Better Sleep Hygiene Part 1: Disconnecting
The irony of me writing about healthy sleeping at 1 am is not lost on me, but here we are. I have been racking my brain about how to broach this topic after my talk with Dr. Lonny Webb. Yup, I talked to a professional about the importance of sleep. I learned a lot about better sleep hygiene throughout that conversation, and what I thought was going to be a single article on sleep is probably going to turn into a series about taking care of ourselves.
Before I get into why being conscious of our sleeping habits is important, let me make one thing super clear. I have struggled with maintaining a normal and healthy sleep schedule for a few years now. I used to stay up until 3-4 am every night, either writing a paper or thinking about papers I had to write. The anxiety of school and making sure I got things done would keep me up at night.
For years, I maybe got 4-6 hours of sleep, which in college, it seemed like a thing to brag about in the library when everyone would be commiserating about how much their sleep schedule sucked. How annoying, I know. And it only got worse the more time I spent pushing my body to the absolute brink of exhaustion.
My mom used to point out that all I did when I went to visit her was sleep. Even now that I’m out of school and have been for a while now, I still find myself struggling with going to bed at a reasonable time. Part of it is still anxiety-based, but another part of it and one I didn’t know I struggled with until my conversation with Dr. Webb was disconnecting.
By disconnecting, I don’t mean not calling family and friends, but I mean disconnecting from things that keep my mind occupied. My mind needs to be occupied with something at all times. It’s the reason I pick up stupid little skills like solving a rubric’s cube or practicing origami. And if I can’t do something with my hands to occupy my mind, then I escape into a story from a book or one I make up in my head. And to be completely honest, it gets so fricking exhausting at times. So because I struggle with disconnecting, I push myself past tired through fatigue until I reach complete exhaustion. It’s like starving myself to the point of collapse and then listening to my body that I should eat. It’s not healthy in any way.
So for this first article on sleep hygiene, I want to talk about disconnecting. What is it that you do right before bed? I know for me, I check Twitter. My mom tends to read some news articles. My little sister is either on Tik Tok or watching a Youtube video right before bed. At some point, the internet went from connecting us to becoming a distraction to an addiction.
How long do you think you could go without the internet or social media drug of choice? I think I would go through withdrawals almost immediately. And don’t get me started on the feeling I get if I don’t charge my phone at night so that when I wake up, I can endlessly scroll through whatever attention-grabbing “gatcha” articles I read first thing in the morning. And it’s like this all of the time.
For me now, it’s less the anxiety of school and papers; even though work can keep me up at night sometimes, it is more about this fear of not being connected. When did needing to know everything going on in my Twitter feed become more important than my health? And while a part of this does sound like I’m addicted to my phone, which is probably part of it, another factor is that we have become so accustomed to knowing everything.
If 2020 did anything for us, it’s that we increased our need to stay connected to know what is going on with COVID, the world of politics, or racial injustice. With constant streams of new information bombarding us every second of every single day, we never give ourselves a break from it. Is reading the latest COVID headline right before bed the thing to do? Is playing catch up with the world endlessly throughout the day the distraction we mean it to be?
My conversation with Dr. Webb covered more on sleeping habits that I want to get into later, but I think disconnecting is the most relevant right now. Since last March, we have all been inside, surrounded by four walls, filling in the time with things and distractions. But in this time of quarantine, have you truly disconnected?
Dr. Webb left me with a challenge about a month ago. And while I have dropped the ball a few times, I have to say I feel so much more revitalized during the day, and I have been sleeping more consistently because of it. So I want to leave you with the same challenge. Just try it for two weeks and see if you can feel the difference.
- For 20 minutes every day, find a quiet spot away from distractions and people so you can meditate. And no, you don’t have to do the whole “OOOOOMMMM” thing, but focus on your breathing. Let your shoulders relax. Maybe unclench your jaw. Allow yourself a break from everything and anything that might cause stress or anxiety. Think of it as a 20-minute vacation from your day and see if it makes a difference.
Now that you know the first step in better sleep hygiene is to disconnect, check out the next step in our Sleep Hygiene Part 2.