Day 1: How much Sleep is enough
Do you remember when you finally were old enough that your parents didn’t require a set bedtime? You were all grown up and could stay up as late as you wanted. If you’re a parent now you know how much kiddos can fight their bedtime curfew. Secretly you’re saying to yourself, “I wish I could go to bed at 8 PM, kid.”
Do you remember the days of pulling an all-nighter back in college (or maybe last week when you had that work deadline)? We almost wore nights of little to no sleep as badges of honor, proof that we had a heck of a social life, or were willing to put in the extra hours for the grade. It doesn’t feel so cool when you’re crashing and dragging with no energy for the next few days, though.
Sleep affects everything from your cellular heath to your mood, brain function, hair growth, immune system, and how you can take on life daily. Despite this truth, most of us still aren’t getting enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation has become such an issue that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared it a public health epidemic.
Believe me, I get it. We are all busy. Sometimes it seems that cutting back on sleep is the way to “find the time.” But this could not be further from the truth.
So many times I have heard people say, I will catch up on my sleep this weekend.
But can you really catch up?
Most people need between 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night. Yep, it’s true. You may think you’re just fine on four hours – and everyone is different – but over the long-term that is harming your wellbeing.
Let’s say you had an extra busy work week and you only slept 5 hours a night all week. By the end of the week you would have a 10 hour sleep debt. Can you sleep 17 hours on Saturday? (Your normal 7 plus the 10 hours of sleep debt you incurred?)
If you can, great, but my guess is most of us can’t. Most likely you will sleep an hour or two extra. But the sleep debt is still there. You will feel it too. You might sleep ten hours on Saturday and feel great when you wake up. Then as the day progresses you will start to feel the consequences of lost sleep.
You will you find yourself saying, I don’t get it. I slept 10 hours last night! How could I possibly still be tired?
You are still tired because the brain keeps an exact accounting of how much sleep it is owed.
Also, prolonged sleep debt and the havoc it wreaks on the body, particularly the impact on several hormones, can ultimately lead to Adrenal Fatigue, which is a chronic condition that can take years to repair.
The question isn’t, do you need more sleep. The question is how can you change your sleep habits to get the sleep you need?
Start with making sleep a priority. The fact that you’re even working through this program is a great start.
Commit to getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
It may take you a while to get there. Here’s what I want you to do:
Decide how much sleep you want to commit to (this may shift over time when you realize that you really need more or less). In this example I’m going to use 8 hours.
Set a daily wake time. Be realistic about when you need to get up to not feel rushed in the morning. For the purposes of demonstration I’m going to say 6 AM.
Count backwards from your wake time to determine your bedtime. So, for 8 hours with a wake time of 6 AM you need to be in bed by 10 PM…. And that means sleeping (or at least attempting to fall asleep) by 10, not in bed but checking your phone, reading, having sex (yes I said it), or watching TV.
Now that you know the goals, work towards them….but ALWAYS wake up at 6 AM no matter when you went to bed. That is the only way to train your body to go to sleep when you need to in order to get the sleep you need. This will be difficult for you night owls. Start with tiny steps. If you normally go to sleep at 1 AM, still get up at 6 AM. The next night get to bed earlier, and the next night, and the next until you’re making it to bed by your goal of 10 PM.
Track your sleep. I’ve included a worksheet for you to print out and track your sleep over time. It includes a few little journal questions. This tracker will help you start to see patterns of how your sleep affects how you feel. Also, it will help you watch your progress. Print it out and update it each morning and each evening.
Day 2: It's Time to Unplug
Today we will explore unplugging – or at least turning off – your electronics, that is.
We are a hyper-connected society tied to our technology. It makes life easier and fun, and keeps us in the know. However, our fave tech gadgets are also keeping us from being able to unwind and get to sleep.
Today’s small change to help you create rejuvenating sleep is to disconnect from your electronic devices an hour before you head to bed (at least 30 minutes).
“What?!? That’s crazy and unrealistic,” you’re muttering to yourself right now.
Here’s what I want for you: an easy going, slowly calming 30+ minutes that prepare your mind, body and spirit for rest and rejuvenation. I’ll be sharing several things to do in that 30+ minutes over the coming days of this program. But before you can do any of them you have to make room in your evening and environment to allow them to happen. Electronics create the opposite effect we’re seeking (with one exception). Let me tell you how electronic devices are affecting your sleep and hopefully you’ll decide to give it a try.
When you’re scrolling through Facebook, watching a late night rerun of Law & Order, engaging in your latest video game addiction, checking your email, or even reading a book on a Nook, you’re stimulating your mind. All your little neurons are firing creating a go, go, go, do, do, do, think, think, think situation. Your body and brains are tired. They want some time off, but you’ve got them up working late again.
Typically, you reach a potential stopping point at the end of a show / game / cat video and instead of going to bed you think, “Just one more episode / game.” Now it is far later than you ever expected to go to bed. Now you have fewer hours to sleep before you have to get up. Now you try to lay down to sleep and you can’t shut off your mind because you gave yourself precisely the 7 minutes it took to turn off your phone / TV / tablet, put on PJs, go to the bathroom, and brush your teeth.
You need to step away from the electronic devices to let your mind slow down and stop the chatter.
Engaging in a video game, emails (especially from work), reading political Facebook posts that irk you, or watching anything that isn’t light and funny can trigger a hormonal stress response in your body. When you’re in this “fight or flight” state, cortisol, a stress hormone is released creating an internal chemistry not conducive to sleep. Being in a state of stress sends energy to your muscles and brain, away from your organs, and keeps your breath shallow.
By the time you go to bed you want to be in a state of relaxation and rejuvenation. Your body should be focusing on the internal processing, repairing and refreshing jobs it has to do while you’re sleeping. Electronics keep you wired and potentially stress your body and cause excess release of cortisol. This not only disrupts your sleep, it may cause Adrenal Fatigue which leads to a host of other long term problems. Step away from the electronics.
That light or “glow” from electronics impacts your sleep as well. Tiny amounts of light from your electronics enter the retina and hit the hypothalamus. This small part of the hypothalamus, a region in the brain, is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus and is responsible for, among other things, maintaining our circadian rhythms – the day/night cycle. As the brain senses dark it releases the hormone melatonin to help lull us to sleep. The light from electronic devices – yes, even that little amount that you’re staring at – tricks the brain into thinking it’s not time to sleep yet, disrupting the release of melatonin and your ability to fall asleep.
Your small change challenge for today (and ongoing of course) is to turn off all electronics and not look at another screen for 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Follow this practice every night and I promise you will fall asleep faster and more peacefully.
Day 3: To Drink or not to Drink
Once you’re asleep you want to stay asleep.
Waking up to go to the bathroom several times a night is just annoying. Waking up for seemingly no reason at all and then tossing and turning to get back to sleep is frustrating too. There are several reasons this could be happening.
First, you’re consuming too much liquid in the late evening which is causing you to have to get up and pee during the night. That was pretty obvious, huh.
I want you to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated throughout the day. But I also want you to sleep. So if you’re waking up to visit the restroom in the night then you need to cut back on the late night beverages. You’re going to have to experiment a bit and find the right cut off time for yourself. Some of you may have your last glass of water right after dinner and not drink again until morning. Others will be fine with a cut off an hour before bed. Test it and see what works.
Other reasons for getting up in the middle of the night are possible urinary tract or bladder infections. However, you would likely be experiencing pain or pressure. If this is the case then consult your medical physician for treatment.
SIDE NOTE: While I want to discourage you from consuming liquids late into the evening in order to keep you from waking up to pee, I do encourage you to take a big glass of water with you to bed and set it on the nightstand. This is for two reasons: 1) you may wake up with a dry mouth, particularly in the winter, and having water nearby allows you to stay in bed and get back to sleep faster; 2) It is a great habit to drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning as it gets your system moving before you even leave the room.
The second reason you may be waking up in the middle of the night is because you’re drinking wine or some other high sugar beverage (like soda) at night. People often think that an alcoholic drink, particularly a glass of wine, will be soothing and a good way to end the evening – hence the term “nightcap.” That’s not exactly the best approach.
True, alcohol can have a calming effect and even make you drowsy (or worse depending on how much you consume). Its impact is different for everyone. However, what you may not realize is that consuming alcohol before bed, especially wine, can cause your blood sugar to drop in the middle of the night. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, will cause you to wake up because your body knows it needs you to take action.
If you’re going to drink alcohol at night, limit consumption to one glass of whatever you’re having. Also, consider eating some protein, ½ a cup of Greek yogurt, cheese, peanut butter, or almonds. This will help stabilize your blood sugar through the night.
Even if you don’t drink enough to suffer a hangover, you may still feel sluggish in the morning. Consuming too much (which is relative) alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it may also cause you to skip over the all-important REM stage of sleep and go directly into a deeper sleep. That might sound good – deep sleep sounds perfect – but it is actually the REM (or rapid eye movement / dream) stage of sleep that is most restorative. Too much alcohol can cause you to miss out on several cycles of REM sleep and therefore you wake up exceedingly tired.
In summary…for better sleep:
Limit consuming liquids in the hours before bed. Experiment each night to see what the right cut-off time is for you and your body so that you feel sufficiently hydrated going to bed, but don’t wake up all night to pee.
Limit or eliminate consuming alcoholic beverages in the hours before bed. If you do drink alcohol later at night (well after dinner), then be sure to also eat some protein to help keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the night.
That’s Day 3’s lesson! Experiment with these two tips for the rest of this program and find what works best for your body so that you can sleep the whole night through.
Day 4: Winding Down Preparing for Sleep
Remember how we talked about preparing for the AM in the PM so that you could start your day with grace and ease? Just as I want you to move into your day unrushed, I want you to move out of your day and into sleep slowly and gently.
If you’ve set your wake time at 6 AM and want 7 hours of sleep, that means you need to be drifting off to dreamland by 11 PM. That does not mean that you are turning off the TV at 10:50 PM, going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, putting on PJs, and finally getting into bed at 10:59 PM. You won’t fall asleep immediately and you haven’t given your mind and body time to unwind.
Instead, create a bedtime ritual. I’m using the word ritual instead of routine because it implies that you’re creating a sacred time, something special. Routine feels rigid. This doesn’t have to be strict and precisely the same every night. However, it should have some consistency to generate the feelings and shift of slowing down and calming your whole self, getting ready for sweet slumber.
So what does a nighttime ritual look like? It really could be anything that works for you. Here’s an example:
Fix one cup of caffeine free hot tea
Shut down electronics about 60 minutes before bed
Check the house is secure for the night
Look in on the kids / take the dog out one last time
Take a hot shower or soak in the tub – the water helps wash off the day and break any lingering energy from the day
Brush your teeth and take care of your skin (the largest organ of the body)
Jot down notes of things that have popped in your mind during this time
Meditate and/or say prayers and/or write in a gratitude journal
Get dressed (or undressed) for bed
Check the alarm clock
Get under the covers and cozy
Take a few deep breaths and drift off to sleep
This is not a be all, end all list. It is simply an example to consider.
Don’t include your “Get Ready for the AM in the PM” tasks as part of your bedtime rituals.
Do make this time smooth, easy going, casual and calming. Make it whatever feels good to you.
If you have a spouse or partner consider discussing how your bedtime rituals might differ or blend, and how they may happen simultaneously or overlap so as to not disturb the other. If you have kids, consider how they fit into your ritual, or, depending on their ages, how the timing works. If they’re little they likely go to bed far earlier than you. If they’re older perhaps you set household rituals. If they’re teenagers, you may just be letting them know when you’re going to bed so that they know when not to bother you.
Make the night time a sacred time for peace of mind, body and spirit. Create rituals that make you feel like you’re cherishing yourself and ease you into slumber. I’ve attached a simple form that you can print out and capture your bedtime rituals. Post it in your bedroom or on the bathroom mirror just until you get into a groove with your new habits.
Day 5: Breathe Deeply
I want you to take a deep breath. Go on. I’ll wait.
How was that? It felt good, right?
The fact that we breathe freely throughout each day and night without noticing, without having to consciously think about it, is simply miraculous. Our lungs take in simple air, extract what we need, and release the rest in a smooth two-count action…IN…OUT. The human body is amazing in so many ways and this is one of them.
We often take our breath for granted. But boy do we ever notice this system when it isn’t working so well; like when we have a sinus infection or bronchitis, asthma, or worse.
Breath is quite literally life force. If you stop breathing you die. Our breath also helps us respond appropriately to stimulus. If you’re being chased or are in a highly stressful situation your breath will become fast paced. You’re in “fight or flight” mode (sympathetic nervous system). Your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all increase. The problem is that while this meets our needs in true crisis, the stresses of the modern world make the body think it needs to stay on alert. This result is shallow breathing which fails to provide the oxygen actually crucial to good health.
How does this relate to sleep? I’m glad you asked. The opposite of the “fight or flight” response is the “rest and digest” state (parasympathetic nervous system). Your breathing is slower and deeper, and your heart rate and blood pressure lower as well. This is the state at which your body rests, digests well, repairs and rejuvenates.
Today’s small change is something you can easily add into your bedtime rituals. Breathe deeply.
That’s it. Just breathe deeply. Ok, I’ll give you more instruction.
After you’ve done everything else in preparation for sleep, close your eyes and take four deep breaths. You can do this sitting on the edge of your bed, or after you’re already under the covers. If meditation or prayer is part of your ritual you may choose to do this exercise then as well. Here’s exactly how it should go:
Breathe in to the count of 4… You’ll be breathing more deeply than you may have before. Trust me, your lungs can expand.
Hold your breath to the count of 4 (you may have to work up to that).
Breathe out to the count of 4… Keep on exhaling for the full 4 count or more to fully expel the air.
Repeat this exercise 4 times.
Notice your heart rate drop. Notice how when you focus on your breath you focus on your body and your mind clears. You may choose to repeat this exercise beyond the 4 times. You may also choose to expand the 4 count to a higher number over time. Do what is right for you and feels good.
Here’s a second exercise I’d like you to try as well.
Put your hands on your belly…skin to skin is ideal.
Do the exercise above while concentrating on your belly and the feeling of your hands touching your belly. You can move your hands in tiny circular motion if you like.
These exercises will help calm your mind, body and spirit as you prepare to sleep. They will reinforce the messages you’ve been sending the body already to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and shift into a state of “rest and digest.”
Day 6: Be Grateful
The late, great Dr. Wayne Dyer shared in his film, The Shift, that each morning, when he wakes and sits up he takes a deep breath and says out loud, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Gratitude. He had gratitude for waking up, for being alive, for having another day. I imagine he had a similar ritual before bed each night. I do. And I encourage you to do the same.
Often by the time we crawl into bed we are so exhausted and ready to sleep that the only thing we’re consciously thankful for is that the day is over. Hopefully if you had that feeling before it is now starting to shift as you’ve been making small changes to your sleep patterns and bedtime rituals.
You’ve been crafting and molding your bedtime rituals for a couple days now. I want you to try adding gratitude to the mix. It can happen at any time that works for you. If meditation (which we’ll talk more about later) and/or prayer is part of your bedtime rituals then gratitude may fold in nicely at the same time.
Here are four ways to add gratitude to your bedtime ritual:
Tie “I am grateful…” to your breath work. On the inhale think to yourself, “I am grateful…” On the hold let what you’re grateful for come to the forefront of your mind. On the exhale think to yourself, “…for ______.”
Create a gratitude jar and keep it in your kitchen or living room or on your bedside table. You can even share it with the family. Just make sure it’s easily accessible. You can decorate it or not. Keep a small notepad and pen near the jar. Each night before bed add at least one thing you’re grateful for to the jar. Write only one item on each slip of paper. There is no limit, so add whatever pops into your head and heart to the jar each night. I love this option because it is a visual reminder of all we have to be grateful for. When the jar is full or whenever you’re feeling a little down, you can read all the slips of paper and remember how blessed you are.
Keep a gratitude journal. This is simply a journal – any style will do – in which you write each night all for which you are grateful. I like to date each page at the top and fully write out, “I am grateful for…_______.” You could title the page with I Am Grateful For: and make a list. This is also a wonderful habit that allows you to go back and read all the goodness.
Play the “I Love” game. This requires another person. So perhaps it is your spouse when you get into bed. Or it may be a wonderful thing to do with kiddos at bedtime. You simply go back and forth naming things that you love: I love my job, I love the rain, I love home cooked meals, I love the smell of fresh cut grass. I love you, etc. You can’t help but smile.
So why does gratitude matter and what does it have to do with sleep? It is a mindset. It reminds you of the miracle you are. It brings you into the present moment instead of ruminating about the past or stressing about the future. It also puts you in a state of joy and happiness, the opposite of stress which is good for calming the mind and body. It leaves you with positive thoughts as you drift into slumber. All of that amplifies goodness in your life and helps move your body into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic state.
Day 7: Ween from the Snooze
It’s time to wean you from the snooze button.
Hopefully by now you’re getting more and better sleep than before, making your snooze button less of a necessity. When we have a consistent wake time, and relatively consistent bedtime, and have made other small changes that affect the quality of our sleep, then the body is ready to awaken when that alarm goes off.
However, many of us have a deeply ingrained habit of “needing 5 more minutes.” Sometimes we do need just a smidge more time, if only to stay in that semi-conscious state and play out the end of that dream in our minds. The drawback is that you hit snooze too many times. You fall back asleep only to be jarred awake to another buzz. If you snooze a bit too long you’re forced to rush through your morning, immediately raising your stress levels. It’s hardly worth 5 to 10 more minutes of staying in bed, is it? Personally, I find the term ALARM clock, well, alarming.
Make a decision of no more snooze button. You wake up when the alarm goes off. End of story. Some people may find it easier to make this transition by putting the alarm clock across the room. Once out of bed it is easier to stay out of bed.
The second option is to set a limit. You allow yourself one round of the snooze button. This takes some discipline because you’re not fully making rational decisions in the first minute you’re suddenly awakened by an alarm.
The third option is something my friend, Paul, does. He does hit the snooze button, but uses that time to meditate. If you choose to try this I’d suggest you do so sitting up in bed. If you try to meditate lying down you’ll most likely fall asleep.
If you are really struggling to wean off the snooze button it is a good indication that you’re simply not getting enough sleep. Go back to your sleep tracker and review how you’ve been sleeping. Consider sleeping longer hours for several days in a row and see how it affects the ease of waking up when the alarm goes off.
You can do it! You will get to a point that when it is time to wake up, you are ready to wake up, refreshed and ready to ease into your day. The snooze button is not your friend.
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