Night Moves: Restoring Successful Sleep
Let’s begin by taking a smallish nap or two…
-Winnie the Pooh
I recently listened to a fascinating interview with Arianna Huffington. Dan Harris hosted her on his clever and well-curated podcast 10% Happier. Despite what you may know or perceive about Ms. Huffington, I imagine you might find great value in what she has to say in this interview. The topic of conversation was somewhat surprising: sleep. Sounds riveting, right? Well, coupled with her thick, charming Greek accent and an earthy sensuality that’s endearing as well as childlike, I ate it up. Dan Harris is the consummate host as well providing subtle if not covert humor so as not to overshadow the guest with needless, distracting bravado.
As I have shared openly about in a recent blog post, sleep has been illusive if not downright absent in seasons of my life. Those seasons were drenched in a strong cocktail of depression, anxiety, lack of purpose/identity, and garnished with a twist of pure exhaustion. I vamp on sleep a ton in sessions with clients from week to week as well; we simply cannot heal without sleep. When someone plops down on my couch and starts describing an extremely low experience wrought with feelings of confusion, overwhelming hopelessness, and a nonexistent margin of pleasure or optimism, the first question I ask is, “how has your sleep been?” Seven times out of ten they reply with a frustrated, “what sleep?”
Ask any new mom desperately trying to adjust to two hour slices of sleep between feedings on and off throughout the night and they will tell you all about how crazy making sleep deprivation is, often a byproduct of postpartum depression. So why do we champion the vital need for sleep in a new mother’s experience yet glamorize sleep deprivation in other areas of life, especially the workplace? We have made “running on fumes” a misguided virtue for the sake of hyper productivity and getting ahead. This is totally counterproductive.
Well, I value productivity just like the next gal, and in this case, the next gal is Arianna Huffington. The fact that she just wrote a book called Sleep Revolution as a loud wake-up call (pun intended) and conversation starter to put sleep and self-care back on the throne of successful living may have just made her my new girl crush. After all, if a woman who has led a company valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars can religiously get 8 hours of sleep and divorce herself from those ever buzzing devices every night, so can I.
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
First, like in anything, having a mindset of abundance in relation to sleep is clutch. One of my biggest takeaways every time I watch Olympic athletes compete, performers sing their guts out on a Grammy stage, or football teams go head to head in a championship playoff is not only the hours of practice they have put in, but the mental toughness built over time to strengthen a winning mindset. Sure, practice makes perfect, yet without the why, or clear belief of significance behind any endeavor, performance only falls flat.
MAN AS MACHINE
Humans began associating massive amounts of our identity with productivity and efficiency around the time of the Industrial Revolution, taking cues from, well… machines. Thomas Edison’s warped views on sleep may not have helped either, referring to it as a “heritage from our cave days”. He only got a reported 3-4 hours a night. If the man who gave us the light bulb didn’t need it, why should we, right? Um…wrong.
As adults, research shows we need between 7-9 hours of sleep every night and prolonged seasons of decreased sleep result in everything from weight gain to depression to heart disease and stroke. This idea of working 24-7 is pretty much the same as going to work all liquored up.
We must change our mindset to allow for sleep as a highly valued and necessary part of getting ahead. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of amazon.com, is vocal about his 8-hours of sleep a night, claiming it is not only better for him, but also the people around him at work and in life each day. There is no virtue or honor in exhaustion and sleep deprivation. We must reclaim a mindset of sleep abundance, not scarcity.
CREATE A BEDTIME RITUAL
Remember that children’s book Goodnight Moon? I think adults need that book even more than kids. It’s a blueprint for bedtime ritual teaching us how to disconnect from the world in order to reconnect with ourselves through sleep. I won’t harp on ritual as it is pretty self explanatory, however I will say rituals provide sacred structure that facilitate intentionality in our lives. I love ritual as it brings beauty and enjoyment into often rote or mundane to-do’s. Here are a few go-to bedtime rituals to get the zzz’s flowing. Just like Goodnight Moon, bedtime ritual creates the transition we need from our often harried days to the restful night’s sleep we need in order to recharge. Oh, and if these seem hokey, they might just be. But who cares, really?
- Take an epsom salt bath
- Use black out shades or a good eye mask
- Light some candles
- Read a book for enjoyment but make sure it’s a hardcopy! No devices
- Keep a gratitude journal and write three things you are grateful for from the day behind you.
- Diffuse sleep enhancing essential oils
- Shut down your devices and put them away. That’s right, you may have to unearth the old alarm clock.
What’s keeping you awake, anyway? Chances are, your thoughts are. Oftentimes, overactive, worrisome thoughts come out and have the dance party of the century when the lights go out. I’ve got great news for you: If you are a nimble worrier, you might just give the Dalai Lama a run for his money in meditation. Meditation is simply focused, positive intention. In my experience, one of the reasons we get flustered by the fixations keeping us awake at night is we have little control over doing anything about them at 3 am. Meditation is just another way to funnel that energy; one that serves as a conduit for sleep. There are tons of great apps and resources out there to facilitate meditation. Headspace is one of my favorites. However, as it relates to sleep, meditation is way more basic and you don’t need an app for that.
Here is my challenge to you. The next time you lie wide awake in the middle of the night tempted by the thumping dance party in your mind, try something different. Find a short laser beam phrase of gratitude, intention , or positive belief and make it the focus of your energy and thought. Distractions will interrupt and that’s okay. Simply take notice and return your attention and energy back to the phrase. Even if sleep levels remain light, energy in our bodies shift to promote different thought grooves in the brain that eventually allow our bodies to shut down. Practice this for a week and see if you notice any changes. I’ve been playing around with this and I notice my energy is more positive in the morning when I wake up. I’d love to hear your experience with it as well.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
If I had read this 10 years ago, I would have thrown whatever device I was reading it from across the room in utter frustration. If that is the way you feel, fair enough; I can relate. I am not ignorant to the fact that sometimes we need more than a bedtime ritual and some bath salts for soaking in order to restore broken sleep patterns. This is not an oversimplified roadmap for curing deep emotional wounds that can result in full blown insomnia and resulting hopelessness. If you are suffering from prolonged insomnia, please reach out.
My hope in writing this is simply to raise awareness for the invaluable role sleep plays in our daily and overarching life experience. Sleep is cool. Toting around total exhaustion like some medal of honor is not. I love the examples being set by game-changing organizational leaders out there who are crushing it, eight hours of sleep at a time. There is so much life out there to be had. Let’s get some good shut-eye so we can be fully present to experience it.