Bed
Since I knew that bedtime mind-wandering was a weakness of mine, I went into this week with a few strategies to prevent my mind from going astray. About 15 minutes before by nightly nap note went off, I did a self-check-in and asked myself three questions:
Is there anything bothering you right now?
Are you forgetting to do something?
What are you eating for breakfast tomorrow morning?
If there was something bothering me, I would write it down in my journal so that it would leave my headspace and exist only on paper. If I was forgetting something, I would add it to one of my many categorized to-do lists. And, of course, I had to think about what I was going to eat the next morning for breakfast. I take breakfast very seriously and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour each morning on the art of breakfast. My devotion to breakfast explains why I am deeply offended any time I attend a professional event between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and all I’m offered is a miniature-sized plastic bagel with a side of bruised honeydew melon. Seriously, though, who thinks honeydew is acceptable to serve to humans? It tastes like an old person’s feet. Like a really old person who lives in a poorly managed nursing home where regular bathing is frowned upon.
You might be wondering how I remembered to ask myself those three questions before my nightly nap note went off. Would you hate me if I said that I set a third alarm clock to remind myself? Good, because I didn’t do that! That’s right, you can keep loving me! Yay! As my body began to wind down for bed every night, I would start thinking about which hoops I had to jump through in order to reach my comfy bed. Usually the obstacle of physically tearing myself away from the couch loomed largest, but eventually, I began to remember my three handy questions and it quickly became an ingrained habit.
So, now that my first week is over, here are my takeaways.
It takes work to get good sleep.
If we were nomadic herders who hunted our own meals and followed the stars to our manifest destiny, or rural farmers who raised adorable chickens for a living, it probably wouldn’t be so hard for us to get peaceful, high-quality sleep. Our sinewy bodies would be aligned with our circadian rhythms and we’d likely use sunrise and dusk as cues to wake up and go to bed. But instead, we are chubby little monsters who are cooped up in offices all day, poring over useless emails and attending even more useless meetings. We are foolish narcissists who stare down at our smartphones for hours even though it gives us backaches. We are captives who sit at desks all day and can feel ourselves literally getting lazier, fatter, and older by the minute. All of these luxurious trappings of modern-day living–from electronic screens and minimal physical activity, to constant caffeine intake and nonstop mental stress–can make it very difficult to develop a healthy sleep practice.
But they don’t make it impossible! You just have to put in some level of effort if you want to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get a restful seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Even though I am a sleep aficionado, I still had to set myself reminders to go to bed and to destress beforehand. So, if you’re having trouble going to bed early or having sleeping problems in general, the first step is to acknowledge that you’re likely not making as much of an effort as you should be in order to improve your sleep. The next step? Make more of an effort, duh. Also, keep reading my blog for more tips!
Do a self-check-in every night before bed.
While the nightly nap note was helpful in reminding me to wrap things up before bed, it was the nightly self-check-in that was enormously useful. As soon as I wrote down my worries and upcoming to-dos, I felt a wave of relief wash over me, and it enabled me to look forward to falling asleep. Now, when my tiny noggin hits the pillow, I am no longer consumed by my manic yet brilliant thoughts because I’ve given my brain explicit permission to turn off for the night.
So, if you find yourself absorbed by roaming thoughts or other stressors at night, I highly recommend doing a self-check-in every night before bed. Make sure you individualize the self-check-in questions so that you can tackle the specific problems that plague your own sleep practice. I assume most of you won’t be as concerned about planning the next day’s breakfast, but a lot of you probably are worried about something you have to do at work the next day or a difficult conversation you need to have with a loved one. Write that shit down! It takes two minutes, and I promise, it will help you sleep better.
Until next time,