If there is one thing I would credit more than anything else with my recent transformation I would say it was sleep. Yep, fixing my insomnia was key. That may not be the key that you were hoping for, but you know me – I have to say it like it is. I say sleep was the key because I have learned recently that it doesn’t matter what else you are doing right, if you are not getting enough good quality sleep then nothing else works nearly as well as it could. Sleeping well and for long enough on a consistent basis allows everything else to work better and faster. A lot better and faster. So get some sleep.
Oh. Wait. Sleep is not always as easy as that, is it? By a long shot. I don’t think I have ever been more frustrated by anything, ever, as lying in bed, night after night, completely exhausted but completely unable to sleep. Some nights I would lie there in the dark, Mr. McHenry draped over one leg, Daisy curled up by my side, and cry – tears rolling down the sides of my face in utter despair – until after 3, or 4, or 5 hours I would finally nod off for 45 minutes, just about the time the alarm shrilled me into consciousness again. Sometimes I would get up and go camp on the brown leather couch in the den, Mr. McHenry in tow, like changing the décor would somehow lull my body into sleep mode. So yes, I understand how difficult it can be and if you are in that spiral of misery my heart goes out to you.
I was going to write a long, wieldy, and wildly informative post about every nuance of sleep that I could. But then I found this post and realized that I could never hope to write a piece as staggeringly comprehensive, so if you’re suffering in the sleep department I strongly recommend that you read this first and then come back and see what specific actions I took that solved my sleep dilemma. Even if you think you sleep pretty well and feel pretty good when you get up I encourage you to read this article. You may discover you are not doing as well as you thought you were, and it would be really sad if the efforts you are making in other areas of life were not getting the results you’re after and it turned out that tweaking your sleep was all that was required to super-charge everything else.
Did you read the article yet? It’s OK, I’m happy to wait while you do. Goodness knows you’re worth waiting for. In the meantime, here’s a picture of some milk churns I found in California the other week in a delightful town whose name completely escapes me.
Here’s the steps I took in my campaign to regain my sleep sanity:
- I turned off the heating in the bedroom at night. We sleep better when our brain and body temperatures are lower.
- I gave up my love for a big, fat, down duvet (comforter) and starting sleeping with just two micro-fleece blankets. I immediately stopped waking up drenched in sweat. It didn’t take me long to stop missing the duvet.
- I stopped drinking any caffeine after noon. In fact, I switched to decaf coffee and green tea in the mornings too until I got my sleep down.
- I stopped drinking any liquids after 6 pm so needing to pee didn’t wake me up.
- I started going to bed at the same time every single night. No staying up late at weekends. No waiting until I was tired. I set a schedule and stuck to it.
- I set my alarm for the same time every day – regardless of the day of the week. Our brains and bodies – not to mention our circadian rhythms – love routine.
- I started a “going to bed” routine an hour before bedtime – feeding and putting the ‘kids’ to bed, closing all the blinds, locking all the doors, showering, reading, you get the drift – that reinforces to my brain and body that I am winding down for sleep time.
- I stopped getting any ‘blue light’ at least 2 hours before bed time, where blue light = TV (that was easy, I don’t have one), computer, tablet, smartphone, LED and fluorescent lights. ‘Blue light’ suppresses the production of melatonin, something we produce that makes us sleepy at night. The upside is I now have a red light bulb in my bedroom which I think is a total hoot for a single girl who lives with 6 cats. NOTE: If you must use a computer close to bedtime then download this handy little app: http://justgetflux.com/. It changes the light from your computer screen to less ‘blue’.
- I closed all the windows in my bedroom to stop any noise from outside. This was hard for me because I love to have a roomful of fresh air, but sleep was more important.
- I closed all the blinds so there was no stray light in my bedroom. I like waking up to sunlight pouring in through the windows, but sleep was more important.
- I started taking a melatonin supplement an hour before bed to help my brain know it was time to sleep.
- I worked really hard on reducing the stressors in my life (that post will be up soon!) so that my brain wasn’t kept awake worrying about or obsessing over stuff.
All of these things helped. I was getting a lot more total sleep, but I was still waking up every 2 hours and sometimes found it really hard – if not impossible – to get back to sleep again. You might find that one or a combination of these tricks is all that you need.
- For me, once I had done all these things and was still a ways from getting an uninterrupted 8 hours a night, I bit the bullet and called in The Cavalry. I hate taking medication that I don’t *really* need, but in this instance, getting back in the sleep game was the most important thing in my life that I could do, so ego be damned, I headed to the Dr. and got some Trazodone, which is actually a non-addictive sedating anti-depressant, but these days it is most widely used for treating insomnia, especially in women. Obviously, Trazodone might not be right for you, so you will need to be guided by your Dr. if you need to go down Medication Avenue until you get your sleep back on track.
I am now getting 8 – 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights.
IT HAS COMPLETELY CHANGED MY LIFE. It made all the other things I needed to work on possible.
Now go get some sleep.
TracyRead the Hormone Cure by Sarah Gottfried. I read it after listening to Jonathan’s bonus podcast with her. I had NO idea how much our hormones affect our sleep!!! Sweet dreams!!!!
Pat BakerI do not see any reference to getting up to urinate. Does this break your sleep? Is this normal. I drink tons of water all day and at night. Therefore I get up but is that bad for me? I am thirsty at night and do not want to stop drinking water. So what is the answer??
carrieHi Pat – THANK YOU for reminding me of another thing I changed! I stopped drinking after 6 pm so I wouldn’t be woken up by the need to pee. If it doesn’t bother you and you don’t feel your sleep is compromised by getting up in the night I would imagine it’s OK, but I find disturbed sleep almost as bad as no sleep. You will have to decide what is more important for your own situation – drinking water right up until bedtime or getting uninterrupted sleep.
SusanWonderful, informative article! I struggle to get enough sleep almost every night. I plan to implement many of your suggestions. I usually watch a TV program before bed and then read for about an hour before lights out. Now, I’m going to shoot for 2 hours of readings and melatonin.
Thanks for sharing!
BJThis sweet little program automatically changes your computer light from blue to something softer at sundown.
carrieBJ – so glad you mentioned that – I had forgotten what it was called!!! I will add it to my notes above – THANK YOU!
A Veritable Transformation » Carrie Brown | Life in the SANE lane[…] The Transformation: Sleep […]
PamA great book about sleep is HEALING NIGHT, by Rubin R. Naiman, Ph.D.
KeithExcellent tips, I need all the help I can getting good sleep. So glad you’re sharing all of your experiences and knowledge with us — it has helped my life immensely.
I do not have a Swiss-Army knife of sleep tips yet, but here is one or two that I’d like to share that I’ve discovered ever since I started eating SANE:
I’ve suffered from insomnia for over 20 years and nothing has ever helped until a problem I started having while eating SANEly prompted me to discover a solution that works for me.
The problem: I was eating a veggie and tuna salad with low-fat Cottage Cheese for lunch every day at work. I loved the body results I was getting (three belt notches thinner!) but I realized that shortly after lunch-time I would crash HARD. I found I was just dead tired all at once and wondering how I was going to get through the second half of my work day without falling asleep.
After some google-research I found that many people experience a severe sleepiness reaction to Cottage Cheese because it is packed with tryptophan. Plus sitting in my lunch bag for half the day was “warming” it up enough to kick all that tryptophan into high gear.
I tested it by removing the Cottage Cheese from my lunch. Sure enough I didn’t experience any kind of sleepiness thereafter.
The best part? I now eat half a cup of low-fat Cottage Cheese an hour or two before bed every night along with a teaspoon of raw peanut butter and a cup of chamomile. I fall asleep fast, stay asleep ALL NIGHT (this is unprecedented for me) and I wake up naturally before my alarm every morning.
The biggest boon is that my mood is so much more stable now and I have lasting energy throughout the day, not to mention the benefits I’m sure it’s having on all my other metabolic processes.
I hope that tip helps at least one other person! Thanks to Carrie and Jonathan Bailor for your amazing books. Without SANE eating I wouldn’t be nearly as healthy and may not have discovered this simple fix for my own brand of insomnia!
carrieKeith – that’s brilliant! What a fantastic discovery!
ChelseaCarrie, about how long after you started this sleep transformation did you notice a change? I’ve been having some irregular cycles and I expect my hormones are a bit out of whack, so I’m thinking getting on some sort of a more reasonable, regular sleep schedule (I’m a severe chronic night owl-seriously, it’s bad! Haha) should help regulate that a bit better. But I’m curious how long it took for you to see a difference, and how long I might expect before I might notice a difference? Thoughts?
carrieAfter a whole week of good sleep I started to feel things changing. Sleep is SOOOOOOO important! Fix those hormones – you can do it!
PenThanks for all these tips. I had just come to the conclusion in my own life that lack of sleep was underlying a lot of other problems, so I have started implementing a lot of your suggestions. Thanks very much.
JanaHey, Carrie – Just letting you know the link to the sleep article is broken; it’s just going to the home page of that website now. Which article were you referencing?
carrieThank you, Jana! I have updated the links. So grateful for you calling this out!!