Welcome to Sleep Diaries, where interesting people share a week’s worth of late-night habits. They’ll tell you, the reader, how they wrap up their day, how they get to sleep, stay asleep or fall back asleep, and how they feel when they wake up in the morning. Why? Because sleep is America’s Most Wanted thing. We chase after it like an elusive elixir that'll make us look younger and feel less stressed. (Maybe because it will.) We thought by getting people to share what works for them—and doesn’t—it might help you find better ZZZs. Or at least give you something entertaining to read. This week we have Celeste Headlee, professional speaker and author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter.
Sunday: No Screens After 9 P.M.
For the past year, I’ve been working hard to try and get to bed by 10 p.m. That’s partly because my body wakes up every morning between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m., and I need 7 to 8 hours of rest. So, 10 p.m. is the magic time when I need to get under the covers.
I have a fairly constant routine: I try to stop looking at screens of any kind by 9 p.m. at the latest. If I’m not feeling tired, I’ll have a hot bath or find some other way to relax my mind. Tonight, I chose to do a 15-minute meditation designed to prepare my body for sleep. I set my phone down on the counter in the bathroom so that it wouldn’t distract me and I curled up with a nightlight and book. I was asleep by 10:30 p.m. and slept comfortably until I woke up at 5:45 a.m ... to my dog’s nose three inches from my face. She was clearly ready to be fed and take a walk, but I made her wait while I read in bed until 6 a.m. I felt energized and alert and hopped out of bed to start the day.
Monday: Lay Everything Out for the Next Day
Today was a busy day, during which I had to travel from Pittsburgh to Virginia to deliver a keynote address. So at 9 p.m., I laid out my clothing, shoes, and jewelry for the speech, looked over the transcript and printed it, and made sure everything was ready for the next day. As I do every night, I scrubbed my face and brushed my teeth and put on moisturizing socks (my feet get pretty dry in the summer). My son was downstairs playing video games (he’s 20 and a night owl), and I had to remind him to keep his voice down so I could get to sleep.
My dog had a busy day and she was staring at me impatiently from the bed. Nevertheless, I took a hot bath and allowed my skin to air dry while I laid down, as I find this helps me relax. Then I read for about 15 minutes before dropping off.
I woke at 4 a.m. when my dog decided she wanted to be under the covers and was pawing at me, but I was able to fall back asleep until 5:30 a.m. Once again, I read my novel for 15 minutes and then got up and got dressed.
I am very careful not to look at my phone as soon as I wake up. I generally leave it in another room and purposely leave it untouched while I go about my morning routine. I wasn’t quite as energetic this morning as I was yesterday, but I felt comfortable and alert as I fed the dog and then took her for a walk. Coffee comes after a lengthy walk and it is always welcome.
Tuesday: Meditate for 15 Minutes
Generally, I get between 11,000 and 13,000 steps every day. But because I was traveling in a car and then giving a speech from a podium for several hours, I had to walk for longer than usual in the evening. When 9 p.m. rolled around, I was still a little amped up from exercise, so it took longer to get to sleep than usual. I meditated for 15 minutes, but didn’t fall asleep until nearly 11 p.m.
Got up at 6 a.m. to an overly cheerful dog’s face and this time I rolled right out of bed. I knew I had a packed schedule on Wednesday, so there was no time to waste. I often try to follow a relaxed routine the in mornings, but I was driven from the moment my feet hit the rug. Still made time to walk the dog, though, and this time chose to leave my phone at home and simply take in the sights and smells and sounds of my neighborhood.
Wednesday: Take a 30-Second Shower to Cool Down
Today was busy with a capital B. I had appointments nearly back-to-back from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., and had to squeeze in the day’s work in between interviews and conference calls and visits from various contractors. (I just bought my house in April and have been preoccupied with repairs and improvements since then.)
Suffice it to say, I was ready for bed when the sun set at 8:30 p.m. or so. I had to be at the radio station the next morning, so I made sure to set out my clothing and pack my backpack with everything I would need.
It was hot, so I took a 30-second shower and let the water evaporate from my skin, then got into light PJs and meditated for 10 minutes on relaxing muscles. Didn’t need to read a novel tonight. Once my head hit the pillow and my eyes closed, I was already halfway to unconsciousness. I think I feel asleep by 9:50 p.m. or so. Certainly, I was in dreamland before the clock struck 10. Luckily, my dog and son were as tired as I was and I slept straight through until 5:30 a.m.
Thursday: Some Netflix Documentaries Are Worth a Late Night
I sort of make my bed every day, though I don’t do a very neat job of it. I simply make sure the covers are straight and the comforter is pulled up and over the pillows. That simple task seems to create a good, productive launching pad for the rest of the day. It was already in the 80s by 6 a.m., so I put on the lightest t-shirt and shorts that I owned and took the dog for an extended walk to stretch out my muscles.
I had coffee when I got home (I use a stovetop espresso maker and enjoy the ritual of making good coffee almost as much as I enjoy drinking it) and got dressed. I took the Metro so I could read more about Sudan, Iran, and the runner Caster Semenya, as I was hosting NPR’s “1A” and wanted to make sure I’d read the most recent reports on the subjects we were covering that day.
I knew Friday was going to be another early morning, but I didn’t do the smart thing and go to bed on time. Instead, my son and I watched a documentary about Fred Rogers on Amazon and then a few too many episodes of “Norsemen” on Netflix. I didn’t get to bed until 11 p.m. and didn’t fall asleep until 11:30 p.m. I was still a little tired when I woke up at 6 a.m. My dog was unimpressed with my slow pace, but I got her fed and got dressed.
Friday: First Lasik, Then Tylenol PM
I had Lasik surgery this morning and I was the first scheduled patient, so I dragged my son out the door (he was driving me home after the procedure) and made it to the clinic by 7:30 a.m. I was still a little tired.
After my procedure, the nurse gave me Tylenol PM to help me sleep, as they want you to take a 4- to 6-hour nap after surgery. I had no trouble dozing off and slept from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I remained a little foggy for the rest of the day and went to bed early at 9 p.m. No meditation necessary. I dropped right off and slept straight through the night until 5 a.m. on Saturday. That was surprising to me, honestly, as Lasik patients are required to sleep in dark, wrap-around sunglasses for a couple nights. It’s not very comfortable, but didn’t seem to hinder my rest.
Saturday: Make a Cup of "Golden Milk"
I woke up feeling good and rested. No slow start. Just hopped out of bed to find an excited dog already waiting in the hall, wagging cheerfully (my grandfather would have said she has an “educated tail”). I made the bed and took her for an unusually long walk. Still wearing the wrap-around shades and looking ridiculous, but feeling pretty good.
I am wiped out tonight! It’s been an unusually busy and productive day, but my eye is healing and I’m not supposed to be spending a lot of time outdoors in the heat. I waited until the sun had nearly set to take the dog for her long walk and didn’t return until nearly 9 p.m. Now, I’m in the odd position of being tired but also restless because of the adrenaline coursing through my system. It will take a little doing to get to sleep on time.
I made some golden milk with ginger, turmeric, and pepper mixed with almond milk and heated on the stove. Then, I meditated for 15 minutes, imagining all parts of my body switching off and going to sleep. And by the time I was washed and tucked into bed, it only took five or 10 minutes to drift off. I can remember struggling with severe insomnia during my years in college and nearly weeping with frustration when I looked at the clock and saw that it was 3 a.m. and I was no closer to sleep. Over the years, I’ve learned what my body needs and what it responds to, and I can generally get to sleep fairly easily.
Sunday: Sleeping in a Hotel Means More Meditating
I traveled to Philly by train today, so I’m sleeping in a hotel. I have to wake up at 5 a.m. tomorrow in order to do an interview for the BBC about the situation in Iran. That means, I need to get to sleep before 10 p.m., if possible. However, I’m the managing editor for an NPR training project this week (that’s why I’m in Philly), and so I had dinner with a large, loud group that lasted until nearly 9 p.m. By the time the dinner ends, I’m energized and restless, not in the right frame of mind for sleep.
I can’t make myself any golden milk or take a hot bath in this hotel room. With limited options, I decide to do a longer meditation and take a hot shower. Even so, I ended up reading for nearly 20 minutes before I dropped off. Still, my eyes drifted close before 10 p.m., so I count that as success. I was awake by 5 a.m. and felt clear-headed and ready when the call came from the BBC at 5:30 a.m. In truth, I felt pretty terrific. I went to the gym at 6 a.m. and was ready to start my day by 7. Generally, I don’t drink any coffee or black tea until 8 a.m. or so, mostly because I want to be naturally alert instead of relying on caffeine boost. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me.
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