If you were to ask me if I was sleep deprived I would have said no but lately I wonder if my standards are just low. I honestly can’t remember a time when I felt wide awake insofar that it resembles feeling refreshed or weightless or anything that’s opposite to slow, heavy or foggy. I’ve been a full-time student for six years straight and counting and I’m pretty sure that the number of hours clocked in bed outweigh the number of hours of quality sleep that I’ve had. I’m probably exaggerating a little but it’s no big surprise that Grad students are chronically sleep deprived not just because of the time and energy required for coursework and thesis work but because of the various other bits and bobs that we do. There’s the stuff outside of our programme but related to it like attending skill-building workshops, attending and presenting at conferences, publishing, teaching, administrative duties etc. Then there’s the stuff outside, outside of our programme but still sort of related to it like blogging, volunteering with relevant organisations, journal editing, collaborating with peers on projects etc. Then there’s the life-stuff that’s totally unrelated but necessary like other paid work, laundry, grocery shopping AND the stuff we want to do, like anything fun.
Anyway, sleep deprivation isn’t a phenomena exclusive to Grad school. If you’re to believe popular discourse it’s something of an epidemic among Westerners. The pressure to produce and perform is so intense that rest has become an afterthought and sleep relegated to low-priority. Americans are the worst offenders. It’s in our DNA to push it to the limit. Exhaustion is a badge of honour and being busy is a marker of status here. We still believe that if we work hard we’ll achieve the dream (the particulars of the dream vary but in nutshell it always amounts to having financial security). Who doesn’t want financial security? It makes me laugh (and want to cry at times) when influential people bang on about the American Dream like it’s a real thing that’s available to everyone if only we just choose it.
I live in the epicenter of this, NYC, where it’s easy to get swept up by the tidal wave of fecundity. As a junior academic with hopes of finding a job someday soon I’m especially susceptible. There’s one thing that squelches fear of an unknown future and that’s being purposeful and productive. It becomes addictive in-fact because it’s generally measurable. Still, without proper rest our pursuits can take a toll on the body and mind. Eventually it catches up with us and slows us down or stops us altogether. I know firsthand.
As a result I’ve been experimenting with different ways to increase the quantity of my downtime and sleep and manage the quality of my waking hours (one reinforcing the other of course) so I can live a calmer more peaceful existence overall! My goal is not necessarily to be more well-rested so that I can be more productive! Though this can be an unintended (positive) consequence it’s not the objective. The point is to care for myself preventatively using methods that are natural and sustainable. This is key. I’ve done a number of things, some more effective than others, some easier than others. Here they are:
- Guided meditation is ideal even for just 10 minutes a day. It makes a huge difference to sleep and waking hours. I’ve found that doing meditation while sitting upright in a comfortable seat makes it easier to stay awake and focused during the meditation so to get the most out of it. A couple of the podcasts I subscribe to are as follows: http://www.themeditationpodcast.com/ AND https://www.meditationoasis.com/
- iPhone and Android white noise apps are helpful if you’re a light sleeper. A couple of free one’s that I’ve found useful are Sleep Genius and Sleep Pillow. There are so many others…
- Also, if you’re a light sleeper eye masks and silicone ear plugs are good.
- Daily yoga/stretching AND deep breathing, again, even 10 minutes a day makes a big difference. I try for first thing in the morning to get it in and done.
- No caffeine after noon (not easy)
- No more than three units of alcohol per week
- Also, I cook with herbs like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and oregano. They’re anti-inflammatory which helps to counteract hormones associated with stress like cortisol. They’re also immune boosters.
- Valerian herb blends. I use one called Deep Sleep, only when I need it. It’s not habit forming and you can order it in the post.
- Magnesium Citrate is a nervous system sedative. It’s harmless and very effective
- Warm lavender bath or foot soak prior to bed
- Lavender oil air diffuser in the bedroom
- No work after 6pm (most days)
- No devices after 10pm.
- No devices in the bedroom
- At least one day a week dedicated to fun with family and friends. NO WORK.
- Daily exercise; some days intense and other days gentle (but you knew this one)
- Clean eating; taking the time to prepare good, enjoyable, healthy meals. I don’t mind eating the same thing all week so I make a large pot of something on Sunday and portion it out for the week. I always have good crackers like Ryvita, whole pieces of fruit, nuts, raw veggies, hummas, hardboiled eggs and cheese sticks ready to go AND I always have herbal tea and a few sweets in my bag. All of this makes it much easier not to reach for junk. (you probably knew this one too)
Eating well and exercise is important but, in my opinion, taking care of ourselves goes above and beyond this especially nowadays in our busy, fast, loud world. It’s about valuing good physical and mental health now not later and bottom line, rest, ideally sleep is golden. Meditating, stretching and taking lavender baths on a regular basis may seem burdensome at times; yet another task to make time for but they make such a difference when you do. Believe me, you’ll be better for it.