6 E-Z ways to get better Z’s

Imagine for a moment, that it’s approaching midnight. You have an early appointment in the morning. You went to bed an hour ago and you have been alternately staring wide-eyed at the ceiling and tossing and turning and your mind just won’t. Shut. up. You count backwards from 100. You count your breaths. You do everything you can think of and the longer you stay awake and the more you try and relax, the more stressed you feel about that appointment and your inability to get to sleep.

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Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. In our house we call it Monday Night Syndrome because for many years my husband left for the airport at 4:15 every Tuesday morning to fly up to Fort McMurray to teach at the college there for the day. It was a long, packed day of teaching and while both of our kids were under 2 and I was in school it was our house’s biggest and most reliable source of income. If he missed that flight we were hung. So, nobody slept on Monday nights and we both tackled the longest day of our weeks on minimal sleep.

But who cares? Because as far as I can see no one gets good sleep, or almost no one. When I’m doing initial consultations with new perspective training clients, I always ask about sleep quantity and quality, and almost invariably I am regaled with stories about how tired they feel and how they are hopeful that getting a workout in first thing in the morning (effectively cutting out one more hour of sleep) will help with their saggy energy levels. Adulting is bullshit sometimes.

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We’ve all heard that to have optimal health and productivity and shiny happiness we need about eight hours of sleep on an average night. Right? Some people do just fine on seven, some people feel like rusty buckets of bumholes unless they get nine, but for most people most of the time the magic number is about eight. I talk to lots of people who claim that they don’t need more than five or six hours’ sleep but they are lying. They are not functioning as well as they could during the week, their immune systems crumble at the first lick of a doorknob (handy tip: don’t lick doorknobs) and they fall asleep on Friday night at 10pm and wake up at noon on Saturday feeling terrible. Less than seven hours’ sleep at night is a losing proposition over the long term.

So, since we all have 24 hours in the day and not one minute more, and since we usually have to be functional human beings whether or not we got decent sleep the night before, let’s talk about ways that we can get a few more winks without compromising our productivity or having to bring an air mattress to work so that we can reinstate afternoon nap time like a bunch of kindergarten kids (although the widespread institution of mandatory nap time is not a bad idea at all).

  1. Set a reverse alarm. This is the single habit that has made a huge difference to me over the last year or so. A reverse alarm is an alarm that tells you when it’s time to get ready for bed. I get up at 4:05am just about every day so if I’m going to set myself up to survive the week it’s important that I get to bed around the same time as your average seven-year-old. I tend to act like a seven-year-old too, when that reverse alarm goes off and my phone starts pinging out lullabies at me at 8:30pm, telling me that it’s almost bedtime and it’s time to get ready. I grumble and swear and hop up and down and…then I get ready for bed. Which leads me to number 2:
  2. Getting ready for bed should look basically the same every night. Okay, I know I’m starting to sound like I’m writing a how-to for getting your kid to bed, but seriously – the same shit works for the grups too. If we can manage to set our egos aside and just embrace the fact that yeah, we are petulant and miserable people if we are too sleep deprived, we’re better off. So suck it up and stick to your bedtime routine.
  3. Take a 10-minute dump. And what I mean by that is, get a notebook and a pen (NOT a tablet or laptop or phone or anything with a screen – we’ll get to that in a minute), set a timer for 10 minutes, and write down whatever’s in your head. Grocery lists, to-do’s for tomorrow, meal plans, whatever irritated you today that you’re still stewing about, a story about Bruno the Hairless Bear – anything that’s rattling around in your little melons and likely to keep you awake. And then, before you put that notebook away, write down what went well today: maybe you totally nailed everything and feel awesome, maybe you just barely made it through the day without throat-punching anyone. Something good happened or you wouldn’t be at home getting ready for bed.sleep2
  4. Exercise. Exercise. Get some exercise every day. Not right before bed. But take time out of every single day to move your meat sack around. I promise it’ll pay off. PROMISE. Enough said about that. Next?
  5. Don’t eat right before bed – in fact, stop eating at least two hours before you want to go to sleep. A few years back Oprah spouted some nonsense about never eating after 7pm and that little gem just won’t go away no matter how much people with some form of nutrition education hop up and down and scream about it…because there is a grain (and only a grain) of truth to it. Imagine the last time you went out for nachos and beer late at night. Did you go home tired, fall into bed, and then spend the night dancing the hula with giant pink polkadot slugs playing ukeleles until you slip in one of the slime trails and fall off a cliff for miles, falling, falling, falling until you get swallowed by a whale and end up floating through outer space on the back of a unicorn? You don’t remember that dream? Anyway. Eating right before bed doesn’t really make for a good night’s rest, and it’s not awesome for your physique goals either. Eat lightly late in the day; you don’t need much fuel in you to sleep. As David Goggins, my absolute favorite Navy SEAL** said once, “Go to bed hungry, wake up hungry.”
  6. Now comes the tough part. This is the one that most people won’t do because it’s stinking hard, but it’s a game changer, so I propose that we all do it together. For the first 30 days – after that, you’re on your own to be an adult as you see fit. Okay, are you ready? Deep breaths.

Turn off your screens ONE HOUR before you go to bed.

Why? Because the blue light that is emitted from those little devices that we are so attached to interferes with our brains’ ability to produce melatonin – the hormone that prompts our bodies to close up shop for the evening. When you stare into your tiny little screens until you’re cross-eyed with fatigue you’re setting yourself up to fail at sleep. That’s no fun.

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So here’s what I want the last part of your day to look like: two hours before bed, no more eating. Trust me, you don’t need it. One hour before bed, plug in your phones and tablets and pingy things – extra points if you put it on ‘do not disturb’ from here on in. (You can allow calls from certain numbers so that if your grandmother’s cat gets stuck in a tree you are as accessible as you want to be – emergencies happen after all). 30min before bed, your reverse alarm goes off to tell you that it’s time to start your bedtime stuff – I don’t need to tell you what that should be, right? Right. Once you’re scrubbed and brushed and clean, get horizontal and do your brain dump/daily wins. All done? Turn off the lights and have a good sleep.

**Enough of you asked so…I follow quite a few military and ex-military types; I really find the whole fuck-you-and-your-feelings mindset refreshing and entertaining, but also motivating. It’s a good foil for my usual soft-touch take-care-of-everybody approach to coaching but unfortunately for me I also tend toward laziness and having their barky uncompromising voices in my head keeps me going sometimes. Go GET IT!

Going Gray (sic): On being an aging woman in the fitness industry

 

It’s almost easier to see the negatives in most situations – to pick at the things that are wrong instead of celebrating things that are right and appreciating that progress that has happened. Open any social media platform or any centre-to-left-leaning news source and you’ll be mercilessly bombarded by armies of self-righteous social justice warriors raging against whatever is the cause du jour. Which is not to say that we as a society don’t have a lot of ground to make up in most cases, but we have come a long way in terms of becoming a tolerant and inclusive people. On social media in particular the pendulum has swung so far that the people on the left are the ones labeling their fellow humans and putting them into little boxes. It makes me long for a simpler time – like when you could open up a browser window and be pelted with nothing more acerbic than Pokemon Go.

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Anyway, I had planned on bitching and complaining today; the flu has knocked me on my ass so hard that I have missed everything I was going to do for the last two days and the only thing keeping me awake is whininess and righteous indignation. But, I can’t help but think that there’s a silver lining to be appreciated here as well – pun intended for the silver lining thing. Yeah, I know that joke is bad and makes no sense now, but it will – hear me out.

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So. I work full time in the fitness industry, a microcosm unto itself that would claim to be making people better – healthier, stronger, longer-lived, happier…and it’s getting better at that. What is infinitely more pervasive though, is its tendency to worship youth, beauty, physical perfection (whatever that means; it’s dictated by fashion most of the time) and sexiness. And as such, it can be an unforgiving place to be female. It’s even more unforgiving if you’re susceptible to this stupid thing that happens to most people who don’t have an endless medi-spa fund: aging.

 

I’m over forty now and one thing I notice more and more is that on days that I don’t put makeup on or put extra effort into my appearance to go to work – which is, let’s face it, most of the time (hey, I get up way too early for that nonsense) I get treated differently. There are comments – you know, little expressions of concern, sometimes disdain, always with a pointy little stabby part –  about looking tired or looking drained or drawn. What to do about these? Where do I put them? Because on one hand, yes, they’re true: I start work early in the morning, I don’t usually get enough sleep, and by the middle of the week my face is showing signs of hard mileage. On the other hand, I’m a middle-aged woman – if and when I do wear makeup and put extra effort into my appearance I feel like I’m trying too hard and anyway,  why should I give a shit what people think?

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But. When I do put the effort in I feel better. More awake, more confident, more professional. More worthy of respect. And then I think, fuck you and you and you and everyone else because why should I have to wear makeup and invest all kinds of extra time and labor(and let’s not forget the colossal expense of beauty products, nails, eyelashes, tanning etc) to garner professional respect? To look desirable in some way? To lead by example as a fit, healthy, person? The answer is pretty simple: because  women are expected to look a certain way.

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And it’s not the same for men. None of it is. Some of you guys may be arguing in your heads here that the guys are expected to be buff, lean, hairless (except for a big-ass beard lately) and yes, there definitely are those pressures for men but it’s nowhere near as pervasive.

 

There’s this niggling fear in the background, that as a forty-year-old woman who has been doing this personal training gig for many years now and I have never been better at my job, I can feel my ability to make an impact slipping away because I’m getting old. But here’s the silver lining you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for: there has never been a better time to be a professional middle-aged woman in the fitness industry. Or any industry, for that matter. Us older gals who do our jobs with passion, enthusiasm, and respect for our stations have a unique opportunity right now to smash down some of those barriers that may have held people back as little as five or ten years ago. Things are changing, and we can put our energy into building that momentum, or we can sit on our butts and pick at how far there is to go. I know which side I want to be on. So tomorrow I’m gonna slap some makeup on and keep fighting the fight.

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