Sleep. An activity that, for many of us, is irregular and fleeting. We frequently desire it and rarely get enough. How much sleep do you get on a regular basis - 8 hours, 5 hours, less? Society tells us that we must be awake and productive all the time in order to be ‘successful’. We live in a world where if you aren’t busy, then you aren’t living what society deems to be a good life. This leads to more stress, less self esteem, and less sleep.
And at the end of it all, it’s the lack of sleep that contributes most to the downward spiral.
You see, sleep is how our body does its maintenance and repair at the end of each day. If our internal team of medics doesn’t get the time they need in order to do their work on the regular, it stands to reason that we start falling apart - literally and figuratively. Let’s look at some high-level points about this from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (link to study):
Unstable moods - Irritability, anxiety, depression-like symptoms
Inability to concentrate
Fatigue (Duh!) and all of the side effects like slower reaction time, forgetfulness, etc.
High blood pressure
Obesity and/or diabetes
You may not be surprised by that short list above (or the longer list in the study), but that doesn’t mean those items are irrelevant. Quite the opposite!
As I write this article I’ve just come off a week of non-intentional sleep deprivation that got me into researching this topic for the first time since my bout with adrenal fatigue (a nebulous set of symptoms that is a popular way for medical professionals or others to say “I’m not really sure what’s wrong”) a few years ago. Adrenal fatigue is a ‘fun‘ side effect of stress that leads to sleep deprivation. While it is not an official medical diagnosis, you can read up on that bit more here (Mayo Clinic | Harvard) if you’re interested.
The week leading up to today was not any more or less stressful than usual as far as I am concerned, but I just couldn’t stay asleep. Often I found myself starting awake a couple times during the night or just waking up gently and falling back asleep. All of this tallied up to one tired Curious at the end of the week. As you can imagine, I was not in much shape to be productive or ‘successful’ this week by societal standards. I have been using an Oura ring to track my sleep and other things recently and I can’t say I was surprised by the graphs of my sleep (see below).
This led me to research.
How can I sleep better? It’s not like I can go to a sleep gym and train to be a better sleeper. All one can do is work on the factors that affect sleep and work to be more consistent in one’s schedule. Here are some resources to help you find your way to better sleep.
Tim Ferriss - Master Life Hacker
Sometimes I feel like Tim is my spirit animal. He’s super analytical and studies the things he finds interesting very meticulously. He’s not everyone’s favorite person, so consider yourself warned. Here is a post from his blog that had some useful/interesting information.
I mostly gave his step #4 some thorough ‘research’ and made time for a 15-20 minute nap the last 3-4 days. I didn’t bolster it with caffeine, but rather coupled it with a sleeping position that I picked up from Jocko Willink from his book Discipline Equals Freedom, something I had read a while back. Essentially, he says he has had some of the best power naps by getting into a position where his feet are higher than his heart. I don’t know if there is any scientific basis for this, but from my experience it makes a difference! I felt like that combo helped me fall asleep faster and stay there more deeply throughout the nap.
Oura - A Gadget with Good Insight
What the heck in an Oura ring? It’s a titanium ring with a whole bunch of technology crammed into it that monitors your heart rate and body temperature to give you insights about various aspects of your health - specifically sleep and activity levels (Oura: Sleep | Activity).
As shown above, my sleep graph wasn’t looking too great. Here’s where my graph was after the night before I wrote this post.
In essence, when you sleep you want there to be more of the dark green on your graph and as little white as possible. As you can see, I’m heading in the right direction. There is a fairly decent change from Tuesday to Saturday night.
Easy Ways To Get Better Sleep
What is mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the reading that I did to try and get myself back into dreamland. Here are the recommendations from around the internet that I used to get me there.
Less Caffeine & Alcohol
I am no junkie by any means when it comes to caffeine. Two to three cups of coffee per week is my usual (yes, I’m a blasphemer). Even though I didn’t think this was what was throwing me off, I did change my habits a tad. While I still had about 3 cups of coffee this week, I made sure to drink it during late morning (around 10:00am or so) when I did indulge. This way I was very confident that the caffeine wasn’t going to affect my sleep by still being in my system at bedtime. I did the same for the 2-3 alcoholic drinks that I had during the week, except that was more like mid-afternoon instead of in the evening. (NOTE: I work early hours and usually am off work around 3:00pm)
As mentioned above I used my Ferriss/Jocko nap technique to catch up a bit on my Zzz’s in the middle of the day for about 15 minutes. This helped offset my desire for caffeine and keep me sharper as the day wore on.
I am a creature of habits, but when it comes to eating my schedule can vary depending on what’s happening (raise your hand if you’re also a victim of this). I am continuing to be conscious of when I eat so that my body knows when it will get energy. Routine is something that is cited over and over again when it comes to mental and physical health and for many of us routine is hard. It takes effort and planning to be able to pull off. We have tools from Best Self Co. that we recommend for this on our Recommendations page that I continue to leverage.
Running is something that I have enjoyed for years (having take some time to warm up to the idea of running being ‘fun’ before that). I still went for my regular three runs a week, but went at a slower pace and for less distance. Harvard stalks about some of the benefits of running regularly in this article. My competitive side showed a bit because I don’t want to break my streak, but I also wanted to reap those benefits of endorphins and increased blood flow.
Are we there yet?
After all this, have I found the mecca of sleep? Am I sleeping the best sleep that I could possibly sleep? No. Sleep, like everything, is a marathon not a sprint. It takes experimentation, patience, and consistency to maintain. As you can see from the two examples I provided of my sleep graphs, I’m making progress. I’m getting to a point where I can say I’ve had a decent night’s sleep again and that is making a world of difference in my waking life - for example the ability to think clearly enough to write this post! If you are dealing with sleep deprivation and are feeling your superpowers disappear, then give these steps a try and see how you fare. You may also want to see a medical professional since they can give you more targeted recommendations based on your specific situation.
Stay strong. Stay consistent. And sleep well, my friends!