Guest article from MINES’ Trainer and Coaching Partner Michelle Zellner, Owner/Founder of Better Beings

How did you sleep last night? No, really, how did you sleep? I’ve spent years asking this question to those around me who always seem to get a good night’s sleep. What’s the secret? People who have no trouble sleeping don’t give it a second thought. But there are so many things that need to go right (including balancing eleven brain chemicals) to get that good night of sleep, I think it’s amazing anyone does! I have come to believe sleep is like anything else—some people are naturally better at it than others.

As a kid, I was the one at the slumber parties who was up and ready to go, at 6:00 a.m. Let me tell you, my parents were not so thrilled. Growing up, I remember lying awake, unable to fall asleep, for what seemed like forever. I was certain I was missing out on some kind of fun. I always wondered how my sister could sleep sooooo late, even on Christmas morning. She would tell me, “Just wait until you get older and you’ll be sleeping in too.” Nope, never happened.

By the time I moved away for college, things were getting especially interesting. Sleeptalking and sleepwalking became regular occurrences. I was taking a Japanese language class, and, according to my roommate, I’d frequently sit straight up in the middle of the night and start speaking Japanese (more fluently than when I was awake). I would often find my way to the stairwell at the opposite end of our dorm hall and have conversations with friends as they were coming home from a fun night out. On several occasions, I woke up to find myself sleeping on the floor outside someone else’s door. I had no recollection of any of these events, but it turns out I was quite social while completely asleep. At the time, I thought this was funny, odd, and weird. It made for great stories but was also a bit scary. I wish I had been more interested in figuring out WHY this was happening, but eventually, it became less frequent, then ceased altogether. I now know that change, stress, irregular sleep patterns, and chronic sleep deprivation are triggers for this type of nighttime activity.

These are just a few of the challenges I’ve had with sleep. For a period of time, I battled severe insomnia. It would take hours for me to fall asleep, then I would wake at one or two in the morning unable to fall back to sleep. This would happen several nights in a row and lead to anxiety about going to bed. My quest for the magic answer to blissful sleep has led me to discover I am far from alone in this struggle. Although your challenges may be different, the root causes of sleep issues and the consequences of sleep deprivation are probably the same. When we are young, we can get away with a lot. I did well in school and had energy for gymnastics, work, and fun. I was a generally pleasant person, and any moodiness could be attributed to A) being a teenager or B) being hungry. As with many things, the older we get, the less resilient we become.

Unfortunately, societal norms, including schedule patterns (school, work, activities, and dietary habits) and the overuse of technology, are making it increasingly difficult for children, teenagers, and adults to get the quality sleep necessary for optimal human functioning and performance. The side-effect of not being tired the next day is just one small piece of why we need anywhere from 7–10 hours of quality sleep per night. This should be the time for internal rest, cellular repair, and hormonal reset. Parts of the brain and body get to relax, while other parts of the brain and body go to work. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased risk for every single physical and mental health issue, because the critical functions designed to take place during various phases of our sleep cycle are either cut short or not happening at all.

Sleep is actually a necessity not a luxury! A friend recently told me that sleep is her love language. Not only is allowing her to sleep an act of love, but when she is well-rested she is a much more loving person. WIN WIN. And yet, the struggle for consistent, quality sleep is real.

I believe a good night of sleep starts in the morning, with nearly everything we do throughout the day either setting us up for blissful rest or potentially disrupting it. I’m sure everyone has had a great night of sleep and truly noticed the difference the next day. Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel that way more often? If you struggle with getting quality sleep and are ready to give that struggle a rest, here are some things to consider:

    1. Identify the obstacle to sleep (check all that apply)
        • Busy mind

        • Stress (cortisol released throughout the day)

        • Inactivity

        • Eating too late/types of food/amount of food

        • Caffeine (amount and time of day consumed)

        • Technology

        • Interruptions (kids, animals, full bladder, significant other)

        • Other?

    1. Create a real strategy to modify a behavior that could be impeding quality sleep.

    1. Recognize that it is the cumulative effect of all the things we do consistently over time that has the largest impact on the outcome. Multiple behaviors may need modification, and they have to become your habits to reap the benefits.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has officially declared sleep deprivation an epidemic. By analyzing my own tendencies and acknowledging which ones were potentially impacting my sleep negatively, I have been able to restructure and modify many of those habits. I have an evening wind-down routine, allowing the house, the body, and the mind to get ready for rest. The house gets dark, the body gets relaxed, and the mind gets quiet. Although I occasionally have a difficult night of sleep, I am happy to say that insomnia is no longer a regular part of my life. I also know that even though I am doing all I can right now to set myself up for quality sleep, it is not always in my control. I try to make healthy choices in every other area—what I put in my body, how much I move my body, and how I manage my stress triggers—to, hopefully, minimize the damage that inadequate sleep may be causing. The challenge of setting yourself up for quality sleep may seem like a frustrating and daunting process, but you can do hard things! Once I established new habits, the benefits of a better night’s rest have allowed me to be a healthier, happier, and more productive human being. So far, I have found it worth the effort—and I believe you will too!