Permission to Dream
Secret ingredients for sleeping better in the new year
“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” W.C. Fields
A new year, a new dark morning signaling another day back to work before the sun rises.
“You are so lucky to sleep like that, especially for a woman your age,” my colleague said to me after complaining about my alarm clock waking me – yet again – from a blissful dream.
“Good night - may you fall asleep in the arms of a dream, so beautiful, you'll cry when you awake.” Michael Faudet
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard similar comments. I love to sleep - and it's something I'm really good at. To the chagrin of those with sleep struggles – I generally slumber for eight to nine hours a night without an issue.
It may come as a surprise, however, that I am a closet-worrier who sometimes suffers with anxiety. If you're asking youself how that works, you're not alone. Many people are confounded - and maybe even a bit jealous - when hearing how rare sleepless nights are for me. And I can assure you that this is not genetic, as others in my family have persistent sleep troubles. It's all due to a little bit of luck, some trial and error, and a few secret ingredients.
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?” Ernest Hemingway
Good Sleeping Partners
My husband is not only another good sleeper, but I scored the mother-lode with this one, readers, as he doesn’t snore! Okay, this one may have been purely luck, but you can't argue with the benefit of peace and quiet when trying to enter dreamland. Sawing logs, flipping and flopping, and stealing covers does not produce optimal sleeping conditions.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” Anthony Burgess
My two miniature schnauzers sleep with us. Ruffles cuddles under the covers against my husband (he calls her his belly warmer), while Heidi dozes above my pillow. Ironcially, Heidi gently snores, but that only helps me fall into a cozier, deeper asleep. Some research states the opposite, but sleeping with my beloved pack is a must for a peaceful night's slumber.
A Beautiful Sleeping Space
First and foremost, I believe that your sleeping space should be as clean and clutter-free as possible. Nothing says, "I'm not going to sleep tonight" more than a pile of laundry or a stack of paperwork. Clutter can induce a physiological response, including increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Your sleeping space should also be alluring, a place that you can't wait to dive into. Interior decorating is something I enjoy dabbling in, so I truly love to make our space beautiful. In our current home, my husband – knowing it was something I’ve always wanted – ordered reclaimed bricks from a torn-down building in Chicago and made me an exposed-brick accent wall behind our bed. There's something about it that is so warm and inviting. Adding some adored artwork, favorite accessories, a warm rug, ambient lighting, and an electric fireplace completes our little nest.
High Quality Mattress and Pillows
Even though there is no one size fits all, I cannot stress enough how much a good mattress and pillows are worth. Splurge on these items. With our second dog, we upgraded to a king-sized bed to provide ample room. Then we did research and in-person mattress testing to ensure we found the right one for us. Our cool-gel, pillow-top mattress took a few payments, but it ensures a blissful night of rest without body aches.
Our two pillows are different - mine is cooling gel - but we both have high-quality, memory-foam pillows that support our sleeping styles and temperatures.
Check out Lull for some great mattress and pillow choices.
We also use a duvet instead of a regular comforter after discovering that the all-weather, faux-down variety is perfect for every season. Of course, picking an attractive cover that you love will only bring more enjoyment.
With some research and a little investment, you can find the best options to fit your individual needs.
A To-Do List or Journal
As a worrier with a lot on my plate, lists are a godsend. I usually have two or three lists going on at a time – a work list, a short-term home list, and a longer-term list of items that aren’t as time-sensitive (mine currently begins with “plan summer vacation stops” and “enter writing contest in May”).
In addition to lists, journaling is another effective sleep tool. A study by Baylor University and Emory University in 2018 backs up this claim. They found that journaling before bed helps people fall asleep faster by reducing distractions, worry, and overthinking. It was also found that a quick to-do list before bed proved almost as beneficial to the participants as many sleep aids.
You can purchase a high-quality notebook and writing tool from a company such as Moleskine, which may inspire you to take pen to paper more frequently. A regular notepad or sticky notes will also suffice.
As soon as my thoughts and plans are scribbled down, they magically leave my head and create space for a worry-free dreamland.
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” Homer, The Odyssey
Limit Wine and Opt for Decaffeinated Tea
While I love my wine, I found that I sleep better without it. It may take me a few minutes longer to fall to sleep, but the quality is deeper and more dream-heavy when I abstain. While Sleepytime by Celestial Seasonings is my typical choice, there are many more on the market to discover. The Republic of Tea is a good place to start shopping for your favorite.
Dark and Cool
One thing that will keep me awake is the heat. In the wintertime, we keep the thermostat at 58F - the optimal temperature for sleeping beneath a comforter. In the summer, it's a little more difficult, but I keep it as cool as I can without freezing our air-conditioning unit. Tower fans may help, and as an added plus, they give relaxing white noise.
Turn off the TV
Shut off the television and listen to Alexa. My husband doesn't like any sound when trying to sleep - so that leaves ambient noise and guided meditation out of the equation. However, a relatively new bedtime ritual for us is listening to a chapter of an audiobook using Audible through our Alexa. Akin to having your favorite childhood bedtime story read aloud to you, the soothing practice also allows our bodies to prepare for sleep as we listen in the darkness.
“Before you sleep, read something that is exquisite, and worth remembering.” Desiderius Erasmus
This year I made a purchase with my holiday gift cards – a budget-friendly, infrared sauna.
I’ve used one in a spa, but I can’t afford to visit often, and let’s be honest about the convenience of being at home rather than adding to road traffic. The advantages of these saunas range from weight loss and detoxification to lower blood pressure, anti-aging, and of course – better sleep! I have been reading about the possible health-benefits of infrared saunas for years, and I look forward to discovering the truth for myself. After using it, my muscles already feel tingly and relaxed, and I sense an overall improvement in mood.
Be Kinder to Yourself
Even though sleep is not a usual issue for me, I do have a new year’s goal - to make progress toward becoming more mindful. Mindfulness to me means that I should enjoy precious moments more, instead of worrying how perfect they may or may not be.
In that same vein, instead of torturing myself for the perfect beach body this year, an older and gentler me will focus more on being healthy, happy, and present. My goal is to do simpler things, such as hikes with my hubby and pups, and continuing my mostly plant-based diet with some small adjustments leaning toward more whole foods.
Losing my father this year brought to light, even more brightly, that special times aren't going to be more special because you're ten - or twenty - pounds heavier than your goal. I want to bask in the joy and love of those who are still here in my little world, instead of punishing myself in the name of perfection.
Even though there is no one-size fits all prescription, perhaps my secret ingredients will help you discover your recipe for some shuteye.
Happy New Year! Sweet dreams!
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” Mahatma Gandhi