You know those memes that are some variation of, “I’m so good in bed! I could sleep for DAYS!”
Yeah, I am not one of those people. My body hates sleep. Flat out rejects it. Gets anxious at the thought of it. I’ve gone months greeting 4am like a weary warrior greets home at the end of an epic tragedy. My longest record without sleep? Somewhere around 72 hours, and no I’m not proud. I was going to say “I’ve been like this my entire adult life,” but even that would be downplaying it! As a kid I would purposefully read books under the covers, night after night, until my body just gave up out of pure exhaustion. Sleep and I have never been on a first name basis.
That’s my loss. I’m sure you’ve read the studies (or internet articles about the studies) that all point to the same thing: We need sleep! It’s a boring fact and I hate it, but that makes it no less true. While you’re sleeping, your body and brain repairs itself from damage during the day. Adults who average seven-to-eight hours of sleep a night report lower rates of illness, less physical pain, clearer skin, reduced stress, higher moods, better focus and productivity.
None of this is new information and if you found your way to this article it’s likely you’ve heard it all before. Let’s cut to the chase: Sleep is the magic pill. We wanna get in on that.
If you’re living with anxiety or depression like I am, then sleep is even more important for you and it’s even more likely that you aren’t getting it. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that over 65% of all adults living with depression also experience major trouble sleeping. Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sleep hygiene. I’ve worked with specialists and therapists about it (this is obvious, but please note that I am not a medical professional! I’m just human, standing in front of another human, wanting to help them get some sleep!). From all of these resources, I’ve cobbled together a routine that – when I stick with it – actually helps! Today I’m going to share it with you.
Carmen’s Go The Fuck To Sleep Routine
1. What are we doing before we go the fuck to sleep? We’re living our best lives during the day, that’s what! How do you feel about meditation and exercise? I know, it’s not for everyone. Here’s the thing, meditation really will help calm your mind and daily exercise gets your body humming in rhythm. If you don’t see yourself joining a rec league anytime soon, maybe think about a 20-minute walk a few times a week? That’s less than half of an Rihanna album! Anything that gets you moving. For meditation, Heather Hogan once recommended the Headspace App to me, and wow it made a difference. Get on that.
Do you work from home? Well then, no more working from bed! No checking your emails “real quick!” Nothing! Keep your bed as a space for sleep or sex ONLY. Soon your body will re-program itself accordingly.
Try not to drink caffeine after 3pm, and no sweets more than two hours before your going to bed. (I know! “No sweets before bed” was the hardest part about this for me, too.)
2. Set a “night routine” alarm just like you set an alarm to wake up in the morning. Stick with it! The alarm goes off, stop what your doing and get ready for bed. For me, the alarm is usually set for 10pm or 11pm, depending on my work the next day.
3. So what do we mean when we say, “routine”? We mean do the same exact things in the same exact order while you get ready for bed. If you do the same things every night, your brain and body will learn to associate those things with sleep and start winding down as you do them. It’s the same concept as muscle memory. For me that routine includes, in order: a probably faaar too involved skin care routine, brushing my teeth, making a cup of tea, putting on my pajamas and taking care of my hair (#BlackGirlLyfe). Your routine might mean laying out your clothes for work the next day or packing your lunch. What’s key is that this routine is intentional and repetitive. It starts with you setting your mind towards bed and ends with your ass actually in the bed. Got it? Got it.
4. No overhead or bright lights in the bedroom after your night routine is complete! There’s no turning back now. Light a candle if you must – just remember to keep it safe, no burning down the house! In a pinch, a table lamp for your bedside (with an extremely low wattage, zero blue light bulb!) also gets the job done.
5. Now let’s talk about cellphones, laptops, and tablets. Y’all, the blue light is not your friend. Point blank period. I’m all for the robot revolution, but when our Android overlords come one day to take over our souls, they’re going to want a well-rested spirit to harvest on. Ideally this means that you’re going to put your electronics on their charger in another room, far away from where you sleep, at least one hour before bedtime.
If you can’t do that because you need to be on-call for work or family or because Internet addiction is real or because your tablet is also your television and simply you cannot fall asleep without Rachel Maddow whispering sweet nothings in your ear (hey don’t judge me!) – it’s time to invoke the night light settings. Most smart phones and tablets have them at this point, but you might have to do some digging to find yours. If you have an Apple product, this tutorial should help. The night settings will turn the evil blue into a warm, calming orange hue that at least won’t keep your brain more alert than it needs to be.
Beyond that, use Do Not Disturb or Airplane mode on your phone to turn off all non-essential alerts. Lower the screen (and volume) to the absolute lowest setting possible.
6. Light, slow exercises or stretches before getting in bed will relax your muscles. Want to learn how? The AARP is here to help! Why yes, I am a wee spry 32-year-old who’s taking advice form the AARP. So what?
7. OK Carmen I did all these things and I’m still not fucking tired! Did you lie to me? My friend, I did not. If you finish your routine and your stretches and are still feeling anxious or alert, try some light reading – from an actual book – for a previously set amount of time before you sleep. When the time is up, you should be ready to go.
8. BREAK THE GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY! It seems counterintuitive, but if you wake up in the middle of night and can’t sleep – get out of bed! Disruptive sleep wreaks havoc on your mind and is one of the worst things for your body. Don’t do it to yourself, you are worth more than gold.
So, now you’re out of bed in the middle of the night. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty about it. Our bodies are our bodies, and we gotta let them do their thing. However, you are not going to turn on any overhead lights, laptop, phone or television. No, you are not. Instead try more quiet reading by candlelight (this time, away from your bed) or free journaling. You can also do some light, slow exercise (think: yoga). Once your mind has settled, get back in bed for more sleep.
Ugh, yeah, an eight-step daily routine requires a lot of discipline. It’s probably not for everyone. I told you in the intro, I need a lot of help! But maybe, hopefully, if we wish on a unicorn, at least a few things on this list ping for you? Feel free to mix-and-match as you see fit. Good luck out there! You got this!