Not going to be a terribly long post. I’ve seen a few of my facebook friends over the last few months having sleep issues. It reminded me of a time in my life I had terrible sleep problems.
For most of my life, I had terrible times falling asleep. In high school, I’d watch TV and most nights I was watching Magnum PI on USA network at 1AM. This was after Sports Center, of course. I’d usually tap out around 2:15-2:30, and I’d wake up at around 5:30. This was with 3 honors classes, the baseball team, the wrestling team, the band, working 20-30 hours a week at Burger King…you name it. Halfway through my senior year, I had a mini-meltdown. It was too much.
I kind of slowed down on doing school work at this point, as I was accepted to college months earlier. No real point, right? When I got to college…it didn’t change much, except now I was out drinking to 3AM and passing out after eating half a pizza at 1AM from Marcello’s.
After college, no difference. My usual sleep time was 1-2:30 AM. Waking up was HARD. I had also worked 3rd shift as a security guard for a few summers, I’m sure that didn’t help.
I had lots of problems until my wife got me to try some sleeping pills 5 years ago. Well, it’s not the end of the story. It’s sort of the beginning. I just turned 42 last week, and I’d say I was 37-38 before I got my first good rest in a quarter of a century.
These days, I get a solid 7.5 hours. Maybe 8-9 on the weekends. But this is HIGH QUALITY sleep. Coma. I wake up refreshed, and pop out of bed. I feel amazing. What’s the difference?
Well, here’s some tips from me on how I sort of repaired my sleep over the years:
- Quit smoking – this might be a no brainer, but this also would have me up on weekends at 5:30. I’d pop up after 5 hours of sleep and go for a smoke first thing. Well, when you quit smoking, you don’t get the nic fixes at 6AM on a Saturday.
- Reduce sugar – try Atkins for a month. Just one month. Or keto/paleo. Watch what happens to your sleep when you get rid of sugars. It’s amazing. While atkins is something I don’t think people can live on, what you will notice is reduce sugar CAN be done. You will notice a difference.
- Reduce/eliminate caffeine – I used to drink 2 giant cups of coffee in the morning and have 3 smokes, before I’d even get in the car for 90 minutes and smoke 3-5 more. On 4-5 hours of sleep, I constantly needed caffeine to not lose my job. I’d then drink 3-4 diet cokes during the day/evening. Surprise, the caffeine would help keep me awake.
- Eating properly 90% of the time – When you eat better, you have better energy. You have less processed shit in you that messes with your hormones and brain chemicals.
- Exercise – I was so damn tired…all the time. Exercise? FU. Cooking? FU. Going for a walk? FU. I was sleep deprived for what felt to be about 25 years. When I fixed the above 4 items, suddenly I had a LOT more energy. This led to exercise, which helped me feel more tired.
- Reduce/eliminate alcohol – interestingly enough, I don’t miss this as much as I thought. I needed this for a LOT of years because I’m painfully shy around people. The alcohol just sort of numbed all of the scrambled thoughts and I could function then socially. My circle of people is pretty small these days, far smaller than I would have thought – and this usually doesn’t have us ever out drinking. Once every 2-3 months now I’ll have a glass of scotch. But here’s the deal – alcohol disrupts your breathing. You may fall asleep ok, but hours later you will be either awake or not sleeping very deeply. Plus – loaded with calories. For those of you on a glass of wine or three per night…you are actually making the problem much worse.
- Losing weight – Little did I know, I was snoring my face off and sleep apnea was off the charts. This led to me waking up 30-40 times a night. Fitbit was fun to track this shit. Tossing and turning all night long. Amazingly enough, when the 6 items above were addressed, suddenly my major snoring/apnea problems went away. I tossed and turned less.
- Bed time – establish a time every night you try and get into bed and out of bed. Ideally, I’m in bed every night between 8 and 8:30 and asleep by 9-9:30. I have to wake up for work at 4:45 each day, so I’m getting some solid Z’s. On the weekend, I “sleep in” until 6 or 7 and it feels like I slept until 11AM.
- Assistance – I use some nasal spray as well as 1 sleeping pill and 1 melatonin. Usually, within about 45 minutes of taking them, I’m in a coma. The days of going out to bars until 1AM make me cringe. My idea of an awesome Friday night is sitting in front of the fireplace under some blankets watching a movie, getting ready for bed. The “assistance” can help reduce the noise in my brain that used to keep me up worrying about problems at work, the budget, life choices, etc.
- Don’t eat too late. I used to have terrible heart burn and acid reflux. I cut down on eating like a pig, of course, but I usually rarely eat 2.5 hours before bed. And, my dinners are not so bad that I’d stuffed. When your tummy is full, and you’re laying down…you could also get acid reflux and screw up your sleep at night. Some of the items that made this bad for me were acidic sauces (I’d add some sugar to these to reduce acid, somehow), chocolate, coffee, alcohol – so eat the steak, leave the cannoli…and coffee….and beer. During the holidays, it’s tempting to have the big meals and then have the dessert..and the after dinner coffee and drinks. But you’ll be paying for it with shitty sleep. Aren’t the holidays meant to get you more rested? Put down the frappucino and brownie.
One thing of interest, I’ve found that in my journey to live better and healthier, that sleep is a MAJOR element of all of this. Good sleep helps with building muscle, burning fat, regulating hormones – and gives you energy to hit the day running and get all of your items on your task lists knocked off.