During the last month of college, I’d entered a world of little sleep and a lot of stress. In the wake of my “life ending” and the real world hitting me head on, I was hunting for my first real job, trying to live out my “last days” of being an undergrad to the fullest, and wanting to know the answer to everyone in my family’s question: “So what are you going to do next?” Instead, I ignored my restlessness at night and traded beauty sleep for after-work drinks (typically tequila) with my friends out and sleepness nights of my mind picking itself apart from worries about what my life after college might look like.
I noticed I wasn’t sleeping once I started complaining. I complain about the little things at times, but this was different. It was as if I was perpetually living days that made me feel like the way you would on a Monday morning, after you just spilled your hot coffee on your new white jumper, which made you miss the subway and late to work. This was how I was feeling every day.
I was on edge constantly and to pretty much sum it up, living with a cloud over my head. Every day was one of those days where if you dropped your pen, you would burst into tears on the spot. I couldn’t explain what was causing this feeling until the fourth night in a row of being wide awake, eyes open, mind on and body aching. Every part of me wanted to sleep and I would’ve, if I could. I hit a low point. It was starting to affect my energy, how I dealt with people, how I spoke to myself and every interaction in my day. I felt sour and not like myself.
But I ignored it and did nothing to change. My body naturally readjusted, and I kicked back into high sleep gear once I accepted a full-time job offer in sunny Los Angeles, moved into a new apartment and felt like I turned the next page on my life—completely ready to begin my next chapter.
However, now three months into the working world, a new apartment, a gym membership, wonderful boyfriend and an unbelievable support system under my belt… I’ve somehow seemed to hit a wall again.
And I’m not alone.
There seems to be a screaming awakening across the globe that we are not getting enough sleep. The National Geographic’s cover story was The Science of Sleep this month, featuring an interview with Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, known sleep aficionado and author of The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. When asked whether or not sleep will be prioritized in our culture, she responded, “Its importance is becoming more recognized. Of course, there are holdouts, people who still brag about how little sleep they get, but they’re increasingly like dinosaurs. One of the metaphors I use is that sleep is like the laundry. You’re not going to take out the laundry 10 minutes early to save time. You have to complete all the cycles in the washing machine. Our sleep cycles have to be completed too; otherwise, we wake up and we feel like wet and dirty laundry.”
So, I haven’t really been living with a cloud over my head; I’m just wet and dirty laundry… I fell on to the side of what Huffington described as a holdout. I live to burn the candle at both ends until I completely burn myself out. I’ll have a gracious month of working and playing hard, met with hitting a wall and a week of rehabbing and trying to find quick solutions to get healthy and well-rested.
I was still hesitant to change my ways and drink the Kool-Aid of making sleep a priority, and even more unconvinced of the real power of a good night’s sleep. However, my commitment to my sleep conversion was knocked into me after reading Huffington’s recent open letter to Elon Musk. In her piece, she pleaded that the leader of the revolutionary company, Tesla, use his body the way he has constructed his vehicles to function: by allowing himself to recharge.
Here is one section that particularly, for lack of a better description, woke me up to the importance of sleep.
“You’ve exhausted yourself working 120-hour weeks at the expense of seeing your children and your friends. You’ve had days-long stretches where you shut yourself inside the Tesla factory and don’t even go outside. You don’t take vacations. There’s no way you can connect with your amazing vision and creativity when you don’t give yourself time to reconnect not just with those you love but also with yourself and your wisdom.”
I’m not working a 120-hour work week, or even half of that (honestly, really barely scratching a third) but Huffington’s letter put life into perspective for anyone with heavy workloads, motherly duties, personal stresses or an overall a miserable sleeping schedule.
I began to reflect on what my dysfunctional relationship with sleep really looked like. Am I going to be unable to connect with my own visions and creativity if I keep going at this pace? Is this feeling of living under a cloud because I am not taking care of my body in the right way? Even when I do try to sleep (and want to sleep), I can’t. How do I fix it?
I thought about the sleep I got the night before. By 9:00 p.m., I wasn’t paying much attention to my phone and I had made a cup of sleepy time tea to enjoy with my roommate. By 9:30 p.m., I had brushed my teeth, washed my face, taken two Advil PM and FaceTimed my boyfriend to say goodnight. I plugged my cell phone in across the room from me and set my sleep schedule timer on my iPhone. Falling asleep by 10:00 p.m. and waking up at 8:00 a.m., would give me a full 10 hours of sleep. I read about 30 minutes of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey before I passed out in bed. But I barely slept. I was tossing and turning the entire evening.
Maybe it was the set-up of my room that I needed to re-evaluate.
Maybe I needed to discover a new way to not allow my mind to work over ideas and thoughts in a state of half sleeping and half dreaming.
Maybe I should’ve taken another Advil PM.
Michael Finkel, from the National Geographic, had it right when he wrote, “A full night’s sleep now feels as rare and old-fashioned as a handwritten letter. We all seem to cut corners, fighting insomnia through sleeping pills, guzzling coffee to slap away yawns, ignoring the intricate journey we’re designed to take each evening.”
I wanted to give my mind, body, and soul that journey back. How can I take care of myself physically and mentally by having a good night’s sleep every night? Or even at least five out of the seven nights out of a week? (That’s my current goal). I sincerely do not think it is possible. But, I set out on an exploration of how to do it, speaking to fitness instructors, influencers, models, entrepreneurs, editors and others alike. What was their secret to success? Did they have any tips as I began my expedition of shifting my whirlwind romance with sleep to a long-term commitment?
Maggie Winter, co-founder of the clothing brand AYR, said that “Sleep is extremely important to me and my ONLY consistent investment in *buzzwords* self-care and wellness.”
If sleep is her only investment in self-care and wellness, it’s the most essential place to start. According to National Geographic, “Anyone who regularly sleeps less than six hours has a higher risk of depression, psychosis, stroke, and obesity. Sleeplessness undermines your whole body.”
Winter also describes her sleep life as highly active and a genuine treat at the end of a long week. “Sleep is restful, sure, but I find I have a very active sleep life. I dream a lot, turn over moments from the day, and sometimes wake up with an idea. Sleep is about solitude. It’s a chance to give your inner voice, or your subconscious, or whatever you subscribe to, a chance to exist freely. A good sleep is the best treat after a big week.” She swears by a routine and will sacrifice a lot (even her social life) in order to get the sleep she needs to fuel her body. A tip from Winter we can bring into our own homes is Hue lights, “I have Hue lights and set them to a low, deep, blue for fifteen minutes while I wind down. I usually fall asleep before the timer runs out.”
Larissa May, influencer and creative, sleeps eight hours every single night. Beating the recommended minimum of seven hours by one whole hour.
“I have created a sleep ritual. I have to go on airplane mode. I have to turn on a movie to make myself fall asleep and I have to create a dark space. The darker the space, the better night’s sleep that I have. I need to have a pattern and go to sleep every night by 10:00 p.m. and wake up at 6:00 a.m. Your body has a series or patterns and repetitions, and the way that it works for your sleep is no different than any other function.”
May’s approach to watching films before bed is interesting, because it has been proven that blue lights suppress melatonin release—the thing that helps us catch our Zzz’s. Blue light from our tablets, smartphones and E-readers particularly disrupt our sleep cycle especially when we need the dark to hit the snooze button.
Mallory Jesser, a 22-year-old model in New York, says sleep is crucial to her career — and not just for beauty.
“Sleep has a direct effect on my mood, mental state skin and body,” says Jesser. Once it hits 10:30 p.m., she actively starts prepping to get ready to go to sleep. “I finish up my social media usage, make some tea, wash my face and brush my teeth,” she shared.
Aubre Winters, blogger and fitness guru, logs seven hours almost every night and is in bed by the latest at 10:00 p.m., proudly advertising her self-proclaimed grandma status. Winters teaches anywhere from 13 to 17 fitness classes a week, on top of blogging, and sleep is her secret fuel.
“I’m handing out my energy like candy during the day. I want to make sure that I wake up feeling refueled and energized for a long but always FUN day!” says Winters, “Creating a consistent sleep schedule helps me create more routine during my week, which I REALLY need. Typically, after a long day, I will try to give myself an hour before bed for a face mask, jade rolling, cozy time on my couch where I can fully decompress and relax, typically I end up falling asleep after sitting on the couch for two minutes.”
Winters also credits her good night’s sleep to clean sheets, “1000 percent I sleep better when my sheets are fresh, and my bed was made before I hop in. Nothing feels better than clean sheets.” And three things she says she cannot live without before she tucks herself into bed are, “1. Saje Wellness Peppermint Halo, I put this on behind my neck and on my temples and it sends a cool chill through my body. Totally soothing. 2. KOPARI coconut lip balm, I cannot go to bed with chapped lips, so I love giving my lips some love with KOPARI (smells so good) and 3. Le Labo Hand Balm, ok so this balm I have is next level. I HAVE to have it on before bed. It smells like a campfire up in the mountains in the fall and for some reason this scent makes me feel so comfortable. I also will sometimes sleep with my babe doll… that is always comforting.”
The tip that captivated me the most from Winters was her commitment to not going to sleep angry or anxious. While those feelings were potentially playing into my off-and-on-again relationship with sleep, it was interesting to learn what she does to relax and ease her mind to ensure a full night of shut-eye.
“If I have any lingering negative thoughts or a little anxiety and I don’t take care of it before bed, I will have terrible nightmares that will stay with me throughout the next day. I try to NEVER go to bed angry and if I have anything I want to get out of my system before bed, I try to write it down or say it out loud. Consistency, comfort, and finishing your day knowing you did your best will always lead to a good night’s rest and a stellar next day!” said Winters.
Let’s be honest, not every night of sleep is going to be a cup of tea and lead to a stellar next day. It’s not easy to go on airplane mode or turn off the notifications early, or (especially) be the first one to Uber home during a night out with the girls, just to keep a solid sleep routine.
But being conscious of your sleep patterns and paying attention to what your body is telling you is important for your mental and physical health.
My personal sleep journey has me tossing out my Advil PM supply, investing in some calming oils, keeping up with drinking nighty night tea, and turning down the lights—and more importantly—shutting off my phone 30 minutes before I hit the hay. Maybe I’ll even start washing my sheets a little more often.
What I’ve learned is that it’s the little things that slowly add up to create a process that works for your own body and mind. And that takes a little bit of trial and error.
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