Sleep Is An Art Form I’ve Mastered
Ask anyone that knows me: I can fall asleep anywhere.
I’ve introduced myself to people at parties, to which they reply, sly grins on their faces, that not only were they introduced to me weeks prior, but that I had been dead asleep on the couch while the party rages around me. My boyfriend’s friend has photos of me, mouth wide open, fast asleep on a fifteen-minute flight. For four years, I slept in the attic of my parents' house, where the summer temperatures reached forty degrees celsius. I would wake up drenched in sweat — but I could always fall asleep.
In high school, it felt lame and uncool — I would pass on sleep to stay up late, just to commiserate with classmates about our under-eye bags. In university (when being lame and uncool was actually cool), it became a point of pride. While friends dosed themselves with melanin and sleeping pills to drift off, I honed in on my skills. I’ve always worked hard to perfect my craft. Sleep is a muscle, and it needs to be trained: like anything, you’ll get rusty if you don’t practice.
There are a number of actions I take throughout the day to contribute to my soporific life, separated into morning, afternoon, and nighttime rituals that are simple and generalized enough that they‘re near impossible to skip out on. Anything time-intensive or too far outside my daily routine, and I wouldn’t do it. Nothing is ever non-negotiable in my life, but my days and nights are far easier when a handful of these get done.
Success Starts In The Morning
Making The Bed
The only morning ritual I hold regardless of time and space is making the bed. From the time I was old enough to pull the covers and sheets smoothly over my twin-sized bunk, my mom ensured that my bed would be made before leaving the house.
For her, a room wasn’t clean if the bed wasn’t made. And I understand why. Bedrooms are places of rest, and there’s nothing restful about returning to your space at the end of the day to find the sheets crumped at the foot of your mattress where you left them.
When I find myself drifting towards the bedroom, the last thing I want to see is a mess of blankets and pillows. I love the feeling of pulling back taut sheets and sliding between crisp cotton. With the exception of hotels that provide the service for me — a luxury I indulge in — I’ll be taking two extra minutes to straighten the covers and lay the pillows down where they belong.
It’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Water First (Coffee Second)
My mom gave me my first cup of steaming black coffee when I was twelve years old, after years of begging and sneaking sips when she wasn’t looking. From that moment on, I’ve been a solid two-a-day coffee drinker, with those numbers doubling or even tripling during the years of my undergrad.
Coffee, however, is not a stand-in for water. I’m as shocked as you are.
Not that I don’t drink coffee — I’ll get to that in a minute — but I have to drink at least a few bottles a day, or else I’ll end the day by taking a camel’s approach, chugging three glasses then peeing all night. The best is to commit to water before coffee. The faster you drink it, the faster you get a yummy blonde roast. So, water first thing.
In terms of caffeine, I take the approach of millennials, moms, and writers. If it wasn’t shameful to have a wooden kitchen sign saying but first, coffee I would. It’s my favorite part of the morning, and the best way to liven an otherwise listless afternoon. And the best part? It doesn’t keep me awake.
Call it exposure therapy or luck, but I’ve never found my mega-dose of coffee to affect my sleep. That being said, not everyone has my gift. If it affects you, stop by noon(ish).
Know your limit, play within it.
No one talks enough about the afternoons. The internet is flooded with morning and evening routines, but this vague time period that ranges anywhere between 11 am and 7 pm is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
Maximize Movement Minutes
For me, movement is non-negotiable. Days that pass without biking, walking, lifting heavy weights, or something seem a colossal waste. My body is my favorite toy, and I’m constantly stoked to figure out what it can do for me.
Best of all? It tires you out. Think of me like the dog you need to let run around so it sleeps. The child you take to the park to burn their energy down to a level that will accept nap time.
My favorite nights of all times are the ones I crawl into a bed, or often a sleeping bag, with my body sore in unimaginable places from the adventures passed. I sleep like a baby. Any night I can recreate that feeling, if only a little, is a good one.
The days I don’t move, my sleep suffers. So does everything else.
Eat Well (And Eat A Lot)
Lunch has always been my least favourite meal of the day, often because it’s the one stuffed in between work and exercise and time with friends. Admittedly, it can be hard to prioritize.
However, eating enough throughout the day can help you avoid feeling snacky late at night, which can disrupt your sleep pattern as you attempt to digest the stack of peanut butter crackers you ate standing in your kitchen at 11 pm (and yes, I’m speaking from experience. Yes, it was yesterday). This is the one area where I often fall short. Not the eating well (and eating a lot) portion. But timing it well for my sleep.
Putting it here anyway because a) in a dream world, I would do this because I know it helps and b) maybe some you have more willpower and can implement this into their list of healthy sleep-promoting routines.
Monitor Screen Time
For most of us, this is impossible. We work on computers day in and day out, but they have a habit of making us impossibly sleepy around 3 pm and getting us out of synch. On the flip side, working late on the computer can keep you too wired to fall asleep.
Taking small breaks from staring into the online abyss can help our bodies stay on their natural rhythm. Walk around, take five minutes to reset, or at least try to blink.
Your natural rhythm will thank you.
Prioritize Winding Down
I am an eternal morning person. Soft, gentle, 5 am air is my bread and butter. But there’s something about the evening. Dim, sunset light and candles, jazz, and nourishing dinners. As often as I can, I set myself up for sleep success by allowing my evening to wind me down.
Even if I’ve spent the night with friends, or binge-watched Netflix, one of these will be on my to-do list.
Our apartment is a five-minute walk from a nature sanctuary, with a beautiful 4-kilometer loop around a lake. The sunsets from there are beautiful, and it’s the perfect length to give your body some movement and easy digestion without leaving you too tired or energized.
Even getting on a treadmill or indoor bike can help settle your body down. Nothing so hard that you sweat, but enough to wind down. It’s the best time to settle your mind, go over your day, and simply think.
Long, nighttime showers are one of the best ways to wind down, and also one of the only ways to get two feet of hair to dry before you have to be somewhere at 9 am the next morning.
Hot water soothes daily muscle aches, and there’s nothing more satisfying than freshly shaved legs slipping into cool, crisp cotton sheets (in your nicely made bed). Also, you’re clean. One less thing to worry about for tomorrow.
As my partner puts it gently, I am “a fucking furnace”. Heat radiates off me like an old laptop attempting to download music from LimeWire. While it is possible for me to drift off in a thirty-five-degree Celsius room with no cross-breeze, it’s not fun.
When I settle in with either my laptop (currently rewatching Brooklyn 99), my notebook (currently working on a collection of poetry), or novel-of-the-week (rereading His Dark Materials), there’s a soft fan blowing, and the window is open.
As nighttime draws nearer, your body temperature naturally drops to let you know it’s time to sleep. Settling into a colder room helps you reinforce that instinct, and drift off with ease.
Scents and Sounds
Investing in a diffuser or a few artisan candles can do wonders — both to your sleep, and your mental well-being. Drifting off to lavender and cedarwood is a luxury you can afford. I have a lavender and rosemary blend I use only for falling asleep; as soon as the smell drifts through the room, I feel myself shift into a mindset ready for sleeping.
As for sounds, the boyfriend and I recently discovered that if we whisper “goodnight” to our Google mini, it will play gentle wave noises until we fall asleep. It feels like falling asleep under the stars next to the ocean. It’s my weirdest, guiltiest pleasure, and I recommended it to absolutely everyone.
After twenty-two years of sleeping, these rituals throughout the day have allowed me to fall asleep within moments of my head hitting the pillow. However, even the most talented sleepers need a hand now and then. If I’m desperate (or just in the mood) here are my go tos:
Tea: Mild and warm, it’s perfect for allowing your body to relax. Mine still has caffeine in it, like the happy addict that I am.
Whiskey: Take inspiration from your favorite writer and give yourself a nightcap. Smooth and strong, you feel sleepy the moment you finish and look cool while doing it. Avoid mixing with anything but ice.
Weed: You know the drill — select a strong Indica and pass out. Arrange yourself on the bed so you’re not tempted to run for snacks.