Mastering Sleep: 10 Steps to the Best Sleep Ever
Being unable to fall asleep could actually qualify as being one of the worst things ever. Same goes for being woken up by your alarm and feeling so tired and groggy that you seriously consider quitting your job, quitting life, and just becoming a professional sleeper (if only that was a real thing).
Now imagine an alternate reality:
you fall asleep within 5,10 minutes of getting into bed
you wake up refreshed (and maybe even before your alarm whaaaaa🤯)
you don't need no coffee to get your brain ready for the day
and you have high energy levels all.freaking.day.
Seems to good to be true? I guarantee you it's not.
How do I know? Because I went from crappy sleep to great sleep and I'm here to tell the tale.
MY SLEEP JOURNEY
It's been a couple of years since I changed my sleeping habits, and everyone who knows me well knows that I wouldn't go back no matter how much you paid me. I used to go out 2,3 nights a week and come home at 5am, sleep until 12pm, then sleepwalk and be a zombie for the rest of the day.
Now I head to bed at 8pm (shocking, I know), watch a bit of TV (controversial, I KNOW), am asleep by 830 (what a grandma, right?), and am awake at 4am, before my alarm even thinks about going off. I drink no coffee whatsoever, am super refreshed and full of energy every morning, and maintain that energy throughout the day.
Now you might be reading this and thinking 'I can't go to sleep by 9 pm, that's insane', and I would agree with you. It's a bit cuckoo and not a lot of people do it, and it definitely doesn't mean that you should, but I do because it works for me. I sacrifice my enjoyment of late nights and binge watching Netflix (yes, yes, I like these things too, I'm a human being) to be able to wake up and have a high-energy day every day of the week -and yes, that includes weekends.
YOU CAN GET QUALITY SLEEP TOO
Wherever you might go to for sleep advice, odds are you'll find the same recommendations on repeat:
sleep 7-9 hours every night
go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
avoid technology at least 30 minutes before bedtime
And while I can agree that these points are valid, I want to say that I break #3 every single day and I have no regrets. So here's my personal advice:
Relax and let shit go
Seems like a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many of us forget to do this. Our body experiences stress like an actual threat, no matter where that stress is coming from: whether you're being followed by a bear or overwhelmed by your to-do list. High stress levels translate into high cortisol, which in turn means having a hard time falling and staying asleep.
Finding the right kind of stress management is crucial here. Whether you meditate, journal, go to a relaxing yoga class, or play with your dog outside -just do what you gotta do, love. There's no right and wrong way to do this, as long as in the end you feel more relaxed and less stressed out.
2. Make sure your bedroom is prepped for uninterrupted sleep
This means blackout curtains, comfy bed and sheets, and an eye mask and ear plugs if needed.
3. If you're going to watch TV, buy blue light filtering glasses (and turn that brightness down)
I know, I know, this one's controversial. But this piece of advice is from my personal experience vault, and I understand that it might not work for everyone. But for those of you out there who love watching a bit of TV before bed, this is how you do it.
The thing about technology is that it affects sleep in 2 ways:
1. it keeps us engaged and therefore our brain doesn't want to shut off, and
2. the blue light that comes from screens triggers a chemical reaction that stops the production of melatonin -that helpful little chemical that makes us sleepy.
So I tackle these two things by:
1. only putting on something that I've watched before, but that I love (Marvel on repeat, anyone?) and
2. I use my blue-filtering glasses from Felix Grey, turn the TV brightness waaaay down (to the point where if there's a night/dark scene I can barely see anything), and take a 5mg melatonin right as I get into bed. The result: I'm out like a light within 30 minutes.
One more thing: if you have a history of having trouble falling asleep, it might be best not to try this from the get go. Putting your electronics away 30 min before bed could be the best route for you, at least until you normalize your sleeping patterns. So make this little sacrifice for a few weeks, and if you're then able to fall asleep easily sure, try my little hack and see if it works for you.
4. Avoid heavy activity and foods
A good rule of thumb is to avoid sugar, refined carbs, and a heavy dinner 1-2hrs before bed. Same thing goes for working out: try to schedule your workouts -especially the more intense ones- so that they end 2 hrs before your bedtime.
As for caffeine and energizers, you already know what I'm going to say: don't drink caffeine, black or green tea, and energy drinks, after 12pm.
5. Have a bedside journal
Many of us have trouble sleeping because our minds just won't shut up. It happens to the best of us, so here's what you can do: have a little notebook and a pen on your nightstand and when the monkey mind goes on and on and on, write those thoughts down. Put down your to-do list, your worries, and leave them on that piece of paper. They'll be right there waiting for you tomorrow morning, so you can fall asleep now.
6. Use essential oils
Lavender is a wonderful, calming essential oil that can help relax you and make you sleepy. Rub a bit on your wrists, or put a few drops in a bottle with water and spray it on your pillow, and voila -you have created a mini spa-like experience for yourself.
7. Use sounds, songs, meditations
There are endless resources online, so take advantage of them! Youtube and Insight Timer are the ones I use the most, but there are also apps like Relaxtopia and Relax melodies that have soothing sounds and songs that can help you fall asleep.
My absolute favorites are:
Brett Larkin's "Easy 10 minute bedtime yoga routine for total beginners" and "Quick nightime guided meditation for sleep" -both available on Youtube
Sleep deep 432 hz by Carmen Ng -found on Insight Timer. This one is pure magic. I don't know how but that frequency has gotten me through nights where I simply could not fall asleep for hours; once I put the song on I'd be out within 5 minutes. Like I said, magic!
8. Use natural sleeping aids
Melatonin, aka my personal sleep superhero. It can help you get to sleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have better quality sleep. Talk about a perfect sleep trifecta! Take 3 - 5mg before sleep
Valerian: take 300 to 600 mg, or 2 to 3 grams of dried valerian root steeped in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. If you want to give this an extra boost add passion flower and hops to the mix; the combo has been shown to have the same effect as Ambien in terms of improving the time it takes to fall asleep, sleep duration, and sleep quality. HUM Mighty Night uses these 3 little helpers
Tart cherry juice: a glass 30 min before bed can increase melatonin and decrease inflammation. GNC carries an organic, unsweetened one that you can try
Magnesium: take 300 mg/day (400mg for men)
Amino acids: glycine 3mg/day; 5-HTP + GABA: take 300mg 5HTP and 1 GABA capsule 30 min before bed
CBD: mix your preferred dose of CBD oil with the tart cherry juice and drink it before bed!
If you're confused by all the choices and don't know where to even start, you can try LifeRenew's Sleep Aid which contains every single one, minus the tart cherry juice -of course.
As with any other types of supplements, natural or not, please check with your doctor if you are already on other medication or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Once you get the OK from your doctor, look for the NSF or USP seals on your supplements to make sure you're getting the best quality.
9. Release the guilt
There's absolutely no point in you sitting there in bed, trying to fall asleep, and thinking about how horrible it is that you can't. You're not helping, and you know it. Use the bedside notepad if you need to write down these negative thoughts, and leave them there. Then close your eyes and think nice thoughts, maybe even something along the lines of 'it's ok if I can't fall asleep right away, I'll catch up on sleep on the weekends' -this can take the pressure off needing it to happen right now, or else.
10. Walk away
If you're tossing and turning and still can't fall asleep after 45 minutes to an hour, get up and go to another room. Make sure the lighting in that room isn't too bright (and is preferably a warm, yellowish light) and read something boring for 15 minutes. Once you start to feel a bit sleepy, head back to bed and try again.
I suggest doing this because I want you to avoid associating your bed with the frustration that arises when you're not able to fall asleep. Your bed and bedroom should be a place where you feel comfortable and safe, so keep it that way.
There's 2 more things I'd like to add about sleep schedules and routines.
While it is true that getting 8hrs of sleep every night is ideal, the truth is we're all different. Experiment with different sleep schedules and see which works best for you. I know that I need at least 7 hours of sleep, but my mom doesn't -she's ok with just 6- and my boyfriend needs about 9 hrs every night. Sex, age, activity levels, diet, all affect how much sleep we need to feel well rested.
So try things out: start with 8 hours of sleep for a couple of nights and see how that works for you. If you wake up before that every day then you might need less, but if you still wake up groggy you probably need more rest.
More importantly, maintain the same sleep schedule EVERY DAY -yes, even on weekends. This is absolutely crucial for keeping your circadian rhythm in check.
So there you have it love, my personal tips for falling asleep and getting a good night's rest. If none of these works for you my advice is to go see a doctor (preferably an endocrinologist) and have them check out your thyroid and hormones. Imbalances in your estrogen, progesterone or testosterone can lead to insomnia, but so can too much cortisol or disorders affecting your growth hormones.