Fighting the zombie effect
We’re probably all familiar with the jaded, irritable feeling that comes after a bad night’s sleep. The physical craving for caffeine, the even more physical urge to kick your boss in the shins after another “Well, don’t you look peaky” quip and the overwhelming need to curl up into a little ball and nap those cobwebs away.
When you’re under-rested, chances are that everyone around you knows about it. You wear your dark circles and red-rimmed eyes like a badge. Your inability to stop snapping at people sends them running in the other direction. You yawn so much it’s very possible that a case of lockjaw isn’t far away. “I am zombie, hear me roar!” you’d say. If only you had the energy.
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A deeper look at deprivation
Let’s face it – a sleepy zombie ain’t exactly attractive. There’s a reason they call it “getting your beauty sleep”, after all!
But sleep deprivation has far more negative consequences than simply cosmetic. It can lead to serious physical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, plus mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. In today’s fast-paced world, where we’re constantly on the go and probably need more sleep than ever, as a society we’ve never slept worse.
Since I started studying the effect that sleep has on our lifestyle, and vice versa, I realised how under-rated sleep is today. Big business types boast of only needing 5 hours’ kip a night. Party lovers exclaim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” It’s true, they will. Because their ever-expanding collection of sleepless nights is a sure-fire way to an early grave.
So I set out to find a few lifestyle changes I could make to help me get a better sleep; the idea being, that this more rested me would have a better life as a result. The changes I made weren’t all that hard and they contributed massively to my health…and surprise surprise, to my overall happiness. This revelation was too juicy to keep to myself. So I thought I’d share them with the world!
Here we go…5 lifestyle changes that have made all the difference.
1: Sleep earlier
I used to classify myself as a night owl. “I’m not a morning person”, I’d explain regretfully to whomever dared cross my path before I’d had my caffeine fix. I’d scoff at those early-morning joggers, chirpy dawn risers and optimistic types who seemed so eager to face the day.
I’d remain in my mood for the morning, safe in my little nocturnally labeled box, knowing that I couldn’t help it.
Of course, this was all bullshit. I mean, no one is born as a morning person or a night owl; it’s the habits and lifestyle we adopt that make us this way. If we stay up watching movies until 2am well then, of course we’re not going to be all sunny getting up for work 5 hours later. Whereas if we’re firmly installed in la-la land by 11pm, we’re likely to see a whole new side to morning. In that we don’t sleep through most of it in the first place. 😉
The first lifestyle change I made was to start going to bed at 9.30pm. This might sound hellishly early to you but trust me, by the time I get through my pre-bedtime routine (more on that coming up) I actually don’t sleep until close to 11pm.
The result? I find myself waking around 6am with the dawn chorus, actually ready to get out of bed instead of denting the snooze button with my thumb. Turning over and going back to sleep used to be one of my favorite activities. So I’ll be honest, it did take me a while to actually spring from my bed; but after a week of disciplining myself to sleep earlier, the morning-after effects were pretty impressive!
2: Create a routine
Most have us have some kind of morning routine, whether we realize it or not. We get up, we shower, we make coffee, we eat breakfast. The little things we always fall into doing before we’re ready to start our day.
But how many of us have an evening routine? Or if we do, how detrimental is it to our sleep cycle? I say this because we can get into the dangerous habit of lying in bed watching a movie, catching up on news or updating our social media profiles. Let me tell you now – this is one of the worst things you can do for your sleep! The blue light that these devices emits have many negative effects; one of them being that they overstimulate your mind. So instead of being calm and drowsy going to bed, you’ll be hyped up and alert, with those anxieties about to kick into overdrive. Trust me on this – a device overload is not a healthy evening routine.
As part of my bedtime routine now, I switch off all devices at 9pm. Yep, that includes my TV and my phone! I bought a digital alarm clock last year – remember those?! – and haven’t looked back. No more checking my phone in the middle of the night and getting sidetracked by WhatsApp messages…now, they can wait until morning.
Once I’ve “powered down”, I like to make the most of this “me time”. In the summer I’ll sit out in the back garden with a book and a cup of herbal tea; in the winter I have a long bath with my favourite essential oils. Far more relaxing than stalking exes on Facebook.
By 10pm I’m moving into my bedroom, where I do some gentle yin yoga stretches and 10–15 minutes of meditation to further relax my body and mind. Then once I’ve gotten into bed I usually read for another 10 minutes or so and it’s lights out around 10.30pm.
This routine has really helped me to unwind in the evening and to be more ready for sleep. Since I haven’t spent half the night tossing and turning in frustration, I’m also in a much better mood come morning!
3: Get some exercise
You’re too busy. Or you’re just not that sporty. Or it’s cold outside. Whatever the excuse, I’ve heard ’em all…because I used to say them, too!
The fact is, a lack of exercise could be one of the biggest reasons why you aren’t tired at night. So even doing a little exercise every day – that’s right, I said every day – can lead to a sounder sleep. If the thought of taking a class or going to the gym terrifies you then fear not – there’s lots more ways to work up a sweat. Do some jumping jacks, go for a run, have sex…whatever works to wear you out and help you settle down.
Oh, and one other thing. If you can, pick a form of exercise that involves getting some fresh air. So even though I practice yoga every morning (and a little at night), I make sure to get out for a brisk walk in the evenings. Because being cooped up all day and then forcing yourself to get to sleep will only end in lot of frustration. And nothing leads to sleepiness quite like a good dose of the great outdoors.
4: Watch what you eat
Don’t worry, I’m not going to wax lyrical about exercise and force you to go on a diet in the same breath! What I mean is, pay attention to the food and drink that you ingest before going to bed. Are you downing caffeinated drinks by the bucketload? Are you eating enough before bedtime…or too much? Do your evening snacks contain a lot of sugar?
Making smarter food choices can really impact your sleep quality. I ditched late night sugary treats like ice-cream and chocolate in favour of equally tasty, but far healthier alternatives. Now I enjoy homemade banana frozen yoghurt, or a turmeric latte before bed…yum!
I also make sure to have a handful of almonds or a piece of wholemeal toast before I settle down for the night, to avoid any hunger pangs disturbing my slumber. In saying that, I try not to eat anything too heavy before bedtime in case my digestive system needs to go into overdrive. My evening meal is over at least 2 or 3 hours before I journey into dreamland.
In the morning I make use of my juicer to whip up something green, energizing and nourishing to start my day, rather than reaching for the coffee. It took a little getting used to but I’ve found that the energy I get from these juices lasts much longer…and I don’t have to suffer the caffeine crash, either! Bonus.
5: Nap when you need to
The joy of a nap shouldn’t be reserved solely for kids and elderly people. Anyone and everyone should get onboard with napping!
As we get older, we may find ourselves sleeping less and less during the night. Our sleep cycle is more easily disrupted, we may need to use the bathroom more frequently, and as a result we may end up only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep. And contrary to common belief, we do not need less sleep when we age. Our patterns change, sure, but our needs do not.
We continue to need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, whatever age we are. So if we’re losing out on a couple of hours, well, that can have detrimental effects to our health and well-being. I used to wonder why I felt so drained of energy during the week. I mean, I’m in pretty good shape, I eat well, I exercise regularly…so why the slump?! In my case, I was a bit burnt out between family and work commitments. My sleep patterns had been somewhat disrupted between moving around and I hadn’t allowed myself to catch up on lost sleep.
So one day when I got back from work, I simply lay down on my bed and was out like a light in minutes. I only slept for half an hour or so but wow – I sure needed it!
Now I try to listen to my body – if I’m feeling exhausted, sometimes exercise isn’t the answer. Sometimes I just need to rest, to close my eyes and nap for even 15 minutes. The power of a power nap can make a massive difference and is definitely one lifestyle change you’ll want to consider.
Since I’ve made these changes – to have a routine that lets me sleep earlier, to exercise and eat properly, and to rest when I need it – I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my health. Now I’m one of those annoying people who never seems to get sick, even when everyone around me has the flu! I feel rested in the morning rather than lethargic, my mood is definitely more sunny than not and my relationships have improved as a result. Plus, I find that I’m more productive in work than ever before – when I used to struggle a lot with motivation. I find myself actually enjoying going to work rather than dreading the break of day. Sick days are a thing of the past, too – so nowadays I’m firmly in my employer’s good books.
So I can say with all certainty that making these little changes has made me both healthier and happier. Who knew that a good night’s sleep could be so effective?!
Try these changes for yourself, and you’ll see what I mean. Sweet dreams!
Sarah is a mother of two living in the sunshine state of California. When she’s not running around after the little ones shes researching a forgotten aspect of health. Sleep!