Learn,  Lift

Chasing Z’s

When I was a kid, my grandmother would often come to visit. She was an extroverted person who enjoyed going out with friends, perpetually talking on the phone, and meeting new people in any situation. All traits that were, unfortunately, not passed down to me.

As a child, there was one thing that always amazed me about my grandmother: she never seemed to sleep. She was awake when I went to bed, awake if I got up in the middle of the night, and awake when I walked downstairs to get breakfast in the morning. Without fail, she’d have the light over the stove turned on and a cup, in various levels of freshness, of coffee.

“What should we have for dinner?” she’d announce, mug in hand, and already planning out the day at the crack of dawn.

My mom often jokes about the time she got up to go to the bathroom in the morning, as a teenager, and she came back find my grandmother had already made her bed. My boyfriend finds this anecdote particularly funny because I’ve done the exact same thing to him. I’m convinced it’s genetic.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to realize that my sleep schedule is downright unhealthy, despite the family tradition. It’s not that I’m inconsistent, go to bed late, pull all-nighters. It’s that I cannot not get up way too early. I’m completely incapable of sleeping in. It’s exhausting.

Especially since I’ve started focusing on training more, I’ve noticed that my tendency to sleep less than 6 hours a night has taken its toll on my recovery, my focus, and my overall health. So, I tried a few things:

  • No caffeine for a month. (Ugh.)
  • Ashwagandha supplements.
  • Waking up with no alarm.
  • Cold showers.

Nixing caffeine sucks, primarily because I love the taste of coffee. Yet after a week of headaches, I realized one thing: caffeine wasn’t keeping me from sleeping soundly, but it did make me get up more during the night (hey diuretic). My sleep was indeed being interrupted by my crazy coffee consumption.

Sleep schedule
The timezone changed messed up some of the tracking, but look at those averages!

Ashwagandha is an herb, primarily used in Ayurvedic medicine, that helps to reduce stress, balance hormones, and assist with focus. I bought some from Banyan Botanicals and have been putting 30 drops or so into my water in the morning, and in the evening. It’s been about a month, and overall I find my concentration better and my energy much more stable.

Since coming home from the Automattic Grand Meetup, I realized something: most of my meetings don’t take place until 8am Eastern or later, so there’s no reason at all for me to be waking up at 6am. While I’m in the US, I’m taking a break from crossfit (I’m still paying for my plan in Brazil and don’t want to double-pay), so my I do my training in the afternoon, which means sleeping until 7 or 7:30am is completely doable.

That may not sound very late to most people, but usually I wake up a bit before 6am regardless of the time I went to sleep. I was also trying to squeeze a lot into my mornings, which meant I kept setting my alarm for earlier and earlier, even though I felt terrible.

Without my alarm, these days, I usually wake up around 6:30am which makes a huge difference. I feel rested. I feel able to focus. I’m not dragging through the day. And, for the first time ever, I was recently able to get my sleep average on Fitbit to over 8 hours. Celebrations!

Last, but not least, I’ve heard that cold showers can help with sleep. At the very least, it does help with muscle recovery and, let’s face it, these days I’m often in a lot of pain — either from crossfit, or from doing different types of exercises while traveling, or seemingly never wearing the right kind of shoes for the activity I’m doing. I usually shower at night, so I take my regular shower and then switch to cold water for as long as I can handle. It’s not very long, since cold showers are basically torture to me, but I’m trying to work up my tolerance.

I’ve been seeing some improvement, but it’s a work in progress to change habits that I’ve ingrained into myself for years. My sabbatical is coming up in November and my goal is not only to set not one single alarm during that three month period, but also to learn how to sleep in to at least 8am. With practice, I think I can do it — tough times! 😀

Featured image by Flickr user @dinesh_valke.

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