(broad)ject self #19: Self-Care When...You're Tired

Nineteen (broad)ject self editions in, I know I’ve talked about the importance of sleep more than a few times. When I started on this self-care focused way of life in the summer, I used my core desired feelings to help dictate my priorities every day. My first four core desired feelings (CDF) came easily: at ease, intentional, useful and connected. But I struggled with the fifth CDF, eventually coming up with poised as a placeholder. I never really connected with it though and it finally occurred to me the other day that my fifth CDF was staring me right in the face. Rested.

Now that I’m 33, I cannot function properly without sleep. I’m sure I’m not unique in that I can muscle through one day on only a couple of hours, but it takes a few solid nights of catching up to be back to my best self. One of the things that makes me nervous about having kids is the utter destruction they reap on your sleep schedule. As with other elements in my life though, I believe strongly in beginning as you mean to proceed, and I hope that by having good sleep hygiene now, I’ll have a good foundation when kids come into the picture.

You know how sometimes you go to bed at a decent hour yet when your alarm goes off you feel like you’ve gotten no sleep at all? That’s probably because you woke up in the middle of a sleep cycle. According to sleep experts, we sleep in 90 minute sleep cycles which encapsulate five stages, the last stage of which is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where we do most of our dreaming. We also get more deep sleep in the early stages of sleep during the first several sleep cycles (so your first 4.5 hours of sleep or thereabouts) than the later ones, which is why those first hours of sleep are so important.

Learning about sleep cycles made a huge difference for me. I know that I’m at my best after 7.5 hours of sleep. I also know that if 7.5 hours of sleep aren’t possible, that I’m actually better to aim for 6 hours of sleep than finish the night with an incomplete cycle. So in an ideal world, the lights are out in time for me to be asleep by 10:30pm so I can “happily” wake up at 6am. If I get home from an evening event at 11? It makes more sense for me to try to quietly power down for an hour and fall asleep at midnight.

There a million articles out there on how to sleep better and one suggestion that frequently comes up is powering down your electronics at least an hour (and more is better, they say) before you go to bed. The truth is though that for me anyways, part of my bedtime routine is my nightly Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, then Flipboard review. I’ve been doing this as long as I’ve had my iPad (coming up on four years) and any sleep issues I have had have been clearly related to something else. I do try to keep the brightness down on both my iPad and iPhone, but otherwise it hasn’t been a problem. Your mileage may vary, but if it’s a treasured part of your bedtime routine, as it is for me, you may not have to abandon it.

As anyone with kids knows, the bedtime routine is sacred and I really believe that stands true for adults. For me that looks like yoga ending by 9:45pm, my nighttime toilette (which may or may not include a shower), then in bed for 10pm with my devices, and lights out for 10:30pm. I’ve recently started turning my phone on Do Not Disturb (with my family and David marked as favorites whose calls will always get pushed through) and I think the lack of email binging has made a difference in those first few minutes falling asleep. On nights when my brain feels overactive, I turn on Roderick on the Line (I set the podcast to turn off after 30 minutes) and given that I almost never remember what they talked about or the podcast turning off, I know it works.

When I can’t sleep, it’s usually for one of three reasons: 1) I drank caffeine after 7pm, 2) I’m anxious, or 3) I slept too much that day or the night before. The caffeine thing is new and kind of a bummer, as there’s nothing I like more after a workout than a Cool Lime Refresher. That said, I’m sure my nutritionist is less of a fan, so abandoning them is for the best. It’s Sunday nights where I struggle the most with #3, as David and I are terrible about sleeping in on the weekend. My new rule is that I can sleep in on Saturday, but I try to be up by 8am on Sundays. Science says we should try to get up at the same time every day, even weekends, so I’m trying to make an effort to get up as close to 6am on weekends as possible and lie in bed quietly and read for a while to start my day calmly and quietly. This is going about as well as you might expect, which is to say, not. As for anxiety, we talked about that in (broad)ject self #14 (…When You’re Anxious).

My sleep hygiene could still be improved though. I’m really bad about not giving up when sleep isn’t coming and instead choosing to thrash around the bed in a rage. That’s where the podcast timer comes in handy. I tell myself that if I’m still awake when the podcast turns off, I have to get up for 20 minutes and quietly read or do yoga in another room. I’m also THE WORST about hitting the snooze button in the morning, for 20 minutes or so during the weekend and for potentially hours on the weekend. This is problematic because it’s annoying to other people, but mostly because you’re potentially starting a whole other sleep cycle. So assuming I fall right back asleep after I hit snooze, by the time nine minutes is up, my body thinks that I’m interrupting a precious sleep cycle and gets majorly crabby.

If I was starting a self-care routine from scratch, I would start with sleep, because I truly believe it’s the main pillar of health and happiness. Your homework this week is to diagnose your bad sleep habits and try and break one of them. I’m going to try to abandon the snooze button and I will report back next week. I want to hear all about your tips and tricks for sleeping as well as your bad nighttime or napping habits. You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian