Sleep deprivation plagues America, ruins relationships, steals valuable parent/child connection, costs us promotions and business success constantly. It costs us financially, and it feels tortuous. In fact, that is why it is a common instrument of torture banned by the Geneva Convention. Not to mention it’s the root cause of much obesity, heart disease, and dementia. Among other scary things. It costs employers billions each year in absenteeism, health care, accidents, and lost productivity. And yet, it is a nut we can’t seem to crack.
I’m not a doctor or sleep expert. But here is what I am. I’m a sole parent of two young children, one who is a bad sleeper. I am the sole owner of a start-up business. (Yeah, somehow I thought THAT was a good idea at this point in my life). I have dogs. And, not shockingly, I battle insomnia. I’ve always been a light sleeper. But since my second pregnancy I have had full on insomnia. And because of the kids, pets, and business, sleep interruptions can be constant. As a sole parent there is no one to tag team with to get some sleep. This will lead to chronic sleep deprivation (torture) if you let it.
Determined not to live (and possibly die) that way, I set out to turn things around and developed a combination of strategies that work pretty well. Of course, there is no getting around a sick kid or a work emergency. But if you are sleeping well the majority of the time, you can roll with interrupted sleep when it happens better.
Additionally, I chat about sleep deprivation a lot. It is a common small talk in our country because it effects so many of us. In fact, an article in the Harvard Gazette states that sleep deprivation effects 70% of Americans. And because I have managed hundreds of people, mostly in shift work, in the last two decades it comes up almost daily in small talk as well as performance conversations. And I see a lot of things people could do to make the sleep situation better. So here they are.
Note: If physical or mental conditions are the root cause of your sleep loss, you will almost certainly need medical intervention to solve the problem. But these tips will still affect the quality of sleep you get.
Note 2: It is important to combine strategies. Many people try one at a time, see no result and move on. It is almost for sure going to take an army of strategies to get you the sleep you need.
Black out ALL light
In my experience many people with insomnia try to curtail the light in their room somewhat. But with your stubborn brain you need to go all the way with this one.
I don’t even use an alarm clock. (that blinking may as well be a fog horn). Set your alarm on your phone across the room and turn it downwards. If your situation allows, turn your sound off.
Black out curtains
When people with sleep issues stay at my house they always report they sleep better and credit the black out curtains. You need them on ALL windows in the room. Most people I talk to with insomnia have tried black out curtains but, not on all windows. You need to suffocate all light to send your brain the signal to sleep.
Some people get way too hot at night so this one is out. But if not, for many insomniacs, myself included, a weighted blanket has made a SIGNIFICANT difference. So much so a dedicated Huff Post Blogger found all the affordable sources for you!
The light from electronics keeps your body from producing melatonin which puts you to sleep. Most phones have a setting that blocks blue light. They also make glasses that block the blue light. Whatever you do, after dark don’t look at light from any electronic (TV, computer, etc) without some sort of blue blocker.
The more outside is part of your normal, the better the sleep. Make sure to get a good stretch of outside time each day.
Movement and exercise
As a way of life, the more you move and the more you exercise the better you will sleep. You have to wear your body and brain out in a good way during the day to get a good sleep.
In sedentary jobs we are often encouraged to set our alarms and get up and walk around each hour. That’s not going to cut it. If you want to sleep well (and be well in every other physical, mental, and emotional way) you need to reverse that. Spend the majority of time walking/moving and take short sitting breaks. (Treadmill desks and other innovative office equipment can turn the tide on this one).
Getting several good cardio/strength workouts a week contributes greatly to good sleep.
This can be a hard one to get started in if you are too tired from lack of sleep to move and exercise. Do what you can and work yourself up to more and more daily movement. Discover when you are sedentary and figure out ways to move or stand during those activities.
Caffeine, sugar, and other crap
“Oh, it doesn’t affect me.” So, many people with insomnia have told me as they drink coffee at 2 PM. Uh, you are drinking caffeine and you have sleep issues. (De Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt friend.) YOU HAVE SLEEP ISSUES. That is like someone struggling with weight loss eating doughnuts and saying it isn’t part of the problem. OK. Whatever you say. But the facts before us tell a different story.
Now if you do not have sleep issues and read this and are quick to point out caffeine has no effect on you, well, bully for you. But that doesn’t change the fact that if someone consumes caffeine (especially in the afternoon) and has sleep issues there is almost certainly a correlation.
Cut out the caffeine at least after 10 AM until you are sleeping well consistently. Then you can slowly reintroduce it and see how much and how late you can handle it.
For me, tea or bubbly water helps as an alternative.
A few notes on the one:
- This one is tricky because it’s a vicious cycle. The person is usually trying to survive the current situation (a child’s melt down, or a situation at work that their gainful employment depends upon etc) and needs energy and mental clarity in the moment to do it.
- Non-caffeinated pop is not your alternative. It is full of stimulants.
Children and Pets
Having children and pets in bed is something people, for some reason, get real excited about. Some have amendment opinions not only for themselves, but everyone they know. They uphold co-sleeping or separate sleeping as an almost holy thing. They aren’t. Nobody HAS to sleep anywhere. But everyone HAS to sleep. You have sleep issues. Your dog doesn’t need to sleep across your pillow and your kid doesn’t need to sleep in their bed. There is nothing wrong with safely co-sleeping. There is nothing wrong with being laid down in a safe comfortable bed, crib, or kennel.
Bottom line, if your sleeping arrangement is causing sleep issues, it has to change. It is prohibiting you from being the most connected, patient, engaged, pet or human parent you can be. And in the long run is likely cutting the time you have with this child (human or fur) short due to the dementia, heart disease, and other issues stemming from chronic sleep deprivation.
Whether it is co-sleeping in the same room, bed sharing, or everyone in their own kennels, cribs, and beds, whatever is going to get the whole family the best night sleep is what you should do.
If it is the opposite of what you want, that sucks but it is what it is. If it is the opposite of what other people think you should do, EFF ‘em. If they want to worry about where people sleep in a home that is not their own, that is their problem.
For now, do what it takes to get everyone a good night sleep. Once you have been sleeping well for a while, you can play around with what might work that is more what you want. (Do be safe and use common sense in your sleeping arrangement.) Almost nothing feels as amazing as a good night sleep!