The LD staff decided it was high time we all made health a priority. Enter Wellness Wednesdays, a series of weekly health challenges by LD writers (and editors!) where we commit to seven days of healthy habits and share the results with our readers. This week’s challenge: getting enough sleep.
This Week’s Participants: Kelly & Jodie
Kelly: My sleep is consistently restless, causing an inevitable crankiness and caffeine dependency. I’m admittedly not the healthiest eater, but I am an active, recreational runner. As a grad student, I feel exhaustion setting in mid-day and evening, making me reach for caffeine in any form (except energy drinks, which still scare me). This challenge will definitely be a challenge, as my caffeine-exhaustion cycle is difficult to break. I’m hoping this week will knock me out of my unhealthy sleep circle and teach me how to adopt a lifestyle that embraces sleep like a comforting fluffy pillow.
Jodie: I am a horrible horrible HORRIBLE sleeper. I’m generally a pretty healthy person, but I’ve never been good at regulating my sleep, and it’s had a lot of negative effects on my life: I’m not as productive as I want to be, I struggle to work out as much as I’d like, plus, sometimes I am just a bit cray. I want to really focus on my sleep schedule for my own health and peace of mind, but I’m sure the people around me would benefit as well. I struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up on time, but I hope that this week will teach me how to combat all three.
Kelly: I decided to start with a few easy steps to see if I could fall asleep quicker—it usually takes me an hour to finally drift off to sleep. I read that your bedroom should be like a coolcave, so that you’re not too warm to doze off comfortable. I closed my blackout curtain, covered up the alarm clocks and put on two fans. I set my phone aside an hour before I planned to go to sleep, turned off the TV and read a book for an hour. I set a realistic bedtime, planning for nine hours of sleep in the event that I fell asleep right away and stayed asleep until the alarm went off.
Overall, there was an improvement! I fell asleep right away and stayed asleep until about an hour before my alarm was set. It was difficult to assess where it was due to the changes I made or the fact that it had been a long day and I was already pretty tired. At the least, my bedroom felt cozy and I managed to get some much anticipated reading done.
Jodie: I put fresh sheets on the bed and I got myself into it by 11:30 p.m. (honestly, that’s early for me), but no dice. I lay awake for an hour, drifted off, then woke up again when my husband came home from getting a friend from the airport, and a few more times throughout the night due to the wind outside that was knocking trash cans over. Or maybe it was a group of dastardly raccoons. Either way, not a restful night, and when my alarm went off at 7 a.m. I switched it off and fell back asleep until 10 a.m. I know those of you who have jobs involving commutes and professional attire probably hate me for this, but sometimes I wish I had a traditional 9-5 so I would have the extra pressure to get up. Remote/freelance life allows me to believe it doesn’t matter if I oversleep sometimes, but it absolutely does; by the time I got up, I was already behind and had no appetite or desire to exercise. But I’m not discouraged, and have lots of ideas to try to get myself on track for the rest of the week.
Kelly: I managed to get to bed a little earlier than usual, optimistic after the slight success the day before. I tried wearing some new comfy pajamas and cranking up the fan to knock the temperature down a little. Unfortunately, going to bed earlier did not prompt me to fall right to sleep and I tossed and turned for an hour before falling asleep. I woke up again when my fiancé left for work at 5 a.m. and struggled to fall back to sleep. I still woke up tired when my alarm went off the next morning and reached for my morning coffee cup. At least for now, I think I’ll be more successful sticking to a regular bedtime.
Jodie: Ugh, epic failure over here. I stayed up past midnight because I was so wired from doing my MFA work (I write so much better late at night!), couldn’t sleep, woke up to my alarm at 7 a.m. then fell back asleep again until… I don’t even want to say how late. I’m so disappointed in myself. GET IT TOGETHER, JODIE. I think I was trying to change too much too soon, so tonight I’m aiming for a midnight bedtime and 8:30 a.m. rise time (with plans to keep pushing it back over the coming days), and 20 minutes of wind-down time before I turn the light off.
Kelly: I read somewhere at some point in time that the smell of lavender is calming. I dug up one of my lavender-scented candles (and put away that delicious apple cinnamon fall candle) and lit it to make my room smell like a tranquil oasis. While my room did smell better, I can’t guarantee I actually slept any better because of it. I managed somehow to wake up just before my alarm went off and spent the last five minutes willing myself awake instead of bolting upright at the sound of my chirpy alarm. End of day result? Lavender candles make my room smell better. Tomorrow: absolutely no caffeine past 2 p.m., set bedtime at 10:30 p.m. and sticking to it.
Jodie: OK, so things are going from bad to worse over here. I went to bed by midnight, listened to a meditation track twice, counted back from 300 a couple of times, meditated… Still ended up awake at 3 a.m. I finally got up, made myself a PB&J (because it had now been hours since my last meal), watched an episode of Gilmore Girls and fell asleep on the couch til morning. I’m kind of embarrassed all this is going on when I am supposed to be doing a sleep challenge (!!!), but maybe that makes the rest of y’all feel better?! I had a big deadline today so I suspect my subconscious was stressing about that. Tonight, trying some yoga and reading before bed.
Kelly: I downloaded the Sworkit app that walks you through relaxing stretches and spent 20 minutes before bed slowing down. I highly recommend trying it, even if you’re already sleeping peacefully. It worked miracles on my tight muscles and daily stress. After a long day and a particularly tough workout, I was already exhausted. I managed to get to bed when I wanted and fell asleep almost immediately. Finally, I awoke to a day beginning with a full night’s sleep, feeling energized.
Jodie: Another night where I—unfortunately—could not fall asleep, despite going to bed early. My husband came in around 1 a.m. and I got up to watch TV with him, since all I was doing was grumpily tossing and turning and stressing about how I couldn’t sleep. I let myself have a couple of extra dozing hours in the morning to make up for it.
Kelly: As a graduate student, I was expecting this day to be the worst. My night class didn’t let out until 10 p.m., meaning my scheduled bed time was completely thrown out of whack. I tried to hurry up and get ready for bed, but by the time I closed my eyes, I’d spent so much time running around that I was in no mood for sleep. I eventually fell asleep an hour later after several attempts to do so (counting sheep actually happened). This is the only night of the week with my night class so I’m hoping to revert back to my successful schedule from the night before.
Jodie: Finally some progress. Before bed, I took a shower, got into clean clothes (just wore my sweats and a T-shirt because all my PJs are in the laundry hamper… you can tell what kind of week I’m having), read a few pages of The Art of Asking, listened to a meditation track, and… Still didn’t fall asleep right away. But it was OK, because this time I refrained from worrying about it, and tried to just breathe deeply and keep my mind clear. Once I eventually fell asleep, it was more restful than before. Aiming for an early night tonight, though.
Kelly: OK, I’ll admit it. I did not adhere to the bedtime I set. Various events during the day/binge-watching Netflix resulted with me going to bed several hours later than I anticipated. However, I slept for ten hours straight. I didn’t realize I was so tired at the time, but I actually seemed to fall asleep and stay asleep better when I went to bed later. Unfortunately, this can’t be a new routine. I have to start working in the morning during the week and I don’t think my employers would appreciate me coming in at 10:30 a.m. Everything I’ve read says to stick to a constant bedtime/wake-up time routine, even on the weekends. So tomorrow, bed at the set bedtime, no later.
Jodie: I slept for a while, then woke up and got so stressed that I was awake I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I think I’m doing something wrong here? I don’t get it, I’ve been avoiding caffeine and everything! Once again, I got up for awhile. I watched Demetri Martin’s stand-up with my husband, debated the merits of naming our future son Demetri (to be enunciated like Peter Sellers), then had a pretty restful second sleep.
Kelly: Weekends will officially be a challenge for me. It’s hard to set a bedtime and stick to it, especially when the end of the week rolls around. However, I do sleep best on the weekends, without any set bedtime and wake-up time. Unfortunately, it’s not a sustainable tactic during the week. While I did focus more on how and when I sleep, this week has taught me a lot about where my priorities lie. I didn’t successfully make sleeping my No. 1 goal, but I did pick up a few tricks that helped. At the least, this challenge taught me how much better a good night sleep will make you feel. At the best, I drank a lot less caffeine.
Jodie: I thought that this challenge would motivate me to change my ways, as if motivation is all it takes to get a good night’s sleep. It actually heaped some shame on me to record all of this—it feels like my inability to sleep properly is the result of my own immaturity, not a legitimate challenge to my hectic lifestyle and tendency to stress. Luckily, my semester is almost over, and I think it will be easier to relax when I’m not trying to churn out papers or looking at a computer for hours at a time. In the meantime, I have made some mild improvements. I’m making sure I get in at least a vigorous walk every day, I’m reading and meditating before bed, and I’m oversleeping a little less. OK, this isn’t exactly the 180 I had hoped for, but just like exercise and healthy eating, it turns out you can’t do it all in one swing.
Kelly: My final thoughts on the challenge would be that stretching and/or yoga before bed is a definite plus, even if you have a decent sleep pattern. Putting down your cell phone and social media before bed is a good life tip in general. The smell of lavender is calming. Together, they proved to be successful in helping me fall asleep faster. However, I’d bet that each individual has different preferences and tricks. I’d do the challenge again, even just to make a conscious effort to get my eight hours a night in.
Jodie: ^ All of this. And, if you are an insomniac or have chronic sleep issues, just do your best and don’t feel guilty about it. If nothing else, pat yourself on the back for being such a competent little vampire for still managing to do so much with very little sleep.
How do you get a restful night? Tweet us @LitDarling and join us next week for Jillian Michaels’s One Week Shred!
Photos by Daniel Horatio Agostini, Kelly Morrison, Rhino Neal, Martin Cathrae, WildInWoods.
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