Y’all, I am not that into sleep.
If you gave me eight hours of uninterrupted spare time, I would rather spend it reading, exercising, going on an adventure, or even working rather than taking a nap.
Have you seen that meme floating around social media about “revenge sleep procrastination,” a phenomenon when you stay up way too late because you want to have time to do the things you love rather than go to bed? I invented that. (Not really, but I could have.)
I’ve never needed a ton of sleep, as my mother reminds me when I launch into complaints about my children giving up their naps. I have vivid memories of waking up at 5 a.m. and quietly reading or crafting in my room until it was time to get ready for school. I also have memories of lying awake in my bed, sneaking a book in the dim light coming in from the doorway or making up stories until I finally slipped into sleep.
These days, I pass out the moment my head hits the pillow, much to my chagrin. Sometimes I tell myself I’m just going to read in bed, only to find myself fully clothed with a mossy-feeling mouth at 6 a.m. the next morning, book imprinted on the side of my face. On the rare occasions when I find myself traveling by plane solo, I make lists of ways to be productive and then promptly lose consciousness until the plane lands.
Unfortunately, my 30-something body isn’t what it used to be, and I can’t keep up with my breakneck schedule the way I did when I was a college student.
Parenthood, stress, and plain old aging have left me struggling to get through the day on the levels of sleep I used to get by with. Over the last year, I’ve grown tired (forgive the phrase) of feeling cranky and on edge with my family and on the brink of exhaustion as soon as I sit down.
I’m in a phase of life that isn’t conducive to much sleep.
While I am out of the baby stage, I’m also out of the kids-taking-naps stage, but not yet into the kids-are-in-school-every-day stage. My kids are requiring less sleep as they grow up, breaking chunks off the alone time I covet so much. I’m also teaching a class that meets at 6 a.m. each weekday (I know), and I have a spouse that leaves for work at 7 a.m. There’s not a lot of margin.
What that means for me is that I have to claim my sleep hours. I could easily stay up until midnight each night working, reading, or messing around on the internet (those of you who have figured out how to stop getting lost down internet rabbit holes, please advise). In order to get the sleep I need to function well, I have to be deliberate about it.
Here are a few ways I’ve been able to claim my sleep:
1. Track it
If you have a device that tracks sleep like an Apple Watch or FitBit, this is very simple. You make sure you are wearing it and check the app to see how much sleep you’re getting each night. If you don’t, simply write down when you fall asleep and when you wake up (granted, this isn’t as simple as it sounds when you have a little one waking up).
Take it one step further by evaluating how you’re feeling each day. Do you notice a difference between the days you sleep six hours and the days you sleep eight? Figure out what feels the best for you, and set a goal to sleep that amount as often as possible.
2. Give yourself a bedtime
I plan to be in bed half an hour before my optimal sleep time. I typically need seven hours of sleep to feel good the next day, so if I need to get up at 5 a.m., I try to be in my bathroom brushing my teeth by 9:30 p.m. This gives me a few minutes to wash my face, decompress, and actually fall asleep before that deadline of 10 p.m. that I need to make in order to get a full seven hours of sleep.
3. Shift stimulating activities to a different time of day
There are definitely times when, as a work from home mom, I have to work after my kids are in bed. But I’ve noticed that when I use my evening hours to work or do stressful activities, I don’t sleep as well or get to sleep as early. I try to use my early morning and afternoon hours to work, and let evening be a time to relax. That way, I’m not “revenge sleep procrastinating” because I’ve had a chance to do something I enjoy before giving in and going to bed.
4. Make sleep a priority
I know this is easier said than done. Those looming deadlines or items on your to-do list feel more important than sleeping. And often, taking care of your family is more important than sleeping at different times in our lives. However, there are definitely sacrifices that can be made to ensure that you get more sleep.
I know it can feel hard when as a mother and military spouse you may feel that you all you do is make sacrifices. But ultimately, I’ve found that when I choose to put my to-do list down, leave the kitchen dirty, or turn off the TV a little sooner, I feel so much happier and more productive the next day.
5. Make your environment ideal for sleeping
Trying to sleep when you are uncomfortable can feel impossible. If you are able, invest in a few resources to make sleep more comfortable for you. Do you need new sheets or a fan in the bedroom? Does white noise help you stay asleep? Do you like using relaxing essential oils like lemongrass and lavender to help you feel calm? Experiment and find an ideal sleep routine for you.
While I’m a sleep-resistant person, I’ve found in the last year that prioritizing sleep has huge benefits for my mental, physical, and social health. Chances are good that each one of us could use a little more than we’re getting.