7 Things I Learned From Taking a Sleep Challenge
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Sleep loss. Trouble sleeping. Sleep deprivation. Insomnia.
As a mom of one-year-old twins and a five-year-old, I know what it’s like to be tired. So, so, tired.
Add to that the stress of a pandemic and that state of all the things in the world, and, welp, there are a lot of things to keep us up at night.
So, when DayAfterInsomnia wanted to know if I’d be willing to take a sleep challenge — and one that focused not just on quantity and quality of sleep but also how you feel when you wake up — I was all in. I mean, who doesn’t want to wake well?
For a week I tracked both how I felt before I went to sleep and how I felt when I woke up. Just eight simple questions twice a day to help me drill down as to why some days I slept better than others and how that influenced my energy levels and how effectively I functioned the next day.
I know that sleep is so important and I felt like I was pretty well educated on what to do (and what no to do) in order to get good sleep, but I gotta say, I learned A LOT from doing this sleep challenge.
And, while I can’t control whether or not my three kiddos wake up in the middle of the night, I did find a number of ways to sleep better … and — more importantly — wake well. Read on for the biggest ah-has I had!
1. Workouts — and the type of workouts — matter.
One of the things I tracked in this sleep challenge was if I exercised for 20 minutes or more each day. And, in addition to that, I thought I’d also note what type of workout I did — was it HIIT, a longer jog, an easy walk, yoga, or something else? Turns out, days where I did any bout of exercise, I seemed to fall asleep faster and wake up more refreshed the next day, but the more intense the exercise, the more pronounced those effects seemed on my sleep¹. Outdoor workouts seemed to benefit me more, too, than indoor ones, which I thought was fascinating.
2. Eating too late or too early can mess up sleep.
My questionnaire also had me note when I last ate at night, and the results really surprised me. If I ate dinner early (easy to do with three kids in the house who demand dinner at 4:30 p.m.) and didn’t have a bedtime snack then I’d fall asleep pretty quickly, but would literally wake up hungry! On the other hand, if I ate a large meal too close to bedtime, I had trouble falling asleep. It only took me a few days of playing around with the timing of my meals and snacks to make having a large snack around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then eating dinner between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. a priority for my 10 p.m. bedtime.
3. De-stressing before bed is essential.
Before taking the sleep challenge, I’d usually watch some TV with my husband and then hit the hay once we could barely keep our eyes open. But, turns out, that’s not as relaxing as you might think — especially if you fall asleep on the couch in a weird position and then have to walk upstairs to go to bed. We both found that when we meditated or relaxed in our bed — even if it was just for a few minutes after watching TV — we fell asleep faster and slept better. Such an easy tweak to make for better sleep.
4. Avoid the snooze button.
Oh, the snooze button. It’s so tempting to hit when you’re tired in the morning, but, for me, it didn’t matter how much extra sleep I got from hitting it, I always seemed to feel worse and less energetic. And, the more times I hit it, the worse I seemed to feel. As soon as I made this connection, it was so much easier to not hit it.
5. I love my wine, but …
It’s no secret that I’m a wine lover, but taking this sleep challenge gave me another reason why moderation is everything. I found that having one glass of wine before bed didn’t change much, but more than one and I was more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and wake up feeling not nearly as refreshed.
6. Productivity is a cycle.
The sleep challenge also had me track how productive I felt each day, which I thought was an interesting question and not one I expected. What I learned from it is that productivity not only affects how well I sleep (namely, if I wasn’t overly productive, I likely didn’t feel as sleepy at night), but also sleep affected how productive I could be the next day. If I was sleepy and not refreshed all day, no way I was as productive … and then the cycle started all over again. Interesting, huh?
7. Focusing on waking well changes everything.
This was my biggest ah-ha of all. When I put the emphasis on and paid attention to how well I woke — and then linked that to my behaviors and decisions — it was so easy to make tiny changes that paid dividends in energy. Focusing on “waking well” motivated me to get to bed earlier, listen to my body, and better self-care.
I didn’t have to make huge changes either — one less drink here, five minutes of meditation there, avoiding the snooze button as much as possible. All very simple things that very profoundly changed how I felt every day.
And, again, with the three kids and all, I can use all the energy I can get.
Do you wake well on the reg? I encourage you to use the questions shown above and take the seven-day sleep challenge, too! Also, visit DayAfterInsomnia.com for more information and resources on healthy sleep. After all, this is just my experience. No telling what you can learn about yourself! –Jenn
1. John Hopkins Medicine. Exercising for Better Sleep. Accessed August 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep