This is why you can't sleep: How to build all-day energy
Mar 12, 2020
by Anne O'Connor
Sleep solves so many problems. And the more irregular and infrequent your sleep, the more problems you have.
I'm not just talking about sniping at the people you love and being unpleasant to be around—although I am talking about that. Don't sleep and your relationships are going to stink. That's the real deal. If you find yourself regularly cranky, irritable and short-tempered, you may want to consider more sleep. Your people certainly want you to.
It's more than our relationships that are affected though. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to all kinds of other problems—everything from being overweight, to lower libido, a host of illnesses and car crashes. Plus, people being sleep-deprived has been linked to some of the most serious accidents in memory—Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez crash, and the space shuttle Challenger accident. Some research shows that people who sleep less die earlier. With all that going on, who wouldn't be cranky?
And let me just say right here that you are not immune. I know all kinds of people who say things like, "Oh, I get five hours a night and I'm good." Or "I can't sleep more than four hours a night, but that works for me."
No it doesn't. I mean, of course you can do it—lots of people get far less sleep than they need. Sleep deprivation is the scourge of our time. Well, one of them, anyway. But while most people are at least concerned about things like Covid-19, sleep deprivation is somehow cool. Like, you’re tough if you can live life without enough sleep. There's a huge acceptance and even admiration for people who get by on little sleep. I don’t share this admiration. Sleep deprivation is just dumb. But, sure, you can do it.
For the long term, though? Night after night with 4-6 hours of sleep? That will cost you and the consequences get pretty pricey, pretty fast.
You may not recognize that the lack of sleep is affecting you. Sleep experts say that when you're consistently getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep a night you are no longer a good judge of how you're functioning. You may think you're compensating for your sleep deprivation, but studies show that people without enough sleep perform worse, even though they think they're okay. Isn't that wild? Your judgement gets worse and you can't tell.
In other words, you're so sleep deprived you’re making shit up.
Bottom line is that if you're not sleeping enough, you're going to have to pay. Either in your health, in your well-being, in your relationships, or hopefully not, in some accident that you cause in your brain fog. Just know this: something's got to give.
With those pretty convincing warnings that you probably have heard before, why aren't you sleeping enough? Many people want to sleep more but they just can't seem to do it. Let's take on the biggest reasons that people start reaching for sleeping pills.
Please: Don't make sleeping pills your first solution. Changing habits is harder than popping a pill, I know. But long-term use of sleeping pills is linked to serious health issues—including shortening your life. Instead, do the following 10 things and not only will you sleep better, but so much will be better. For real and for sure.
- Wean the caffeine. You may need to lower or eliminate your caffeine intake. I know, this is sacrilege to some of you. Coffee and its counterparts, soda and tea, are so much a part of our daily lives that it's almost dangerous in some circles to suggest that you ditch them. But if you're having trouble sleeping and you're having caffeine, it's likely that this is a problem for you. Some people recognize this problem and see how it keeps them up. For others, caffeine is trickier. People can drink their caffeinated beverage and "have no trouble going to sleep." Right, okay. But what happens next is equally as important. Do you stay asleep? Because part of what happens is that your body is so sleep deprived that when you lay down you will go right to sleep. But not for long. After a short time of immediate-need recovery, do you wake up and can’t go back to sleep? That's caffeine, my friend. Just because you've adapted to it, doesn't mean the adaptation is working for you very well. Waking up in the night isn't necessarily a problem if it's not caffeine-induced. Don’t panic! I know you're so tired and you really need sleep— but this 3 a.m. moment doesn’t have to last. The trick is to just be chill and trust that you can handle being awake for a bit in the night. But if you can't go back to sleep, this middle of the night moment becomes the start of your day. That can start a miserable pattern, because you're going to have a much tougher time making it through a day starting at 3 a.m. without caffeine. So, you grind the beans or stop at the coffee shop for that $5 cup of survival. And the cycle continues. If you want to do more than survive, wean the caffeine. Go slowly, but get rid of it or at least limit it to one cup a day in the morning. If you're tired by the mid-afternoon and you don't think you can make it: great! Get through it a different way and let yourself be tired. That's how your body tells you that you need to sleep. Listen and go to bed earlier. If you break caffeine's hold and get enough sleep, you will eventually have plenty of energy to get through the day without it. You can learn to power-through without the caffeine. Do jumping jacks. Take deep breaths and shake yourself out. Take a brisk 10-minute walk. Learn some good wake-up breathing exercises. And then when it comes time to sleep, you'll be ready and the caffeine won't stand in your way of deep, long sleep.
- Have a bedtime and a wake-up time. I don't care how old you are, getting into bed and out of bed at about the same time every night and morning helps your body sleep better. Get excited about going to bed—it can be such a delicious part of your day. If you're aiming for seven or eight hours, you may need to make some adjustments. But if you keep after it, some version of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. will start to work. Your eight-hour version depends on your biology. If you aren't sleepy until later, go to sleep later. Just try to get up at the same time every morning to keep on track. People who work nights or odd hours already know that they're in an uphill battle in this area. Still, setting your bedtime and wake-up time will help even for third-shifters.
- Have a bedtime routine. The most successful people—the people who are finding success in each area of their lives—are people who know the value of routine. And sleep is one place where routine rules. Create your own routine: take a hot bath with some essential oils. Rub your feet. Do some super gentle stretches. Feel the love for five things you're grateful for, and then get into bed. All of this can take less than half an hour. It's worth it to set up bedtime right.
- Work at relaxing. Once you're in bed, don't just lie there. Relax your body into your bed. Relaxing often takes conscious work. So do the work. Relax each body part and soothe yourself. Scan your body, starting at the top of your head, for any bit of tension. Relax it, bit by bit. Feel your shoulders, hips, legs, hands release. Relax, relax, relax. Put every problem or issue you're facing up on a shelf and don't think about them right now. You can pick them up again tomorrow, but for now, set them aside. When your problems keep emerging, keep putting them up on the shelf. Even if you have to do it hundreds of times. The only thing to consider and think about is your body in your bed, resting and relaxing. Pay attention to your breathing if that is relaxing. Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of eight. Slowly and steadily. Or notice the sounds around you. Notice your weight on the mattress. Feel the sheets on your skin. Smell your pillow. Be all there in your bed. The more you practice consciously going to sleep, the better you'll get at it. We don't usually get good training in how to go to sleep, but this is critical. Start training yourself tonight.
- Turn off the screens two hours before you go to sleep. This is going to be as hard for some people as ditching caffeine. But you don't need that television show to put you to sleep. You don't need to check your emails or play one last game of Word Cookies before you try sleeping. I know many of you have these strong habits—going to sleep with some screen as the last thing you see. But our eyes work the hardest—a huge percentage of the work of our brain comes through the eyes. And when it comes to sleep, your body and your brain needs what every human body and brain needs: less stimulation. Not more. Blue light, images, noise, and thinking is not going to get you to sleep. Your brain needs to be winding down, not taking on new information or stimuli to process. Two hours before your scheduled bedtime, put it all away and do something else. Read a book on the couch until you're ready to head in. Or make some hot herbal tea and talk to someone you love. Write yourself a list for the next day. Or a love note. See number 9.
- Don't do that in bed. There are only a few things you should be doing in bed. If you're sick, bed is a good place to be. It's great to have contemplative, quiet time with yourself in bed. And loving in bed is pretty phenomenal. But other than that, bed ought to be about sleeping. Your bed is best used as a place to sleep, not a place to hang out. Don't eat in bed, don't play games in your bed. Don't make your bed your couch. Your brain takes a lot of cues from its surroundings, even if you don't consciously recognize the cues. And if you keep your bed almost exclusively as the place to go to sleep, your body will start reacting accordingly.
- Get some cardiovascular activity. Do this every day: take a brisk walk, jump rope, walk up and down some stairs, or get to a gym. It doesn’t have to be hours—just move every day. Aim for 15-20 minutes.
- Get outside. Seriously: feel the wind or the sun or the air on your face. In the woods, in a park, by the lake or river or ocean, in the desert, on the mountain, or whatever you've got—rain, sun, snow, or sleet: get out in it. We're designed to be part of the world, not shut away from it.
- Be cool. Studies show that we sleep better when it’s cool in our rooms. Not freezing cold, which can interrupt sleep. If you sleep with someone, negotiating the difference between cool and cold may be a thing. It seems that people always partner with differently-cold people.
- Quell the stress and anxiety. This is probably the biggest reason you can’t sleep. So many people are tired all day long, but when they finally get to bed, they are suddenly wide awake, their minds racing, not able to go to sleep. Stress and worry are real and they can keep you up. Our minds need to process and our bodies need to process all that happens in a day. So make some time for it. Do this before you get to bed: if you work with number five and spend the two hours before bedtime not giving yourself more to process but walking or writing a list out or journaling or talking to someone you love or drawing a picture or listening to music...your mind will have time to review and process all the inputs from the day. That way, when you get into your bed, you’ll have an easier time relaxing and focusing on where you’re at: your cozy, warm, happy bed.
Life sometimes hands us unsolvable problems. Sleep deprivation can seem like one of them. And then, sometimes, you can make it go away. There are ways to get better and more sleep. Yes, it will require some changes on your part. Still, if you want this incredibly replenishing tonic for yourself, now you've got your list.
- Wean the caffeine
- Have a bedtime and wake-up time
- Have a bedtime routine
- Relaxing work
- Turn off the screens two hours before you want to go to sleep
- Don't do that in bed
- Get some cardio in
- Get outside
- Quell the stress and anxiety
You’ll need all of this to become who you want to be. Does this list seem unattainable? Hey, do you want some help? I’ve helped hundreds of people find more steadiness and clarity. If you want some help with implementing these ideas, drop me a line and let’s see what one-on-one coaching can do for you.
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