This is something I know I’ve heard time and again. Sleep is important. Though, throughout my life, I’ve neglected this advice for more pressing, or enjoyable endeavors. I’d also over indulge in sleep. Sleeping up to 12 hours at a stretch. Either way, my relationship to sleep was not a healthy one. In the past few years, I’ve been making my sleep hygiene a priority. I’ve been making sure that I’ve been getting at least six hours a night. Even though there are days I work late and wake early, working thirteen hour days all in the name of paying off my student loans.
So it’s in this vein that I want to go over how I struck a balance in finding a healthy sleep routine. One that’s helping me to preform at my best, but also feeling my best, naturally. And also some of the crazy facts I learned about how important healthy sleep is. So let’s start where I usually start my posts, in my reckless teen and twenties.
Sleeping as a Youth
When I was in my teens, it seemed as though all I was doing was sleeping. This though, I imagine is the norm. This article from MSN covers some of the basics about why it is so important for teens to get between eight to ten hours of sleep.
I Don’t remember much about my sleep habits in my teen years. I vaguely remember being out late and drinking too much. Also sleeping very late when I wasn’t getting up early to go to school. Either way, sleep was not a priority for me. In the MSN article above, they say this is due to hormonal changes and normal development. Add to these normal changes, finding your friend group, discovering who you are as a person, or as most of us do, try to fit in, and you’ve got a lot of new and exciting/anxiety provoking life events happening all at once. Our teen years are a crazy time, for sure.
Now a days, I relish the nights I am able to get to bed at a time that will allow me to get the optimal amount of sleep. Not to mention the crazy dreams I have during the night. But if I enjoy sleeping so much, why was I neglecting my sleep hygiene in my youth? I think it has to do with the excitement of finding where you feel a sense of belonging. And the possibility of new experiences we will have.
FOMO is a term I first heard from Buddhist Psychologist, Tara Brach. It stands for, fear of missing out. This can be a strong pull for anybody. To feel as though you are being left out, or missing something that people will be talking about for years to come. Or maybe even just the excitement of being young and the feeling of cruising around with your friends, not doing anything but being young. However the feelings play out, FOMO is a big draw for losing sleep.
And for me, later in life, sleep would almost always lose out to staying up late to drink and play video games. The later was an especially pointed one for me, as I would stay up until 2-3am gaming. First I would game with my friends, drinking, taking turns handing of the controller to the next in line. Later, I would game online in some multi-person, massive, online game like World of Warcraft. I would still play with friends, only now we could all play at the same time. And needless to say, we all still had a drink in hand, for sure.
Though what I’ve found is, that when I was acting from this place of FOMO, I was also neglecting my most basic needs. Sleep being one for sure. But there were a host of other areas in my life that needed my attention. In short, I fell way behind in the game of life, and am now scrambling to catch up to where I would like to be. No bueno.
More Crazy Info about How Sleep is Crazy Important for You & Your Health
About five years ago, a friend told me to check out the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. He said it was something he enjoyed and that I should give it a listen. I remember listening to it after he suggested it to me and thinking, that this was more of the same machismo, pop-culture that I just wasn’t into. Though recently, another friend of mine suggested I listen to his podcast, so I decided to give it another chance.
I’m glad I did. The episode I listened to, and the inspiration for this post was, an episode where Joe interviewed a neuroscience and psychology professor at Berkley College, California, Mathew Walker. Walker explains how important healthy sleep habits are, in maintaining overall good health. And, it’s not only for teenagers.
We Need Between 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep a Night
This one was kind of a surprise to me. I knew that teenagers needed more sleep, but I had heard that people need less sleep, the older they get. I was under the assumption that we only needed around six hours of sleep a night as adults. This was something that Walker explains is a common misconception.
Walker explains that our minds need dream sleep. There are two types of sleep; REM sleep and non-REM sleep. And there are four stages of sleep, one through four. We cycle through these stages throughout the night. They help us to heal, consolidate memories and other important functions that keep us at our most healthiest. It’s no wonder why sleep is so important. Here’s an article from Very Well Health which explains these stages of sleep.
And more importantly, any less than seven hours of sleep and our minds and bodies begin to become depleted. Our cognitive and physical functions decrees by around 30%. Sleep is where we process the ideas and activities we learn during the day and commit them to long term memory. So having healthy sleep hygiene is super important for our overall health and self-care. And not something that we should be pushing ourselves to preform without.
How to Create a Healthy & Cozy Sleep Routine
So if we know that sleep is important to our overall health, how do we create habits that are conducive to getting optimal sleep? In the following, I’ll be going over what the experts say, and some of my habits when it comes to getting the healthiest sleep possible. So grab a cup of herbal tea and get cozy : )
Drink Less Caffeine
This one should be a no-brainer, but drinking less caffeine, especially right before you go to bed, will help to ease your mind into a relaxed state. One conducive to sleep. When I was younger, I used to drink a LOT of coffee. Between 5-7 mocha lattes a day. And that’s not including the energy drinks I was consuming either. Usually during work or at the bar when Redbull and vodkas were popular. I was also staying up till 2-3am playing video games as well. All of which were unhealthy habits for optimal sleep.
Now I drink very little caffeine during the course of the day. Usually a cup or two of tea in the mornings if at all. I’ve noticed that I’m not nearly as jittery during the day, and my nighttime wind down and sleep have come much more smoothly. It’s nice knowing that I can lay down and fall asleep without worrying about if I’ll be well rested enough.
Drink Less Alcohol
This one is a little less intuitive than not drinking so much caffeine. I know when I’m drinking alcohol, I feel as though I’m getting drowsy. But, I’ve learned from the Joe Rogan episode on sleep, that alcohol is a sedative. And sedation is not the same as sleep. Alcohol actual stops the mind and body from entering into the realm of dream sleep (stage 4). The same is true of marijuana. So if you’ve been consuming alcohol or marijuana for long enough, you will have gone without REM sleep for as long as you’ve been sedated, using these substances.
Keeping your alcohol and marijuana use to a few times a week, or as I do, I have a beer with my Self-care Sunday meals, you’ll be allowing your mind to get the much needed REM sleep it’s been missing. And in severe cases, if we’re deprived of REM, or dream sleep for too long, it will leak over into our waking lives. This is not optimal. Maybe try a sober October if you’ve been in the habit of using either substance to help you sleep. And notice the difference.
Body Temperature & Lighting
I also learned from Joe Rogan’s podcast that your body and mind need to drop in temperature by two to three degrees. This is why it’s easier to fall asleep in colder weather that in the warmer months. Some tips for achieving this are to take a hot shower before you turn in for the night. The temperature increase in your body will make the surrounding, ambient lower. Helping you to fall into your sleep cycle with more ease.
Also, lighting is an important aspect of sleep. It’s well known that screen time has the effect of tricking our minds and bodies into thinking that we’re taking in daylight. This throws off our circadian rhythm. So to produce more melatonin, try switching off some of your lights at night and avoid screens an hour before bedtime. I light a few candles and have a few ambient lighting sources that I switch on before I go to bed. Creating just the right atmosphere for my bedtime routine.
My Bedtime Routine
My bedtime routine has evolved over the past few years. Before, I had no routine to speak of. I would drink and play videogames until I couldn’t anymore. Then I would stumble into bed in a half sedated state. Only to wake up at some point the next day and repeat more of the same. Now, I have much healthier habits. Let me walk you through a usual night for me and how I’ve created a healthy sleep space for myself.
Shower & Tea
I usually start out with taking a hot shower. This way I feel clean getting into my sheets for the night. I’ll brew a cup of herbal tea, something warm to sip on while I’m relaxing at the end of my day. I’m usually on my feet most of the day, so this down time is relished. This is where I can really unwind from the day.
Lighting, Music & Scent
I also set the mood by lighting a few candles and turning on other, low, diffused lighting around my room ideal for relaxing and no other light sources. I don’t usually use my phone or my computer during these times. Anything that I need to plan or do, can wait until the morning. Here I just soak in the relaxing lighting around me.
Speaking of diffused, I usually have a relaxing scent diffusing just before bed. I use oils such as geranium or lavender to help set a more relaxing atmosphere. So while my candles are burning, and I’m sipping tea under a cozy throw blanket, I’m also immersed in the scent of something pleasant. I’ll also have a playlist of some soothing music playing. Something acoustic and mellow. And I try to set my bedtime for the same time each night. And aim for about eight hours a night.
This is my bedtime routine and it’s been working for me for some time now. After a life’s time worth of unhealthy sleep habits, I’m finally getting a handle on healthy sleep hygiene. I feel more rested during the day and have more energy to get to the things that I need to do on my ever growing todo list. If you’ve struggled with sleep in the past, maybe try implementing some of these changes into your routine.
Sleep is important. Too important to be cast aside as an after thought. In our culture, going without sleep is something that has become a badge of honor. Though this only leads to poor health and other detriments to our daily routines. So keep up with this aspect of your health and wellbeing. You’ll rest easier knowing you’ve taken care of your sleep needs. Peace & thanks for reading.