How you begin each day says quite a bit about what you value.
Some may wake early and immediately exercise...
Others may wake with just enough time planned to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee...
And still others may always seem to be running behind and dart around all morning frantically reacting...
Real life means we probably rotate through all of the above seldom sticking to one for long. But what if I said there was a way to do it differently? There is an alternative that allows you to regularly win your day. You often hear the gurus of the day insisting that planning your day is the ticket to having a successful day. I don't disagree - my life has personally been transformed by a purposeful approach to each day. But I now experience more joy and contentment in addition to success when I shifted my focus from planning my day to planning my night. I began to start my day with night.
Send yourself to bed
We hear the term "self-care" a lot in our current culture. So when you're feeling stressed and exhausted how should you enact this catchy, buzz-word practice? Scheduling a mani/pedi? A massage? Spin class? Those are great ideas (except spin class -- because personally it's not my thing to push my heart rate to bursting because I'm trying to get through the imaginary mud), do your thing! But hear me out because there could be an easier way to refill your proverbial cup every day without spending a dime.
What if I told you the best possible way you could care for yourself is by sending yourself to bed early? Would you believe me? Would you present all the reasons you are unable or unwilling to do so? Would you do me a favor and read this anyway?
It could save your life.
Sleep as Medicine
Only 1/3 of American adults get consistent, adequate z's. What do the other 2/3 get?
- doubled risk of cancer and heart attack
- weakened immune system
- increased sensitivity to ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and decreased sensitivity to leptin (the satiation hormone) Read: binge eating when tired
- after just 1 week of disordered sleep perfectly healthy adults have blood sugar levels placing them within the range that qualifies as pre-diabetic
-heightened cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. This one is so important it should get its own post
-impaired memory and cognitive function (that even caffeine can't fix)
For these reasons (and many more) one of my first questions to new clients is:
How are you sleeping?
Sleep is quite possibly the most important aspect of proper health & nutrition.
Don't worry, I'm a doctor
Just kidding. But I am something of an expert on the effects of sleep deprivation (which is defined as less than 7-8 hours of sleep for adults) because I have a small child who has slept through the night approximately a dozen times in her nearly three years of life. She regularly wakes from bad dreams and semi-wakes from night terrors. And since misery loves company she often wakes me when she finds herself conscious or in need of consolation.
It is a legitimate form of torture. Sleep deprivation results in depression, inability to manage stress, lack of physical coordination, impaired decision-making, emotional outbursts, emotional eating, and the very real health risks noted above.
True Confession: I remember one particularly terrible night, being so exhausted, so emotionally broken by lack of sleep that when my beautiful baby woke, yet again, after having only slept for 20 minutes (equaling approximately a whopping 12 minutes for me), I picked up the baby monitor, threw it across the room and literally began alternately hitting myself in the head and pulling my hair out while I sobbed and begged and pleaded with my Creator. I have never spoken this truth out loud. But I'm all about honesty, particularly when it could help someone else, so there you have it -- a visual of a woman pushed to virtual insanity by sleeplessness.
What's worse is that consistent disruptions to sleep patterns affects your circadian rhythms in the future. Ever had jet lag? Then you know what it is to be completely drained and frustratingly unable to sleep. Again, it is legitimate torture!
But before you sell your kids on Etsy or reach for the valium, read on.
Rescue your Recovery
So, let's just say that you're on board with getting more shut-eye but you're unsure how to get there. Where can you begin?
Your Room. Make the place that you lay your head an oasis of peace and serenity. Ideally you would have a comfortable mattress and pillows, low lighting, and I would suggest you consider a no screen policy in your bedroom. I was a little surprised to read recently that 64% of American households have a television in their master bedroom. Compare that to the 66% of American adults who get less than 7-8 hours of sleep and I'll let you draw your own conclusions. The light emitted from screens disrupts our bodies natural production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). If you have no place else for your bedroom TV to live consider setting yourself a "Lights Out/Screens Out" curfew at least 30 minutes before your desired bedtime. This Screens Out curfew should include ALL devices (sorry, late night Facebook scrolling, you are literally bad for my health).
Your Bedtime. All humans do best with routines. Consider crafting one that you can commit to. Personally, I find this a great way to begin implementing new habits I'm trying to adopt. I head to bed at a set time, floss and brush my teeth, wash my face, change, take my vitamins, and climb into bed to read until my set bedtime. The act of doing the same routine each day means that when I set my routine into motion my body expects to be sleepy by the time I crawl into bed. The bonus is that I go to bed feeling like a winner because I just flossed, washed my face, and read -- a few things I struggle to make time for in my busy life.
Your Support. Weekends, holidays, social gatherings, and teenagers often disrupt my routine. I'm not resentful (most of the time), because life has ups and downs. Sometimes I value quality time with my teenagers and husband over sleep by staying up late to watch a movie on weekends, or lend a hand for a school project deadline. But it is equally important to model and enforce good sleep habits for our children, and ask for the support of a night-owl spouse in honoring your bedtime. Chances are they agree that you are your best self when you are your rested self.
Support might also refer to the help you need to get some sleep. Consider seeking assistance from your spouse, a parent, trusted friend, or night nanny to get some relief by "clocking out" for the night if you have a wakeful child. Or perhaps your body isn't winding down? Before you reach for the sleep aids maybe you could try one or more of the following: meditation, a stretching routine, a warm bath, calming tea, supplementing with magnesium, or trying melatonin.
Starting your Day with Night
By prioritizing sleep and recovery you are essentially starting each day the night before -- planning a successful day by planning a restful night.
I know it may sound super boring, and perhaps it is because I have reached a certain age, but in looking at the ways I can most effectively live a healthier life -- sleep gives me the best bang for my buck. It also allows me to to be more present for others without squinting through the fog of exhaustion and caffeine spikes. I'm a better wife, mother, and coach when I've had a full 8 hours of sleep.
Besides, don't we all get to the age as adults where we think back regretfully at all the naps we didn't take as small children? So before you schedule the self-care spa day just go to bed and sleep on it.