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Why you need to stop short-changing your sleep

For 15 days, we’re exploring the topic of making our health and well-being a priority as part of the 15 Days to a Healthier You series. You can read Day 1 hereDay 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 hereDay 5 here, Day 6 here, Day 7 here, Day 8 here, and Day 9 here

For years, I ran myself ragged. I burned the candle at both ends. I thought that the best way to be more productive was to be as organized as possible, work as efficiently as possible, and get up really early.

Being organized, working efficiently, and getting up early can all be great things, but in my case, I forgot one very important truth: if I get up really early only to go throughout my day completely exhausted, I won’t be able to work anywhere near as efficiently and I won’t be able to stay at all as organized and focused.

Not only that, but not getting enough sleep for days and days and days on end is a surefire way to hurt your health and to probably also go through life feeling frazzled and irritable.

Today we’re going to talk about the importance of getting a great night’s sleep. I truly believe that this one of the keys to a better morning. When you wake up feeling refreshed, rested, and energetic, you’ve given yourself a huge head start for a fantastic day.

Ever since I first started blogging, I’ve known and preached the importance of good sleep. For years, it was something I really wanted to make happen and did try to make a priority, but between babies and toddlers and a business and life, it was hard for it to ever really consistently happen.

I love the quote that says, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find the time. If it’s not important to you, you’ll find an excuse.” This was true for me with sleep.

Even though I preached all about sleep and had amazing intentions to get good sleep, it was rare that I actually got a good night’s rest more than a few days in a row. And there were a number of periods of time where I ran on fumes for days on end and had to just keep pushing through in order to meet the deadlines and goals I had, follow through with my commitments, and still have time for my family.

I had bought into the lie that, “I had no other choice.” That I needed to say “yes” to these things in order to be a good businesswoman, a good friend, a strategic author, a good wife, a good mom.

Go to Bed Early Challenge: Want to join me?

In reality, I had brought almost all the stress, the to-do’s, and the tasks on myself. I had said “yes”, I had chosen to feel obligated, I had set those goals. I was the problem, but I was also the solution! I could choose to say “no”, I could choose to not feel obligated, and I could set fewer goals.

This Year of Rest has been bursting with lessons and a-ha moments. One of the greatest lessons for me has been that saying “no” to a bunch of things hasn’t ruined my life or my business. If anything, it’s made things so much better because I’m only doing a few things which means I can do those few things really, really well. And not just that, but I can also fully enjoy those few things instead of feeling stressed over what else I still have to do and what’s coming up right around the corner.

This breathing room in my life has giving me the space to start actually getting good sleep. Not just one good night’s rest here and there. No, it’s becoming very rare that I get less than six hours of sleep in a night and it’s becoming very normal for me to wake up before my alarm clock — something I basically never, ever did before.

2 Strategies for Better Sleep

If you’re struggling to get enough sleep at night, I want to challenge you to try these two strategies:

1. Learn Your Triggers

Are there specific things that are keeping you from getting a good night’s rest? Things that are either keeping you up at night or keeping you from going to bed at a decent hour or waking you up early in the morning?

Now obviously, those things might not be a thing; they might be a baby or a toddler who is waking up at night! I get that because that was my life for about six years. My nights were full of interruptions and crying babies needing to be fed.

But in that season, I also had other triggers: I was addicted to busyness and productivity. I felt worth from what I did. And I had bought into the lie of chasing after “more”.

So instead of getting up with the babies and then letting myself sleep in or take a nap to compensate, I got up early and worked through the baby’s naps. Because there was always so much to do… almost all of which I had put on myself.

As I’ve talked about before, I struggle with being a performer and a people-pleaser and this fed into how I short-changed my sleep.

I have been so challenged by Emily Freeman’s quote in Simply Tuesday“When I’m performing for my own acceptance, burnout is always the result.”

If you’re feeling worn down and worn out, take a step back and examine if any of the exhaustion is a result of trying to earn someone else’s acceptance. Are you only saying “yes” to that opportunity because you want someone to like you? Are you only volunteering or sending that email or showing up for that event just so someone else will be impressed with you?

5 Days to a Better Morning Challenge

2. Track Your Sleep

One of the most helpful things I’ve done in the past two years is to start tracking my sleep. I always had a general idea of how much sleep I was getting, but actually tracking itreally opened up my eyes in big ways.

I started out by tracking my sleep with the Sleep Cycle App. This is an app that you download and run on your phone during the night. You choose a 30-minute window of time when you’d like to wake up and then it tracks your sleep patterns (based upon your movements) and wakes you up when it’s the most optimum time during that window.

The Sleep Cycle app also tracks your sleep and gives you a report each day on your sleep cycles and how deep and restful your sleep was. You can read more how it works here.

While I found this to be a really great start, I felt like the tracking wasn’t as accurate or in-depth as I wanted. Sometimes when it would say I got great sleep, I didn’t feel like I had.

So I started researching other options. Though I had resisted getting a fitness tracker for a long time as they felt like such a “fad”, I finally caved and bought myself a Jawbone UP3 at the beginning of this year. I’m SO glad that I did as it truly made such a difference for me.

Not only have I found myself much, much more motivated to be active and get in more steps, I’ve found that the sleep tracking has been incredibly enlightening.

For instance, I’ve learned that when I go to bed hungry, I don’t sleep as well. I’ve also learned that it takes me a lot longer to actually go to sleep than I realized. So I’ve made adjustments to my schedule so that I’m in bed for at least 7 1/2 hours in order to get close to 7+ good hours of sleep.

I’ve also determined that stress and certain other factors result in a lot lighter sleep. So I’ve worked on eliminating as many of those things from my life — or at least around bedtime! — so that I’ll sleep more restfully.

In not only making sleep a priority, but also in making deep sleep a priority, I’ve discovered that I have much better focus, I feel a lot calmer, I’m a lot less irritable, and I’m a lot happier! And all of those things definitely help make for better mornings!

5 Ways to Get Better Sleep

5 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Struggling to get more sleep? Here are 5 suggestions:

1. Go to bed earlier.

If you’re having a difficult time going to bed early, you can try the shock technique or the gradual technique. The shock technique involves getting up earlier a couple days in a row, until you’re so exhausted that you can’t wait to fall into bed earlier than usual. (This is actually why I did the get up early challenge first, so that I could force myself to get used to an earlier bed time.)

The gradual technique involves gradually teaching your body to adapt by choosing an earlier bedtime by 5 minutes each evening until you’ve reset your bedtime to what you want it to be. Once you’ve reset your bed time, try to go to bed at the same time each night.

Most importantly, learn how to go to bed when you’re tired. Don’t wait for your body to catch that second, third, or fourth wind.

2. Plan ahead for great sleep.

Start getting ready for bed at least an hour before you want to go to bed. Having an evening routine can really help you get in the mindset for going to bed.

Think about what helps you relax. Maybe it’s reading a book, taking a bath, or listening to music.

You can also prep your environment for a great night’s sleep. Here are just a few suggestions from my Say Goodbye to Survival Mode book:

  • Make sure your room is cool and dark.
  • Dim the lights early.
  • Have white noise in the background as you fall asleep.
  • Try using an eye mask or ear plugs to block out sight and sound.
  • Diffuse or apply lavender essential oils.

I personally love drinking Sleepy Time Tea as part of my evening routine and applying Badger Sleep Balm to my feet before bed.

3. Drink less caffeine.

I love my coffee, and I will not be giving it up any time soon. I do limit myself to two cups per day, and I try not to drink it after 3 p.m. each day.

If you’re struggling with falling asleep at night, limiting your caffeine intake might be something worth trying.

4. Turn off the electronics.

Turn off the electronics at least an hour before bed time. Taking e-mail off of my phone helped me so much. I used to instinctively check my e-mail right before bed and feel like I needed to deal with it right away, which always prevented me from winding down and relaxing because my brain wouldn’t shut down properly.

Now I try to shut down the computer after dinner and not turn it back on until the following day. This helps my mind stay calm so that I can wind down, relax, and wind down at night.

I’ve also found that when my mind is racing, it helps me so much to write down anything that’s keeping me awake. This is why I love brain dumping and planning out the following day before I go to bed each night. It makes for a much more peaceful night’s sleep, knowing everything is out of my brain and onto paper.

5. Give yourself grace.

Sometimes you don’t get a good night’s rest, and that’s okay. Choose to make the most of the day and try again tonight, even if last night didn’t go well!

Day 10 Project

1. Think through what your triggers are that are keeping you from getting a great night’s sleep. Are there things you could avoid, remove, or eliminate from your life in order to cut down on hindrances to a good night’s sleep?

2. Start tracking your sleep and see what you learn from it. I recommend tracking it for at least two weeks so you can notice trends and see what’s working and what’s not working.

Looking for some more practical help?

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  • Nicki says:

    I haven’t had a chance to look at all the posts in this series yet, but am loving the ones I do catch. I think women struggle with this so much more than men, there is always something to do, and it’s hard to just turn our minds off and rest. But you are right, it’s critical. To our minds, bodies and SOULS too! 🙂

  • Leah says:

    This motivates me so much to take care of my health by committing to get sleep. I’m a little different than you used to be, because I stay up late not to be productive, but to relish in the quiet after my little ones have gone to bed. Just sitting next to my husband on the couch is precious to me! But I think we can make our time more meaningful together (mini dates at home?) and then I won’t feel like I need to stay up so late! I can’t wait to read the rest of these posts.

  • Taylor says:

    A note about caffeine: I recently had to give it up due to some health problems I was having. My husband and I were (at the time) in the throes of being foster parents to two special needs children with an intense case…I asked my doctor, in desperation, “how in the world am I supposed to handle my life without caffeine?” He told me that my sleep would get better. He said caffeine lasts in your body for about 24 hours. If you drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and that’s it, you will still have caffeine in your system until the next morning. But if you’re like most people (like I was) you don’t stop at one cup, then there’s the soda at lunchtime to beat the slump, etc…and so by bedtime, instead of going into a level 4 sleep, your body has so much caffeine still in it (even if you stopped at lunch), that you’re only getting to a level 2 sleep. Which means you wake up not fully rested, and “needing” a cup of coffee. And the cycle continues.

    I say all this because I had never heard that before. I thought if I stopped drinking caffeine before a certain time I’d be good, but it really doesn’t matter when you stop. I quit caffeine cold turkey and that was the most miserable 5 days of my life, but now I’m off and I’m good 🙂 and yes, my sleep has greatly improved!

    • Christine says:

      I second this. I’ve finally realized I have to give up caffeine all together. I only drink 1 cup every morning. The first few days I feel great, but then I gradually feel more and more tired until I’m too tired to function. Eventually (after 3-4 weeks of daily morning coffee), I have trouble falling asleep and I wake up at 3 am wide awake. I’ve changed around my diet (eliminated all sugar and starches, gave up junk food) and changed around exercise routines but coffee is the thing that makes the biggest difference in my sleep. It messes with your adrenal glands and cortisol levels (lots of info on the internet about this). Even just 1 cup every morning.

    • Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Danielle says:

    “Learn your triggers” – For me that would be catching the news or checking Facebook right before bed. Not because I get distracted by it, but because even after I log off, my mind is racing and processing all the conflict, political junk, etc. I’ve just taken in. Probably because I’m an introvert and that’s how my brain works, but I’ve learned all that needs to be done before 4 pm so that I’m not up all night thinking about what I just read.

  • Diana says:

    And make sure you try to figure out what your “normal” is, too. I have always had a hard time getting up in the morning (I strategically use snooze so that I wake up gradually), but several months ago I was in a slump where I truly didn’t realize I was snoozing my alarm for nearly an hour before I was coherent enough to realize I needed to get up. I thought I was just getting lazy, but come to find out, I had pretty low Vitamin B and D levels. After making some changes to improve those, I’m back to my normal! If something keeps happening sleep-wise that’s significantly different than what you think your normal is, don’t hesitate to try to find the cause. There might be one, and it might not just be laziness! 🙂

  • Ashley Hayes says:

    I am working so much these days, So I hardly get around 5-6 hours of sleep and that too not that awesome. I am going to try your caffeine tip and stop drinking coffee before going to sleep, let’s see how it goes.

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