by Elizibeth Rushe: “You’re up early,” my friend grumbled from deep under the covers on the other side of our yurt…
when we were camping along the blustery south coast of Ireland last month. I think that’s the first time someone ever said that to me.
Apparently, as a baby, I loved to sleep, but as I got older, I developed bad sleeping habits, listening gleefully to late night phone-in radio shows as a shy child in the Dublin suburbs. By the time I was 12, I probably trained myself to be an insomniac. When the internet arrived in 1998, I basically transferred my nocturnal hobby to indie music message boards.
So, I’ve never been a particularly early riser either, but recently I’ve improved my sleep quality with different tips I’ve gathered over the years. They don’t require setting the alarm clock earlier or forcing myself to go to bed earlier. They are simple adjustments to my sleep routine that have brought on noticeable changes.
I don’t miss whole nights of sleep as often as I used to, and getting up has finally become easier.
The sleep advice that made a big impact on me
Last year, I heard sleep expert Mathew Walker say, in an interview on Fresh Air, to not let your brain associate lying in bed with being awake.
You’ve probably heard the suggestion to get up and do something boring to make yourself tired enough if you’re having problems sleeping. The reason behind this is so your brain doesn’t connect lying in bed with being awake.
For me, that meant no more eating, watching my stories, or scrolling for hours in bed. No more Great British Bake Off, Succession, or The Good Fight in bed. Believe me, as a Taurus this goes against my innate longing to lounge and snack in the coziest of circumstances, but for the sake of having my brain only connect my bed with sleep, I did it.
I’ve also found 4-7-8 breathing to be a great help
At the end of the day, especially if my mind is racing or I feel anxious when I’m trying to fall asleep, I breath in through my nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and breath out of my mouth for 8. I was astonished when I first tried it and am still in wonder at the effect this has on my sleep.
Once I’m in bed, all cozy and tucked in, in my favorite sleep pose (arm thrown above my head, my right foot resting flat against my left knee) I start the 4-7-8 breaths. It usually knocks me out after 2 or 3 reps. I don’t think I’ve ever made it to a fourth count. The technique has become popularized in recent years, but is of course based on a yogic method of breathing.
The free version of the app records you at different points during the night (creepy!), so in the morning you can listen back to your snoring highlights (fun!). You see how many hours of sleep you got and there’s even a handy wave chart showing you when your snoring is quiet, light, loud, or epic.
The app also lets you track how different factors might contribute to snoring, like alcohol, eating late, having a bath, or exercising.
I come from a long line of snorers, and worry that snoring affects my sleep quality because sometimes I wake up groggy and not feeling refreshed even after a full night’s sleep. I’ve also received comments about my snoring from others so I’m concerned about how it might affect a partner or friend who stays over, and I wanted to find out for myself.
According to the app, dairy and alcohol seemed to increase the likelihood of a snoring session for me, so I am now trying to avoid them.
When I searched “Snorelab” on Twitter, I found people sharing all sorts of snoring results, including bringing the data to their doctor to help get a diagnosis.
Try it even if you don’t snore, because it’s an eerie thrill to hear what you sound like when you’re asleep.
And, regretfully for me and my dog Pip…
I also found it helps if I stop letting her up onto my bed at night. At first, I wanted to see if this would improve my allergies, especially at certain times of the year, because of course fur catches pollen and dust. My allergies improved at night, which meant less blocked nose, easier breathing, better sleep, and a sad Pip.
I don’t have all the answers but I’m definitely sleeping a lot better than I used to. And, these days, I can still get my late night radio nostalgia from listening to podcasts (just not in bed).