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Last year, the New York Times called sleep the “new status symbol.” I’m not sure I accept the idea of a good night’s rest as a status symbol—although I suppose the resulting glowing skin, high-functioning metabolism, and sharp mind may raise one’s standing. But done right, sleep is certainly the ultimate luxury.
I’m not referring to the kind of sleep that’s an efficiency-enhancing bio-hack—though if that’s your thing, you must not miss Akshat Rathi’s story about his Buckminster Fuller-inspired year of living on 4.5 hours of sleep per day. Nor am I talking about late-capitalism-style power-napping in a portable pod at your desk. No, I mean the sort of heavy slumber that takes place in an inky black room and envelops you in dreams that linger even after you climb out of bed, refreshed. Like vacation sleep, but at home.
Last week, I was lamentably short on it—the result of late-night wedding planning combined with early-morning meetings with colleagues across time-zones. By Saturday evening, I was an inconsolable mess. I knew I was exhausted, and worse, I was beating myself up about it.
No wonder: “Poor sleep,” the Times had warned me, “will make you fat and sad, and then will kill you.”
It did not kill me. After a few nights of catch-up, I made a comeback. My previously terror-inducing to-do list seemed somewhat manageable. I looked less haggard. And I liked other people more.
Here are some tips for getting the kind of sleep that makes everything feel a little bit better. Luxury sleep. Aspirational sleep. Status symbol sleep.
On the best nights, I take a hot bath before bed. I’m partial to lavender oil and epsom salts because I’m basically always ache-y. I also recently received a gift of Goop bath soak that smells of sandalwood and, as Sara Wilson wrote for Quartz, “as if the well-tended rose garden of a chic English countess exploded” in my tub. A few drops of CBD oil under the tongue help me unwind too.
Do I have to say this? Your smartphone’s blue light throws off your circadian rhythm and exposes you to the possibility of getting sucked into work emails or your ex’s Instagram. (If you like to keep it in the bedroom in case of emergencies, at least stash it in a drawer.) As sleep scientist Daniel Gartenberg told Quartz, “We need stimulus control: You want to save the bedroom for sleep and sex.”
I like snuggling up with an old-fashioned book or magazine in the warm glow of a bedside lamp. (Did you read the Alex Katz profile in The New Yorker? Perfect bedtime reading.)
I’ve gotten into the habit of creating something of a sensory deprivation zone in the bedroom, blocking out light with a blackout curtain and sound with this little Stormtrooper-ish white noise machine—and sometimes squishy earplugs, depending on the circumstances.
I don’t remember much of Richard Linklater’s 2001 animated film Waking Life, but I do remember this: If you suspect that you’re dreaming, try to turn on a light switch or a lamp in your dream. It probably won’t work, which is a tip-off that you’re dreaming. That awareness is the first step to lucid dreaming, and being able to control where you go and what you do in your dreams.
My yard-sale clock radio was a total game-changer. It keeps my phone out of the bedroom and wakes me up with an old-school hip-hop and R&B station that makes it almost impossible to be in a bad mood. Last week I was singing Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s “Joy and Pain” while still under the covers.
You know what comes after “Joy and Pain” in that song? Sunshine and rain—which are useful things to expose yourself to in the morning. (Sun more so than rain.) Sunlight is an environmental cue that helps raise your energy levels. If I don’t have time for a real morning workout, I’ll do a few minutes of jumping jacks, planks, and squats outside before I hit the showers.
As Quartz’s Lila MacLellan has written, you’re probably at your most creative around the same time everyday, thanks to what’s known as your chronotype. Your chronotype determines whether you’re a morning person (a lark), a night owl, or something in-between, cheekily dubbed a “third bird.”
The New York Times Alex Williams’ wrote last week about how maligned he has felt for being a night owl, in a workplace that’s traditionally a lark’s world. Both writers endorse working with one’s natural inclination rather than fighting it, even if that means asking for a meeting to take place a little later.
Don’t beat yourself up! A recent study published in the journal Behaviour Change and cited by The Cut says, logically, that the panicky circular thoughts about how screwed you’ll be by sleep deprivation makes it harder to fall asleep.
“Instead,” writes Cari Romm, “tell yourself that it’s okay not to. And it really is okay! Yes, sleep is necessary for human survival and all that, but think shorter-term: You’re not going to fall down dead tomorrow from sleep deprivation … Maybe, when you’re still watching the clock in the wee hours of the morning, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is take the pressure off.”
When I was a kid and couldn’t sleep my older sister gave me an old Cat Stevens tape to pop into my boombox and calm me down. Today, Annaliese Griffin turns to a similar strategy, but uses—wait for it—the tape deck of her mind.
A friend of hers once shared a trick from a therapist who advised making a mixtape of mentally calming ideas to pop in and press “play” when you need to slow a racing mind. Annaliese’s current mental mixtape includes imagining how she’d remodel her bathroom. Mine has the steps of making chocolate chip cookies—the butter is always pre-softened.
Take it easy, and have a great weekend!