Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeeepp. My alarm goes off at 7am. The sun’s just starting to rise, a morning grey coming through my window. I hit the snooze button. Ten minutes pass, and the alarm goes off again. I hit snooze again. Then it goes off another time, and now I reset my alarm to go off at 8am. I turn back over and fall asleep again, dreading the sound my alarm will make later.
I am a terrible sleeper – always going to bed late, waking up in the middle of the night, and not being able to fall back asleep. I always wake up grumpy and sore, and I’m never refreshed or able to get to work on time. If individuals are either morning people or night owls, I'm definitely the latter.
So what do you do when you need feedback or help fixing something? You turn to a coach.
Elina is a sleep coach, an expert on the subject who helps others figure out how to be better sleepers. I reached out and told her how much I suck at getting a decent sleep. She was super helpful and gave me a few key tips.
“Create a plan. Make bedtime enticing. Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Check your bed. Eat right. Sweat it out. Get some sunlight and laughter during the day. Shun the blue light. Get some quiet time. Learn how to get back to sleep with S.L.E.E.P.” (More on that acronym later.)
Some of it sounded easy; some of it sounded like a bit of a mission. Here I was thinking all I had to do was start using my phone’s bedtime app, which lets me plug in the time I want to wake up and gives me the best time to get to bed.
Being lazy, I started with Elina’s simplest suggestions, like making bedtime enticing and ensuring my bedroom is appropriate for sleep. After all, according to Elina, “Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, so make sure it is conducive to sleep. Keep it clean, uncluttered, and relaxing.”
This made a lot of sense. You know that feeling of making your bed before sleep? The feel of fresh sheets when you get into bed? I was going for that. So I made more of an effort to keep my usual tidy room even neater.
Some of Elina’s suggestions for this were taking baths, listening to relaxing music, or even reading a book. She did warn against reading a really good book though. At first it was tough to pull away from binge-watching a TV series, but I made the effort. I even tried a scented candle.
The first night trying Elina’s tips was off to a great start...until I screwed up and kept reading. Then I kept reading some more. Then I got curious about the author of the book I was reading, so I googled her. Huge mistake, as one of Elina’s key insights was, “Shun the blue light. Today people are using their devices in bed. One of the biggest problems with this is that the blue light that comes from our computers, tablets, and mobile phones suppresses our sleep hormone melatonin.” I messed up big time and wound up in a Wikipedia vortex. I woke up late...and was late to work.
The following days I worked on incorporating the other tips that seemed tougher because they required a change in habits. I started with eating better. Elina explained, “Ever heard of the quote, ‘You are what you eat’? This also applies to sleep, so really it should be, ‘You are what you eat, and what you eat affects your sleep'!”
“RIP pizza life,” I sadly said to myself as I went to the supermarket to buy proper groceries instead of ordering my usual three pizzas. On the grocery list were some sleep-inducing foods too: walnuts, almonds, tuna, salmon, and green leafy veggies.
This led to another tip from Elina: “Sweat it out. " She meant exercise. Like, yeah I guess exercise tires you out, but I didn’t know the science behind why it would help with sleeping better. “The best exercise for sleep is the weight-bearing kind," Elina said, "which forces you to work against gravity. This helps you get tired at night, as your body wants to repair your muscles while you sleep. Walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing, for example.” Being in a gym is okay. Turns out the struggle to actually go is the hardest part about gyms.
That night, I made sure I wouldn’t look at my phone before bed. Or my laptop. No reading up or getting sucked into the Wikipedia vortex either. No eating two hours before bed. Still craved pizza. Didn’t bother with the scented candle that night. Was worried I would fall asleep with it still burning and didn’t want the fear of fire keeping me awake. I was all set. I fell asleep. It was magical. Until I woke up at 3:45am. In my drowsy state, I remembered the S.L.E.E.P acronym, a tip for getting back to sleep: “Smile. Let go. Exhale and breathe. Expand your posture. Pleasurable presence.”
It didn't quite work. Late to work again. I remembered a tip that I wasn’t following at all: getting sunlight. I worked that into my workouts, making sure I was outside for at least 10 minutes to soak up some vitamin D.
That night, once again I fought the urge to binge-watch a series. I went to bed, didn’t read, and did a little meditating in the dark. Also, I turned on my phone’s Don’t Disturb mode. AND I made sure my room was at a recommended cool temperature by sticking one leg out of the covers. It was all going to plan. I felt drowsy and fell asleep! Then it hit. I woke up thinking it was 6:30am, but it was actually 3:30am. F*CK. I tried the S.L.E.E.P. acronym once again. I’m not even sure I made it to P that night because next thing I knew my alarm was waking me up. I only hit snooze twice that morning and made it to work at 9:04am. I was still late, but it was progress.
There was one last tip I had to put into action, a key one considering I had never really thought about it before. “If your mattress is older than 10 years, or uncomfortable, you should invest in a new one," Elina said. "You spend approximately eight hours a day, every day, on your mattress, so it really is an important investment.” My mattress was pretty old at this stage, and I could feel the springs coming through it. Also, I had a morning tradition of cracking my back the minute I woke up, thinking it was normal to have minor back aches as part of the sleep ritual. Turns out it’s not.
Buying a new mattress can be a scary and tough decision. I was lucky that Koala was super helpful with supplying me one. The reviews were really good. I knew I had 120 days to return the new one thanks to Koala’s sleep-trial policy, so I kept my old mattress in my living room just in case, even though it looked weird. I had all of Elina’s tips etched into my brain at this point and was putting them in action. The new mattress was comfy, but I was not feeling it. I was just not used to it. I missed my old one. I woke up late. I walked past my old mattress in the living room, debating if I should throw it out or hold on to it. I got to work at 9:30am.
The weekend came and went with Sunday showing up out of nowhere. I had to work the next day, so I went straight back to using the tips. I went for a bit of a workout, ate healthy food that day, made sure I got to bed at a decent hour, fought off the dread everyone gets on a Sunday night about weekends never being long enough, and then went to bed. This was the third night I slept on the new mattress. I was finally getting used to it and fell asleep just like that. I woke up fresh, and the fact that there was no sudden urge to crack my back was an odd first-time experience.
I thought it was a fluke...until the next morning, when I again woke up at 6am and didn’t have to crack my back. This made it two days in a row of beating my own alarm and waking up feeling alert. Plus, the tips didn’t feel like tips now but more like parts of my everyday routine. It was really weird: I was up and leaving my place so early that I was heading to work with people dressed in gym gear.
The sun wasn’t even out yet. I got to work and was at my desk by 7am. My phone started to vibrate, and I wondered who would be calling me so early. It was my morning alarm going off.
*Edwin finally threw out his old mattress after giving the new one a full week. No, he didn’t just leave it on the side of the road. He booked a council pick-up via http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/live/waste-and-recycling/book-a-pick-up.
All old mattresses get recycled.
Design by Kirby Darland / Photos By Edwin Hughan