“A good rest is half the work.” ~Proverb
I don’t always do everything I know I should do.
I know I can only do so much, yet I often feel compelled to say yes to every exciting project that comes my way, even if it means working more than is ideal.
I know I shouldn’t over-stimulate my mind at night, yet I frequently postpone shut-eye for just a little more writing time.
I know I shouldn’t worry about things I can’t control, but sometimes as I lay in bed I go over and over the same thoughts and concerns in my head.
And then there’s the whole eight-hours-of-sleep-a-night thing. I know it’s ideal for my well-being and that it probably won’t happen if I’m overworked, overstimulated, or caught up in over-thinking.
But sometimes I set myself up for exhaustion because sleep rarely seems like a priority. Not when there’s stuff to do, stuff to learn, or stuff to think about.
I know I’m not alone in my battle with the bed.
According to a 2009 National Sleep Foundation survey, the number of people reporting sleep problems has increased by 13% since 2001. Two out of every ten Americans sleep less than six hours per night.
Most of them are less effective at work, less alert when driving, and more susceptible to sickness as a result.
While the simplest solution would be to get adequate sleep every night, I am a realist. I accept that sometimes it won’t happen. Some nights, despite your best efforts to relax, your mind will run rampant. Some nights, despite your best intentions of shutting off the world, your child will cry or a deadline will loom.
So I’ve decided to offer assistance on both sides of the coin: how to prevent exhaustion and how to deal with it when it’s unavoidable. Today’s post will focus on the former and Monday’s post will explore the latter.
How to Avoid Exhaustion
1. Recognize and accommodate for your work habits.
If you work for yourself in any capacity, whether you run your own business or write a blog, it’s easy to feel pulled toward work at all hours of the day and night. There’s no denying it benefits us to resist the always-on work culture. But that doesn’t mean you need to only work between 9:00 and 5:00 because those are designated work hours.
If you want to work in the night, go for it! Just realize getting enough sleep is a priority. If you frequently work late at night, see if you can adjust to start work later in the morning. Once you recognize your habits, you can explore ways to work with them.
2. Get any housemates on board with your plan.
This might be harder if you have children. Your baby probably won’t understand, “Mommy will be sleeping between midnight and eight. Your bottle will be in the fridge,” But adult housemates can understand and take your needs into consideration.
Tell them when you plan to turn in—ideally, the same on most nights—and what you need from them to accomplish that: TVs turned down, phones set to vibrate, or whatever else feels essential to resting.
3. Enlist a stimulation removal buddy.
As I mentioned above, I don’t always adhere to this rule; I’d fall asleep cradling my laptop if it was just a little squishier. Sometimes I need a reminder, and my boyfriend is great for that.
If you don’t have someone who can remind you to unwind at a predetermined time, set an ongoing appointment in Microsoft Office or an alert on your phone that tells you when to disconnect. You might feel tempted to ignore this, just like the alarm that should have propelled you to the gym at 5:30 AM. But over time it can become a habit, just like anything else.
4. Create a relaxing environment that’s all about sleep.
At times my bed becomes an impromptu desk, partly because I get lazy and partly because I feel compelled to write at all hours of the day. This makes it difficult to fully relax in my bedroom.
If you remove all other distractions, like your TV, computer, and other electronics (or at least most of them), you’ll more easily associate your bedroom with unwinding and falling asleep. You can replace those items with things that relax you: wind chimes, a dehumidifier so you can breathe more easily, extra pillows to make your bed feel plush.
5. Approach sleep as a health issue.
The reality is that sleep is as important to your health as nutrition and exercise. If you’re obese and sedentary, that might not make a big difference in how you think about sleep. But most likely, you’ll make adequate sleep a priority and plan for it if you remember the benefits:
- Sleep helps neurons repair any damage done during the day. Without enough sleep, you’ll have difficulty thinking straight, concentrating, and even forming memories.
- Sleep contributes to a healthy immune system. Exhausted people are more susceptible to colds, infections, and diseases.
- Sleep helps you function optimally. If you’re sleep deprived, you could very easily hurt yourself at work, particularly if you do manual labor.
- Sleep literally keeps you alive. In a research study, sleep-deprived rats lived approximately five weeks instead of their usual two to three years.
- Sleep contributes to your overall emotional and mental well-being. Research shows people deprived of sleep for lengths of time actually begin hallucinating.
6. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants several hours before bed.
And if you’re like me, as dependable as a grandfather clock when it comes to marking the hours with trips to the bathroom, minimize drinking after dinner.
7. Purge your stresses before hitting the sheets.
Write down everything you might feel compelled to think about while you’re lying in bed. One thing that helps me is to write each in this structure:
BLANK is on my mind. I am thinking about it over and over again because BLANK. Tomorrow, I will address this by BLANK. For example:
My magazine article is on mind. I am thinking about it over and over again because it means a lot to me, and I want to make sure I do a good job. Tomorrow, I will address this by starting my research and sending questions to my editor.
This allows you to identify specifically what’s on your mind and to establish a solution, with a specific time to work on it that isn’t right now.
8. Snack your way to relaxation.
As Help Guide points out, the right bedtime snack, a light one, can help promote sleep. Carbs and foods that contain tryptophan (like turkey—think Thanksgiving food coma) help calm the brain. Try a half turkey sandwich or a banana and a little granola. If you’d like more suggestions, you can review the list of foods that contain tryptophan here.
Keep in mind that white bread turns to sugar, which can work against you when your blood sugar raises and drops. If you opt for bread, go for the whole grain.
9. Minimize the potential to wake up.
For starters, wear socks.Researchers have theorized that cold hands and feet can disrupt sleep since thermoregulation, the body’s heating system, is strongly linked to sleep cycles. Secondly, insulate your room as best you can to avoid being woken by noise.
Lastly, consider wearing an eye mask to block out light. Even a small sliver of light can disrupt your circadian rhythm (biological clock) and your pineal gland’s production of seratonin and melatonin, which help regulate sleep cycles. This also applies to the bathroom light. If you wake up often during the night, it’s best to have some type of night light in there.
And with that, I am going to end this post abruptly, without a well-crafted conclusion. Why? Because it’s midnight, I’ve planned to work until midnight, and now I am going to unwind and sleep, hopefully for eight hours.
Read Part 2 of this series: How to Deal with Exhaustion: 10 Tips to Function Better When You’re Tired