I told you guys last week that I'm going to start blogging about more than just food, so here goes. I'm calling this the #GSD (get shit done) series since I plan on sharing all the tips, tricks and info that's helping me (or not) be more productive in my life.
Instead of setting New Year's resolutions I decided to focus on "getting right" over the next three months. I wanted to address my mental health, namely my insanely high stress level, by re-establishing healthy habits. I figure that by focusing on simple changes for a set period of time, I can block out the noise that often makes these efforts fail.
I am not: trying to lose weight, save money, go on a diet, work out harder or being less social. (Though if some of these things happen, yay!)
I am: choosing activities (or lack of activities) based on the reality of my mental and emotional needs, not my desires or even guilt.
This means making a lot of small tweaks to my life and plenty of big shifts in how I think - and it all started with SLEEP! True story: after my break up last September I started sleeping like shit. I'd expected this, since, having been through a few break ups in my time, not being able to sleep was a fairly normal reaction to emotional lows for me. What I didn't expect was that a couple weeks of bad sleep would snowball into three months of exhaustion, going through a lot of concealer and managing poor sleep with over-the-counter sleep aids (such as Tylenol's Simply Sleep). Being the rational person I am, I eventually realized this was not normal, nor was it okay. I could get one or two nights of sleep sans aids per week, but only out of sheer exhaustion.
Looking back on those months, I am now firmly of the Arianna Huffington school of thought that sleep is truly the foundation to achieving everything else in life. The reason being that if my mind and body have not recharged, I'm less able to deal with day-to-day stress, make sound decisions, wrangle my emotions, not cry during every Kleenex or Hallmark ad, etc. There's even mounting evidence that sufficient sleep helps you lose weight, improves your memory, boosts creativity and lowers stress. Basically a good night of sleep makes me feel like I can conquer the world.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Generally speaking, most adults need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep. But everyone is different, especially depending on your age. Now, if you're 23 and reading this thinking, "I can sleep four hours a night and totally get shit done!" I challenge you to a) really think about what kind of shit you're getting done on that kind of sleep and b) remember that your sleep needs are going to change the older you get. And by older I mean 25, 27, or 30 - not 55.
I played around a bit to find my "magic number" and ultimately it's 8 hours. When left to my own devices on a weekend without an alarm set, my body regularly shoots for 8 hours. When I get to bed late and end up hitting snooze, I always end up feeling better at 8 hours. It might take a week or two, but you can figure out your number by keeping track of how many hours you've slept vs how you felt when you woke up and how you felt during the day.
Who Knew Getting To Bed Would Be So Hard
I love sleeping. To be honest, on my list of favorite things, it trumps coffee AND bourbon. That's saying a lot. But once I decided that my sleep schedule was going to be on a strict 10pm - 6am time frame I found that getting my ass into bed, let alone ready for sleep, was much harder than I thought it would be.
I have a friend who is always starting too many projects in the evening, thus pushing back her bedtime further and further. We joke about it regularly, but I ended up having to assign a 9pm hard stop to starting any activity that didn't get me one step closer to bed time.
Which lead to establishing a pre-bed time routine. Listen, none of this info is revolutionary, but shit is for real! After 9pm I'm mindful of lowering the volume on the TV, dimming the lights, being in my pajamas, brushing my teeth, washing my face, turning down my bed (so the sheets are nice and cool! mmmmm!) all as a lead up to finally getting in bed by 9:50 or 10. If I notice my mind is busy, even after all that, I hit the sack early with a book and read for a half hour to help bring me down a notch.
Morning Person Convert
It took less than a month - I'd say two weeks - for my new sleep routine to kick in. When my alarm goes off at 6am not only do I feel legitimately great, there's also a good chance that I've started waking up a bit before the alarm has even gone off. As an insurance policy against my own laziness, I have my iPhone alarm set for 6, 6:15 and 6:30. Something about knowing the most sleep I'm gonna get on a snooze is 15 minutes makes getting back into bed very unappealing. Also, knowing that should I decide to keep sleeping, I'm going to have to get up three more times totally sucks.
My phone/alarm is positioned clear across my studio apartment, forcing me to actually remove myself from the cozy cocoon that is my bed.
I have a pretty kick ass bed, not gonna lie. I invested in a good mattress, a feather bed and sheets that make me giddy like a school girl when I crawl into bed. Sleep is about an aesthetic too, folks! A comfy bed and linens are not luxury items when you spend 50+ hours a week in your bed! Imagine wearing underwear two sizes too small all day, every day. Yeah. No. You want your underwear to fit and feel good...just like you want your bed to fit you and feel good too!
There's nothing worse than waking up to cantankerous honking so I have Madeleine Peyroux's Dance Me To The End Of Love as my 6am alarm. Every alarm after that? Cantankerous honking. There are no rewards for sleeping in. Whatever song plays for my wake up call, it's a nice way to set the tone for the day. Sometimes I need Madeleine, sometimes I need Beyonce.
Here's another truth bomb: doing this whole sleep thing totally sucks sometimes. There are evenings that are so fun, I don't want to leave early just so I can go to bed. There are nights I know I need to do something or get something done, but it won't be done by that 9pm cut off. But the proof is more than there - I feel so much better when I sleep enough. I also don't want to sound sanctimonious or lame when I tell friends, "Nah, I gotta head home so I can sleep. It's, like, a thing I'm working on." This is why I have that three month deal with myself. If after 3 months I'm like, "Ehhhh, whatever." Then fine, but at least I gave it enough time to see and feel the results of changing my routine.
It's not like one night of not enough sleep is going to kill anyone, it's the accumulation of many nights and a back-slide into bad habits that'll get ya. So, are you sleeping enough? Do you make sleep a real priority or is it just this thing you do? Can you tell a difference in your day when you don't get enough sleep?
Photo: me! Alejandra Owens