I would be lying to you if I said that sleep is the easiest thing for me optimize in my life. To be honest, it actually has been the hardest. As of recent I learned I wasn’t alone. About 1 in 3 Americans do not get the recommended amount of sleep which is 7-8 hours for adults. And about 45% of Americans have reported that poor or insufficient sleep has affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days. Something even more surprising is that our biggest problem is actually sleep quality versus quantity.
my struggle was real.
My history with sleep started off with sleep quantity with it’s peak being the worst during my first full time job about 5-6 years ago. I had just moved back to my hometown but got my first role in San Francisco. I decided to live with my parents for a bit to pay off my student loans but this meant commuting up to 3-4 hours per day just for work. My life was fairly routine: wake up at 4:20 AM, take train at 5:45 AM, work from 7:00 AM-4:00 PM, take train home, go to gym at 6:00 PM, exercise for about 90 minutes, eat dinner at 8 or 9, work a bit more, shower, and in bed at 11:00 PM. That left me with sleeping hours of 11:00 PM to 4:20 AM. But actually I woke up a few times during those hours and probably never got to full optimized sleep cycle. This affected me in so many ways. I struggled with heart burn, extreme fatigue (to the point I felt drunk at times), couldn't be creative at work, and just really was on edge at times. I even made poor decisions in my relationships like dating people I normally wouldn’t or just not dating at all. This all came to an end but 3 years later. I cannot get back those years of lack of sleep and it was a struggle to get this optimized moving forward.
I was able to increase the amount of time in bed over the years with changing my job a couple times until I found one that really helped changed my life. I finally am in a role where I have the ability to exercise, spend time others, and have very little anxiety. This has been a huge help but I also learned how powerful my nighttime routine can be to help with my sleep. Below are some ways to build a powerful sleep routine that are clinically proven or shown to be helpful to me.
Powerful Actions that will help you get the best sleep of your life.
Start your day with exercise or early afternoon (if you can).
One thing that I learned during those sleepless years was that I functioned much better on exercise in the morning versus night. Exercise (especially if intense) activates the sympathetic part of the brain. This is your “fight or flight” response and can last for a while post-exercise. This excitement can lead you stay up later than you would like post-late night exercise or your brain be too activated. If you HAVE to exercise later in the day, think about adding in 10-15 minutes at the end of your workout to wind down from this response. I recommend laying down on a mat, stretch to loosen up your muscles, turn on slow music, and take some big, intentional breaths. In no time, you will calm down from your exercise and have tapped into your parasympathetic part of the brain.
Consume natural foods during the day proven to help you sleep.
Earlier this year I wrote this article for ClassPass, These Natural Foods Proven to Help You Sleep. Since I exercise a ton and may need a lot more potassium and electrolytes than the average joe, I focus on this most during the day. Both are proven to help with sleep. Leafy greens and bananas are daily staples for me. I start my day off with a protein shake that includes pea protein powder, super greens, banana, chia seeds, cashew milk, nut butter and ashwagandha. Best way to start the day!
Use a planner, to-do lists and any other thought organizer.
Many sleep experts say that those who wake up frequently throughout the night are going to bed feeling like something is incomplete or unfinished. I recommend to all my patients to organize their day, thoughts and future plans before they go to bed. This can be writing to-do list for the present day and tomorrow, daily journaling, or even some type of phone reminder system. Feeling like you can go to sleep without thinking about all that you have to do tomorrow or what you didn’t get done helps with sleep significantly. Remember, do not complete this right before bed. This leads me to the next tip.
Set a strict phone curfew.
I used to ALWAYS look at my phone before bed and actually all evening if I could. This was the worst when I had two phones: one work and one for pleasure. I was constantly checking email, obsessing over work or even WORSE-obsessing over Instagram. My partner has helped me separate a bit from this. When my tech obsession started to make my partner despise me is when I finally decided to cut nighttime ties. Now, right around the time I make dinner, I put my phone to charge in our room. Apple’s “ScreenTime” has also been helpful for me because I set it to thirty minutes on social and this is done before 7pm. This has been huge for my mental health AND sleep.
Watch, read or listen to anything joyful and non-stressful.
Again, when we are caught up watching TV shows that induce stress or fear or provokes many thoughts, we tend to have crazy dreams leading to stressful sleep. A few months of bingeing Sons of Anarchy before bed made me realize I needed to change this. My husband and I have a new rule where we only watch rom-coms or funny TV shows prior to bed. More Friends, less Game of Thrones. We leave the more fun-yet stressful shows for the weekend.
October was supposed to be the most stressful time of my life. My wedding month. Fortunately, it was also the month at work that we were all challenged to do daily meditation. I decided to do nightly sleep meditation and I cannot tell you how it helped but it did. I would fall asleep quickly and only wake up once during the night (very close to my alarm). This has never happened for me! I continue to do guided sleep meditations on the 10% Happier app. I highly recommend!
Add activities that help calm you down.
Some people go from the craziness of life to jumping into bed. This is the worst! I suggest to all my patients to find activities that induce relaxation and calm daily. Some favorites include a hot bath, reading a slow book, stretching, sleep sound music and sleepy time tea.
Lastly, make your room clutter-free and free of TVs.
Your bedroom should be what it is made for. Bedtime! Do not add TVs, work stations, or anything that reminds you of anything besides sleep. Also, make your bed daily, clean your sheets frequently, and make sure the temperature is just right.
So now you know how I am managing my sleep routine. While I am not perfect, I am far more rested than I used to be. I recognize that sleep is important for metabolic, mental and physical health and area I was ignoring for too long. I now recognize sleep is just as important as my HIIT workouts. I hope that you learned that here too.
I would love to hear what your sleep tips are! Post them in the comment below. Soon you will be sleeping like Maui below.