Building the Skill of Sleep

Having a small window of time in which to sleep has kept me busy experimenting with different ways to maximize that sleep time. There are about nine hours from the time I get home from work to the time I need to wake up the next morning. Obviously eight full hours of sleep is not going to happen during the weekdays. I’ve been playing with my daily schedule and metabolism and meal timing, finding different ways to give myself more time to sleep and to have better sleep.

I haven’t gotten into taking pills for sleep, not even melatonin, despite claims that it’s natural. Something about ingesting potent sleep inducers doesn’t seem good to me. I’d rather bring about sleep through good practices that allow me to come to that state. With that being said, I do take supplements that help with sleep in indirect ways. The most obvious is magnesium. It’s an electrolyte involved in nerve function and bone formation, and is a natural muscle relaxant. This relaxing effect allows for bowel movement, as well as a generalized feeling of calm, when tired. Taking this at night, about half an hour before bedtime, helps me relax.

So far, I have had only small gains in sleep quality and duration from the other tweaks I’ve been making. Small gains, but effective. The one I’ve been sticking to the longest has been exercise in the morning. Getting my kettlebell training session completed in the morning almost always leads to a better night’s rest. I think it lets me use up more energy, and gets my metabolism way high in the morning, setting up for a gradual decrease until bedtime. It also stimulates me, gets the fire burning, first thing in the morning, and I have found myself in an overall calmer and more confident state throughout the day. After syncing my movements, balance, and sense of space with the kettlebell or other training method, I am more in tune with my reasoning capacity and emotional control. Making better decisions from this state of mind keeps me away from manic spikes in mood resulting from bad decisions or bad reactions to things that happen. And that definitely helps me sleep better at night.

The next most consistent practice has been getting out in the sunlight during my lunch and break times at work, and full on sun bathing on weekend mornings at home. Having a solid 20 to 30 minutes of sun soaking fills me with energy, good vibes, and nutrients. It also tells my body that it is day time, and that I’m supposed to be awake and alert. This is sort of like having a circadian rhythm, a well-defined up and awake time versus a down and resting time of day. I really do think this rhythm is good for us, and it’s been helpful to use it as a guide for where I should be at what times of the day. Do I want to eat lunch inside under halogen lights, or do I want to expose myself to the incredibly bright sun? Do I want all the lights on at night when I want to be resting, or do I want to hang out in a darker environment, maybe with some candles lit? Turning the alertness on full blast in the morning and slowly shutting down at night has helped me redevelop a more reasonable sleep and wake schedule.

A third practice has been to eat dinner earlier. My wife and I were eating dinner after 8pm for almost a year in order to spend that meal time together. This was causing problems, though, for both of us. She was burdened with having to prepare meals late in the evening, and was eating more than she needed on most days because she would eat earlier too. I was eating way too close to my bedtime, often going to bed with a full stomach. I would wake in the mornings and sit up in bed, and sometimes hear and feel the food inside me still making its way down my belly. There was no way that was getting digested well. I’ve also read in Chinese medicine that having a full stomach during sleep actually takes energy away from resting and causes fatigue on the organs. I believe it, based on how I felt in the mornings upon waking. So, although it means eating on the train for me, and separately for both of us, we’ve decided to have our dinners earlier. I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. I feel more energy at night, comfortable at bedtime, and more alert in the morning. My digestion has improved. Before, I relied on coffee and MCT oil for elimination in the morning, but now I’m golden after a swig of water.

One last thing I’ve been playing with is coffee, or less of it. I heard from a neurogenesis researcher on a podcast that caffeine, in the tiniest amount, stops brain cell generation. I’ve been wanting to see what it would be like to not have coffee more often, after having dabbled with it on travels. On the weekends, for the past few weeks, we’ve been holding off on the butter coffee in the morning. Instead, I’ve been making a tomato soup with marzano tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper, and equal amounts of butter and MCT oil that would have gone in the coffee. The result? I felt the same warm reviving energy and brain clarity as with butter coffee, without the caffeine buzz. What does that mean? I’m not even sure, but coffee stimulates to a higher level, and the fats alone still gave the same energy without that hyper wiredness.

And the best part of it all? I yawned so much the first Saturday I tried this, something I haven’t done for so long. I napped and napped, probably about four hours total, and still slept a full night. When I didn’t have coffee, I could tell when I needed to nap or rest. I would yawn or just get a bit drowsy, something I rarely felt when I had coffee. My guess is that I’m not any less tired on the days I don’t yawn. I think caffeine simply holds that sensation at bay. Useful sometimes, but not all the time. This is leading me to think more about how to reduce coffee intake further, while keeping up the fats in my diet. I’ll have to get creative with soups, and maybe get a new thermos for that!

I’m still loving the benefits that fats bring me, and fasting for most of the day, training early, and not having to worry about carbs, protein, fat. As long as I keep my food mostly clean, eat starches later in the day, and exercise, I’m able to maintain good health. The missing piece for me has always been solid sleep. Little by little I’m getting better at it.

Live powerfully.

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