A number of years ago I began experiencing serious issues with my sleep, or lack thereof. Eventually it reached the point where three or four hours felt like resounding success.
By day, I traded currency derivatives where the slightest error in judgement could cost me a small fortune. On top of this I was recently sober and in the midst of a painful divorce. I missed my son desperately – not being able to tuck him in at night cut deeply into my heart. Instead of sleeping, I lay awake replaying my broken marriage with an overwhelming sense of dread that I had screwed up my son’s life.
Sleep deprivation has many nasty side effects. Inadequate sleep leads to irascibility, inability to concentrate, increased drug use, weight gain, and medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. If that weren’t enough, even ejaculation can become troublesome without sleep. This is serious stuff!
My breaking point came when in a moment of utter rage, I threatened to beat a fellow straphanger to a pulp for nothing more than accidentally bumping me. Lack of sleep was undercutting my emotional state. I was spinning out of control and desperately needed sleep. That’s when I discovered sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene is a field of study that recommends healthy environmental and behavioral practices to promote better sleeping. A quality night’s sleep dramatically improves your focus, sex drive and self esteem. You feel better physically, mentally and emotionally.
There is a growing body of research, but here’s what I’ve learned over the years to help form good sleep habits:
1) Your bed is for sleep and sex – that’s it. No reading, no tv, no eating.
2) Make your bedroom as comfortable and dark as possible. Remove LED lights and cut out street light. Consider installing blackout curtains. Favor a cool room temperature over warm. Buy ear muffs and a sleeping mask. You won’t care how you look if you get a good night’s sleep!
3) Do not eat within two hours of bedtime and avoid caffeine or sodas past lunchtime. Join a gym that has a steam room or sauna, my favorite way to unwind.
4) Turn off your phone. Yes, you read correctly. This will teach you brain that when you get into bed you cannot be interrupted. Putting phones to airplane mode doesn’t do that. The actual act of switching it off gradually connects the circuits in your brain that the body is now preparing for sleep in much the same way switching off the overhead light in your room does. If you need an alarm, buy a cheap alarm clock that doesn’t emit light.
5) If you live in a city and can’t drown out the incessant traffic or fire trucks or garbage trucks buy a white noise machine.
To lighten the mood I recommend Adam Mansbach’s book Go the F**k to Sleep to my clients – it’s a classic!
The bad news is the vast majority of us don’t get adequate sleep. The good news is you can. Sleep tight!
Brian Kerrigan is a life and recovery coach in NYC.