Sleep and I have a tumultuous history. I’ve always thought I was a light sleeper, perhaps a trait I inherited from my mother. As a woman with supersonic hearing, she would be able detect the lightest of disturbances in the night. Perhaps it comes in handy when you’re older and have teenage daughters to catch sneaking out, but until then my bouts of insomnia are mildly annoying at best, and absolutely life disturbing at their worst.
I am a chronic stress-head – something which one could say I have ‘inherited’ from both of my parents. I don’t believe in not taking responsibility for your emotional health, but growing up in a household of excessive worriers certainly has its affect on a person. It’s a habit I’ve never quite been able to shake.
I meditate, I practice yoga, I have my Reiki Level One certificate…but I still have nights where I lay awake frightened that morning will come all-too-soon. It’s a part of my life I thought I would leave behind when I made the leap to become a full-time copywriter and online marketer. I didn’t think I’d have reason to worry, because I was going to be following my bliss as a self-employed content writer. Sleep would now come easily. I would doze of into euphoria, and awake with vivacious vitality.
Apparently, not so.
It turns out that I’m not a lone wolf when it comes to sleepless nights and incessant fretting. It’s been stipulated that the majority of my generation has some form of generalised anxiety: The Huffington Post has proposed a new moniker for Generation Y – Generation Anxious.
As a one-woman-shop, there’s a lot of things I worry about. I calculate the hours it will take me to work until I am free of the student loan scheme (30,000 hours). I worry about my shonky wi-fi connection and have disturbing internet-related tantrums. I worry if self-employment is really all worth it and stare at Google Analytics wondering why my conversion rate isn’t as high as I want it to be. Then there’s the over-stimulation I get from constant hyper-connectivity. Social media is a large part of my life and job, but it also makes me incredibly anxious in a way that no other aspect of my life warrants. I enjoy tweeting and spending time on Facebook, but there’s a particular sense of apprehension reserved for social media. Don’t even get me started on my inbox.
These are aspects of my life which I can try to control to the best of my abilities, but they’re not going away anytime soon. They are a blessed curse. Perhaps they are for you, too?
I am still struggling with my sleep, as I know many an ambitious individual does. We lie on our backs strategising, making goals inside our heads that we should be writing down instead. Just as I am learning to set goals with soul, I am also learning to sleep better, and I am learning to preserve my limited energy resources when I have not slept.
Below are a few things I’ve incorporated into my life to assist with a good night’s rest. I share them with you because they’ve worked for me, and I know that business owners don’t have the luxury of taking sick leave to recuperate. Whether you’ve had five, four, or even just one hour of blissful REM, I hope you find something new to help replenish your limited energy resources.
1. Be kind to yourself.
So you’ve had a sleepless night. You’re probably feeling a bit vulnerable right now, if not downright cranky. When I’ve had a sleepless night, not only do I feel sorry for myself, I feel like a failure.
‘I can’t even achieve a simple thing like sleeping!’
‘Everyone else can fall asleep, so why can’t I?’
‘Everyone is conspiring to keep me awake! I can’t believe the apartment opposite us turned their lights on at 3am!’
I have another friend who has similar sleeping problems and thought patterns regarding the land of nod. I told her about my recent sleepless nights, and she came out with this pearl of wisdom:
“It’s okay to be tired.”
IT IS OKAY TO BE TIRED.
Plenty of people do regular activities…when they are tired.
You too can go to work, do your job, file that report, interact with people, cook your dinner, have a shower…when you are tired.
Stop beating yourself up, because it’s okay to be tired.
2. If you HAVE to drink caffeine, drink it around 10am.
I’ve written about my relationship with coffee before. I don’t believe in forcing caffeine down your gullet and shocking your body into a state of alertness, but I know that coffee is a popular stimulant amongst, well, everyone.
If you have to have your morning cup, do not drink it when you first get up. It’s been scientifically proven that drinking caffeine around 10am is more effective.
Everybody’s energy levels and sleep cycles are different, of course, but we are all affected by the 24-hour hormonal cycle referred to as the circadian clock. These basic, primitive rhythms are preprogrammed into us genetically, so there’s little we can do to change them. Although we can mess with our cycles through lifestyle habits (such as staying up late) the major factor in their regulation is sunlight. One of the things that this clock controls in humans is the release of the hormone called cortisol which makes us feel alert and awake. If we produce too much, we can feel manic. When this happens, we’re doing serious damage to our bodies, which can result in adrenal fatigue. You can read more about adrenal fatigue over here.
Here’s how cortisol works: you produce a tonne of cortisol around 8-9am. Think of it as a natural espresso hit. According to this research study from Neuroscience DC, the effects of caffeine consumption at times of peak cortisol levels – 8-9am - actually diminishes the effectiveness of the additional stimulation. This means your body will build up a tolerance to caffeine, making the consumption of caffeine first-thing in the morning utterly pointless.
(Also, excessive caffeine can alter your cortisol levels, which can disturb your circadian rhythms and sleep patterns.)
Most people’s cortisol peaks between 8-9 am, 12-1 pm and 5:30-6:30 pm. This makes the best time to drink coffee between 9:30-11:30 and 1:30 and 5:00 when your cortisol dips, making your caffeine fix that much more affective.
3. Red and Green Juice – the new coffee hit for Melbourne copywriters
Caffeine amplifies my anxiety, so I’ve had to discover and experiment with alternatives. This would make me a social pariah in Melbourne if it weren’t for the cold-pressed juiceries taking over. I am a huge advocate for healthy eating, and cold-pressed juices have my thumbs up.
One way I hack my energy levels when I’m plagued by sleepless nights is to drink cold-pressed juices, or just fresh juice made at home with my own juicer. Cold-pressed juices are different from your regular fresh juice, and needless to say your store-bought bottled juice.
So why the hype?
It’s difficult to find unbiased research that supports the claimed benefits of cold-pressed juice. Heidi Jameel, business owner of Sydney’s Lucky You Juice Cleanse, told Body + Soul: “When fruit and veg is put through a cold-pressed juicer, the juice retains the maximum amount of nutrients."
She says that the other style of juicing, involving fruit and veg being sliced by spinning blades, can overheat and oxidise the juice, resulting in nutrient loss.
"Centrifugal juicers make juices that are frothy and even chunky," Jameel adds. "Cold-pressed juices are the beautiful raw and refined nectar without the fibre.
"The chlorophyll contained in green juices helps keep your blood healthy. Green juices are very oxygenating and give you clear skin and bright eyes."
It should be noted that Jameel’s background is in businesses development, not nutrition.
Of course, cold-pressed juices aren’t always within our means, financially or geographically. I like to make my own from home, and I always use beetroot. This is because beetroot has been scientifically proven to improve muscle oxygenation during physical exertion, suggesting that increased dietary intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise.
There’s little chance that I’m going to go for a 5km run on 2-hours of sleep, but if beetroot helps with physical exertion – which is an uphill battle when you’ve had no sleep – then beetroot juice can help you get through the day with a bit more energy. I feel it’s a much kinder way to work in partnership with your body’s energy cycles.
4. Try Reiki
Perhaps quite an esoteric subject for some, Reiki is a form of natural healing that is non-invasive and involves little more than physical touch. It’s a spiritual practice which originated in Japan in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, and is now practiced all over the world in its traditional Japanese form, but has also been Westernised.
I was introduced to Reiki therapy earlier this year by my life coach Erin Kyna, and I’m soon to complete my Reiki Level Two Certificate in November. Through the use of this technique, practitioners believe they are healing through transferring universal energy, called qi. The therapy involves hands-on healing, and usually lasts for about an hour. Those receiving Reiki are usually lying down with their eyes closed as they receive Reiki.
Without going in to too much detail, Reiki is one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. Some people have reported to experience some very ‘out-there’ sensations, but I always just fall asleep.
Because I have my Reiki Level One certificate, I can practice on myself. I do this every night before bed and it is deeply, deeply relaxing.
If you’re in Melbourne, I recommend my Reiki Master Sarah from Restore Naturally in Northcote.
You can read more about Reiki over here.
5. Put your computer down 2 hours before bed + download f.lux
If you’re a business owner, you’re probably well acquainted with the concept of the ‘besk’. It’s your bed-desk, and it’s a really terrible place to work. Your bed should be a sanctuary, and a place for regenerating your energy levels…not frying them with the stress of deadlines.
Not only can slumping over your computer in bed lead to poor posture and depression, the back-light from your computer – and any electronic device – can disrupt your natural circadian rhythms. Remember those? This is because that light affects your cortisol levels, much like the rising sun. If your cortisol levels aren’t dipping naturally come bedtime because you’re artificially over-stimulated by bright lights, you will probably have trouble sleeping.
Of course, we all have that deadline that wooshes past and requires more of our time than we’d like. If you do choose to work after the sun goes down, I recommend downloading f.lux, an app that warms your computer’s lighting to match indoor lighting. Much better.