New Habit Monday: Create and Use a Sleep Ritual

Monday!  Again!  How does this keep happening?  The new habit this week is all about getting your zzzz’s — or, at least, doing everything you can to facilitate getting the zzzz’s. And, about 3 years ago, I had this epiphany that getting enough sleep was pretty much the cure all.  In fact, I wrote a blog post about it (on a long-stale blog), which I’m going to steal and reprint here (because why reinvent the wheel, ya know?).  So, without further ado, my September 2010 take on sleep:

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve figured out the answer to all of life’s problems.
Get enough sleep. And not just on the weekends, or a good night of it here and there, but consistently, almost every night, get enough sleep.

I bet you expected something funnier, eh?

You might be one of the Sleep Blessed: one of those chosen few who feel really good after just 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. That’s all you need to get your batteries recharged, recover from the previous day of stress or workouts and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to hop out of bed and face the day.

Me? I’m not so blessed. I’ve mentioned it before – it takes 8-10 hours of sleep a night to transform me into someone you’d want to be around. I can get by on 7 a night for a while, but it wears on me and makes me a touch cranky. And 6 hours a night (which is about what I had been averaging)? Really – take my word for it – don’t come near me. Especially if you’re one of those perky-with-5-hours-a-night type people. I just might accidentally run over you with my car. Twice.

For so long — years, really — I’ve been chronically sleep-deprived. It’s one of those things that I joked about but knew on some level that it was reality. But I never fully realized how profoundly this impacted me every single day. When I talked about always being tired, that was the god’s honest truth: I could sleep anywhere. Given an opportunity to nap? Minutes and I was out cold. And a nap wasn’t usually 20 minutes — it was 1-2 hours.

Fitting training into this equation has always been difficult for me — an epic struggle between hitting the street and hitting the couch. And? The couch usually won that battle, at least more often than not.

And then about 6 weeks ago after having weeks of sleep-related issues, I started going to bed at 8pm. Yes – the sun was still shining and I was trying to fall asleep – but the result? I now get a luxurious 8 hours of sleep a night during the week. And then on the weekends? In bed early (sometimes as early as 8-9pm) and up early, but with no alarm and usually I’ll manage 9-10 hours of deep, refreshing sleep. Now that’s livin’ right!

You know what happened? After about a week of getting enough zzz’s, I turned into a sleep evangelist (or for the more secular, a late-night Sleep Is Awesome!! infomercial in my best Billy Mays voice) — I felt so incredibly good and couldn’t stop talking about how such a basic thing as sleep could make everything all rainbows and sunshine and butterflies (perhaps I went a touch overboard…). I couldn’t wait to tell everyone that I knew how damn easy it was to feel like you could conquer anything that life had to throw at you (fine print: I have no kids or husband or social life to get in the way of getting enough sleep, so “easy” might be somewhat subjective, and, of course, your mileage may vary).

Truthfully, I haven’t felt this over-the-top awesome in years. YEARS. Literally. It’s not like my problems have gone anywhere, but my ability to deal with them? So much better than before. Now that I spend my days more awake (without the aid of huge caffeine boosts), my thinking is clearer, I have more energy, and I’m ready to grab life by the tail and shake it around a little, just for grins.

It amazes me that it took me so damn long to put this together. I mean, sure, I’m no rocket scientist, but you’d think that falling asleep during, well, everything, would have been a clue. Or perhaps the fact that I could ingest barrels of caffeine and not have it even make a dent in my nonstop yawning. Perhaps I was too tired to make the connection.

I know, I know – I sound a little insane, don’t I? Again – I just can’t seem to find the words to convey how good things are now. I feel like I’ve spent the past 4+ years walking around in a fog, rarely feeling anything more than just okay, instead of regularly feeling good. My friends and family have noticed my improved mood and positive attitude. My boss even noticed that I didn’t look nearly as worn out as I usually do (he’s one of the good guys, but occasionally manages to put his foot in his mouth).

And while going to bed before the good TV shows even start might make me a bit of a loser, now that I know this secret, I don’t think I can go back. I’m hooked on feeling awake and alive and energetic and – basically – awesome all the time. Who needs a social life, right?

See, I’m like a Lean Eating seer or something, aren’t I? It’s like I wrote that post 3 years ago just waiting for this moment to recycle it. I’m nothing if not environmentally friendly.

Anyway – my sleep ritual has developed over the years, and now I regularly head to the bedroom early and get ready for bed, then foam roll and stretch, write in my journal, cuddle with the dogs and then 10 minutes later I’m asleep. And I get close to 7-8 hours a night fairly consistently (and feel like crap when I don’t). The ritual helps; it gives me time to slow down and relax before climbing into bed, so that when I do I’m ready to close my eyes.

It makes a difference, it really does. Give it a try if you don’t already.

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