Over the years, my family and I have honed our sleep habits, and we love it, even though it is odd.
Most nights, I’m asleep for seven to eight hours. I know, it’s solid. We are in bed by seven o’clock—all four of us—the whole family. And because of our new baby, my wife is out cold by seven thirty at the latest, while I read for thirty minutes or so beside her motionless body until sleep snatches me too. And those hours of rest before midnight are incredibly restful. They feel like supercharged hours of sleep. Somehow, one hour before midnight feels like it’s one and a half hours.
Not only do we get to bed at an odd hour, but we also work to improve our sleep. We take magnesium supplements, which are supposed to help. It makes the quality better, deeper, richer. We also started using a diffuser with lavender essential oil, and it has worked magic on us. Some studies have found that lavender aromatherapy helps people relax and sleep better. It’s been true for us. A few drops of lavender essential oil with some water in a working diffuser rocks us to la la land, like a baby with a stomach full of delicious milk. The nights we forget to use it, we often find that our rest is lesser.
We also made great sacrifices in our pursuit of better z’s, namely caffeine–all of it. Now, to be clear, my wife and I love coffee. We used to go to all of the boojee coffee shops and have them hand pour our cup, using beans from some exotic country and imported to the US to be brewed at our fancy coffee shop and poured for our caffeinating pleasure. We would treat that brew that cost ten dollars a cup like it was liquid gold, wafting the steam into our faces to get the aroma and savoring each delicious sip. It was pure joy.
Yeah, that stopped. My wife stopped for our first baby six years ago. Then I stopped. And I started drinking green tea. That went for a few months, and I noticed that my sleep got somewhat better. And I wondered what would happen if I took caffeine completely off the personal menu. Afterwards, sleep fairy visited me and rewarded me the sweetest slumber I had had since I was a baby. That’s what I did: I slept like I was a tiny baby, swaddled to perfection.
Our current sleep schedule puts a real crimp on our social calendar. It’s hard to be cool if you’re in bed before the sun sets. Coffee or lunch dates are all we can do with friends in a city that loves grabbing drinks and dinner. We love our friends, and we want to see them. But we decided to live a certain way and set living healthily as a priority. And we didn’t want to live according to other people’s schedules, preferences, and whims.
Two decades ago, my sleeping practices were very different. Well, I had one method, which was this. I didn’t—sleep—that is. I was a full-time graduate student working three part-time jobs that equaled forty hours of work: full-time work, and full-time school. Something had to give. Sleep gave. I averaged about four hours a night. As the hours of sleep went down, the dosage of coffee went up, not the fancy kind, any kind, as long as it worked and kept me working. Four years passed, and I was in bad shape. And I felt worse.
In my twenties and thirties, I used to think that sleep was for weaklings. In my fourth decade, I now see the error (and stupidity) of my ways. Now I know rest is for humans who want to stay alive. It’s a gift from God. And those who want to live a healthy life need to respect their body’s natural need for rest. We aren’t machines. We are creatures who need to regenerate, repair, recover. We are more fragile than we realize. Hospitals report a 24% increase in heart attacks in the US from Daylight Savings in the spring. That is shocking. We need to be mindful and purposeful with our sleep.
Here are some practices that can help you sleep better.
1) Schedule it:
If sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for your health, why not schedule it? Put it in your calendar, and if someone wants to do something with you when you have it in your calendar, you can say that you already have something going on. Yeah, you have a date with your pillow.
2) Make it early:
I get it. My family and I are freaks, but studies show that sleeping earlier is better for you. So when you put your sleep time in your calendar, make it early, earlier the better. Here’s an interesting article about this.
3) Take magnesium:
It’s a natural supplement that many of us don’t get enough of that helps us sleep. It works. My family and I take it every day before bedtime, and we sleep like babies (our newborn doesn’t need it, he already sleeps like a baby, because he is one). If our anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, no worries. Here’s an article from Psychology Today that outlines how magnesium helps with sleep and many other areas of human health.
Here are a couple magnesium supplements I’ve used and recommend.
4) Charge your device away from your bed:
While the research isn’t conclusive that sleeping next to our phones is bad for you and your sleep, but I can’t imagine that it’s great. Radiation and other waves that can’t be good for you are emitted from your phone. So why not set it far away from you for the night? I mean, do really need to see your friend’s text or a work email in the wee hours?
5) Don’t look at your devices while in bed:
We love our phones, tablets, and computers but they are terrible for our sleep. Read a book, stare at the wall, learn to be still. I know that we don’t know how to do nothing with ourselves and be alone with our thoughts. That may sound terrifying, but it’s good for us to be away from our screens, especially when it comes to sleeping because they keep us up. They stimulate us and hinder us from getting the shut-eye that we need.
Sometimes counting sheep is not enough to keep all of the worries and stress away from us. We need to quiet all of those thoughts making a ruckus in our minds. Meditation is a great way to do that. Our family uses the Calm app.
7) Diffuse lavender essential oils:
Using essential oils may sound like voodoo magic, but we swear by it. It’s been fantastic for our family. Here’s a pretty informative piece about it (even though it’s on a mattress company’s site).
And here is the diffuser we use and like the best.
Here’s the essential oil we use.
8) Read this book:
Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, a sleep researcher and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California Berkeley, wrote a whole book on sleep. And he should know a thing a two on this subject. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book. I tripped upon it while writing this post. But I plan to pick it up soon.
Sleep is as vital as drinking water and breathing. We need to treat it as such in our daily lives even if you live in the city that never sleeps.
Don’t just sleep.
Sleep well, my friends.
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