I’ve been having serious trouble sleeping for months. There were at least 3 nights in a month where I either can’t sleep at all or force myself into a 2-4 hour siesta. This isn’t because I was as busy as I used to be when I was still working at my full-time job, and neither was it because I fell into my on-again, off-again depressive episodes. It’s the constant battle between the natural night owl that I’ve always been and the morning lark I’ve trained myself to be in the last couple of years.
You see, not everyone is created equal. Just because an abundance of research shows morning people are generally happier, healthier, and more productive than night owls doesn’t mean that if you want to be happier, healthier, and more productive, you are ultimately obligated to become a morning person.
To me, this is a classic case of the victim mentality and a lack of self-acceptance: What I found most important after all this time is to get in touch your body’s natural circadian cycle, accept it as it is, and start working your schedules around it, as opposed to forcing yourself into something else entirely (or, in worst case scenarios, someone else). All “shoulds” in this world are nothing but BS if it doesn’t work for you, including everything I’m about to say in this post.
Believe me, running a half-marathon after a sleepless night was like a really, really, really bad hangover. Even when it felt so good in the moment (you’re literally running on zero brainpower, and long-distance runs are 99% mental work and 1% physical), almost as if you’re on LSD (all you do is letting your heart go all out, all the way), the after-effects of an all-nighter can last for months. Making drastic changes to your internal clock so suddenly, and/or punishing yourself for not rising as early as you “should’ve” been, these things only exacerbate the toll. Before you know it, you’re walking brain-dead hours on end, day after day.
Tons of trials and errors later, I found these are the best strategies to get me some quality sleep on a consistent basis. And really, it doesn’t matter if you’re a lark or an owl by nature. What matters is the sleep itself, and that it is the golden ticket to feeling better, thinking clearer, and looking younger:
1. Prioritize it. Nothing – I repeat – nothing will work if you don’t actually put it first thing on your mental must-do list, and that means making sleepytime above everything else. Think about it: If it’s just going to be another task to tick off, it’s not going to be a job well done. Accept that sleep is a necessity and never a luxury. Every stress and cell damage in your body can only heal and repair themselves thoroughly while you’re asleep.
2. Keep a consistent exercise regimen. You don’t have to do HIIT every single day of the week or vow yourself to become a gym rat. Moving your butt regularly simply prevents the daily stress from building up. Best to keep the aging hormones at bay if your goal is a restful sleep.
3. Keep your heaviest meals earlier during the day. The last thing you want as you sleep: Bloating, difficulty breathing, and night sweats. Your body produces heat as it metabolizes food, so a large palate for your dinner, especially if it’s a late one, could trigger some serious night sweats that’ll wake you up every hour or so. Whenever you can, lighten up your last meal of the day to enjoy a long, uninterrupted sleep.
4. Take fish oil supplements. A recent Oxford study revealed the correlation between higher omega-3 fatty acids in the blood with better sleep quality. I’ve tried this intervention on myself for the past two months and seen the benefits extend beyond fewer sleeping problems. Though you only see this becoming effective by week 2, I think a daily dose of fish oil is worth a shot for all-around health. I’m a lot less anxious than I used to be throughout the day and just worry less overall, particularly about things I don’t need to worry about. (Hey, in my defense, I’m highly neurotic.)
5. Smell lavender. Rubbing a drop or two of lavender essential oil on your temples works wonders to drain out all the stress and anxiety in your head. I also enjoy sniffing the scent right out of the tube, and my current bottle is a tiny travel-friendly 10ml one from Utama Spice, where I also got my virgin coconut oil for this DIY facial mask.
6. Drink white tea. Or chamomile if you like, as the sedative effects of the herb is one the oldest claims in the history of civilization. Personally though, white tea works better for me to achieve that sense of calmness. And if you haven’t tasted the white stuff before, the Chinese staple tastes almost exactly like green tea (they’re made from the same plant), except that it’s much milder and has a slightly sweeter undertone. Obviously you’d want to opt for a decaf one if you’re drinking it to unwind before hitting the sack. But for the most part, I drink white tea throughout the day.
7. Now this one only applies for the bookish types: Read a book you actually want to read (i.e. comic books, romance novels, and other trashy paperbacks - you know you want it) and lose yourself in it. For anyone who loves to read, I’m sure you have a hilly stash of page-turners you plan to ingest somewhere in your bedroom. You want to read them for different reasons – for more scoop on the subject, for the NYTimes Bestseller label, for learning how to write like the particular author. I get it. But reading fancy proses aren’t likely to induce sleep. As a matter of fact, I get even more self-conscious about my shitty drafts every time I’m reading classic literature before bedtime. Having said that, I find that a lighter read, specifically a fun and engaging chick-lit, is the best bet for getting myself completely absorbed in a story. I’ve recently finished Lindsey Kelk’s About A Girl on a joyous night, and am holding my bladder for its sequel, What A Girl Wants, that comes out this July.
8. Always have something to wake up to/look forward to the next day. Trust me, you’ll be worrying less for the rest of the day if you have your day all planned out before the alarm rings.
9. Breathe deeply. I find this a good practice throughout the day. Deep breathing every half an hour or so would basically propel your level of relaxation to climax itself by the time the night rolls around. Inhale as if your lungs could fill a whale each and that your belly could rise to the top of Everest, and then exhale veeery slowly with a slow “ahhh” sound under your breath. It’s like a mini-detox that altogether cleanses the blood, lowers blood pressure, increases circulation, calms your mood and soothes your soul. Bottom line: Just always remember to breathe. Try these fab controlled breathing techniques from TIME.
10. Take a warm bath a few hours before bed. This is perhaps my favorite remedy of all, because it’s so simple and effective (here’s a 2009 study showing how it’s helped insomniacs). Sleep scientists have long professed that the optimal body temperature for sleep is between 18-21°C. And the fastest way to drop from your regular 37°C? Trick your thermodynamics - raise the water’s temp to a comfortable high until you get that warm and fuzzy feeling. As soon as you get out of the shower, your body temp will cool down at a rapid rate. We get that sleepy feeling whenever our body temp drops, so by the time you’re done toweling off, you can ease your way into a deep, relaxing slumber.
11. Stretch a little (or a lot). Wherever it is you feel tightness, elongate it. Whatever’s comfortable for you, do it. Whether it’s doing the butterfly stretch, a pelvic floor move, or multiple variations of the bridge, ease the tension that’s built up throughout your day. I love doing Tara Stiles’ simple yoga for bed time.
12. Just let go. Now, a deeper look beyond everything I’ve learned in the past months: Falling asleep is like saying to your outer reality that you trust it’ll all work out in the end. Inside you surrender, putting your trust wholly in God, and bringing yourself entirely into his divine hands with all your fears, your anger, your angst and your worries. You feel shameful for presenting yourself in that light in the face of your greatest father figure, but you can’t carry that guilt everywhere you go during your waking hours. I believe it’s humanly impossible to exist in a state of fearlessness on a day-to-day basis without some kind of divine intervention, simply because our lives don’t get any easier. Nonetheless, accept that you can’t control everything. Prayers work, even on nights you don’t feel like praying. You’ve got a nagging problem? Everyone does, and you don’t have complete control over it. Might as well sleep on it and wait.
These days, I’m happy to be keeping a more regular sleeping schedule. Though I’m not particularly proud of it (sleeping in the wee hours, waking when everybody’s having their lunch) I’ve sticked with it for over a month now, and people around me have noticed that I’m no longer running on cortisol 24/7. I’m a lot more chill and comfortable with myself than I’ve been for so long. The only thing that bugs me is that it took more than half a year to figure out what works (stuff I listed above) and what doesn’t work for me (stuff not listed above).
Other things you should know: You’re hearing all this from a person who doesn’t drink coffee and alcohol. Obviously, these beverages factor in when it comes to regulating your sleeping patterns. Just remember to drink them sensibly and in moderation.
Any of these hacks you’re looking to try? Let me know how it goes.
via Sharaf Mirza on Pinterest