Sleep, oh blessed sleep. There’s just something about sinking into bed at the end of the day. Getting under the covers, stretching out, and letting out a deep, satisfying, sigh. Then being lulled by the warmth and coziness, causing your eyelids to grow heavy and close. Hello Slumberland, I’m on my way!
Well, that is unless sleep doesn’t come and you toss and turn for hours. Or you drift off for a bit, but then wake too soon and can’t return to sleep. Or the night is a total blur and you wake up feeling more tired than before. Yep, I’ve been there.
My 18-month journey to better physical health continued with another wellness challenge in September. I’m working on monthly challenges to create healthy habits that will lead to a healthy lifestyle. You can find out more about that, my goals and health history here.
Following a sleep deprived month in August, I took a slight detour from my wellness plan to focus on improving my sleep.
To do this, I started by looking at what I documented in my health planner for the previous months. I took note of what was going on during those days to get clues to the problem areas I needed to tackle. This was paired with prayer, of course, for insight into things of which I’m not aware. And, I also had some insightful articles and a webcast, all about sleep, hit my inbox around the same time. I used all that information to create a sleep strategy.
1. Let there be light.
I needed to get more sunlight during the day to fine tune my circadian rhythm. And I also needed to reduce the amount of blue light from tech use.
So, I made it a habit to go outside for about 10 minutes a day, 30 minutes if it was overcast. And I would just let my eyes take in some light. (No, I didn’t look directly at the sun; that’s unsafe, don’t do it.)
To reduce blue light, I adjusted the display settings on my phone and computer to use a warm tone. I also reduced my use of technology in general and chose paper wherever I could. In the evenings, I used dim lighting and resolved to put my phone aside a couple hours before bed.
2. Get comfy.
My bedroom is already a comfortable place to retreat to for sleep. We’d recently painted it a soothing and relaxing mint green colour. It’s uncluttered so nothing distracts the eye. And my mattress and pillow are comfortable enough.
But I did change the bed linen to flannel which is cozier. And I reprogrammed the thermostat so that our house is cooler at night; around 20 degrees celsius.
I also darkened our bedrooms by closing the drapes at night. As well as unplugging all the night lights. I have trouble keeping a sleep mask on all night, so I bought a sleep cap which can be loosely lowered over the eyes and serve that same purpose.
3. Get sleepy.
One of the reasons I have trouble falling asleep is because I have too much on my mind. So I’ve been more intentional about winding down my day a couple hours before my head hits the pillow. I journal out all my thoughts. I also do a brain dump to get those lovely reminders and todos I know my brain will bring up. I listen to soothing music, pray and do some breathing exercises to destress the day.
I no longer shower at night because that invigorates me. But if I have to, I use a relaxing body wash that has lavender in it. I also, occasionally, put drops of lavender on a tissue and tuck that inside my pillowcase.
One recommendation I made note of but didn’t get to implement was exercise. That is, to get about 30 minutes of exercise daily, earlier in the day, so that I’m tired enough to fall asleep quickly.
Another reason for my insomnia, the kind that comes around 2 or 3 am, is hunger. I don’t actually feel hungry so perhaps that’s more of a blood sugar thing. Anyway, I now make sure to have a light, sugar-free snack after dinner, even if it’s just a cup of tea.
4. Lastly, fall back asleep.
So, with all these measures in place, the last hurdle to face was returning to sleep if I woke during the night.
I’m not sure if it’s what wakes me, but one of the things that keep me awake is my husband’s snoring. We’ve been married almost sixteen years and I’ve adjusted to his sleep apnea for the most part. It’s only in recent years that it’s impacted my sleep.
I could get annoyed. In fact, that has been my response. But that actually makes it harder to fall back asleep. Instead, I pray for us both and expect to fall back asleep. Sometimes, I’ll ask him to turn to his other side.
What has also helped is wearing the sleep cap I mentioned. It’s loose enough to be lowered over my ears as well which mutes the noise just a bit.
And the results…
Midway through the month, I remembered my old Fitbit sitting in my drawer collecting dust. I just don’t like wearing the thing. But I thought it would be a good idea to wear it at night to measure my sleep. This would hopefully give me more information on how I actually slept instead of relying on how I felt on waking.
The sleep data the app collects serves to estimate how much time is spent in each sleep stage. I was particularly curious about how much time I spent in deep sleep which is when the body does it’s repair and maintenance. The Fitbit app also shows the benchmark for each sleep stage according to my sex and age. It was helpful to have a relative comparison. Read more here: https://blog.fitbit.com/sleep-stages-explained/
Overall, the sleep strategy worked to my satisfaction and I slept well most days. I got 7-8 hours most nights. And the time in each sleep stage looked good. There were a few nights where I got less than five hours. But I was able to diagnose the reason from my health log and journal – not eating enough that day, too hot from fluctuating weather, lots on my mind, etc. It’s a habit and needs continued practice. However, it was comforting to see that my body made up for the lost sleep on the days that followed.
How’s your sleep? I hope you got some helpful tips here. At the very least, I hope you’re encouraged or inspired to be intentional in your wellness journey.
Joy & Peace, Sister!