Mindfulness Hack #13: Sleep Your Way to the Top

January 30, 2019

Arianna Huffington, in her commencement address to hundreds of female graduates from Smith College in 2013, stunned the audience when she talked about the importance of sleeping your way to the top.

After the initial shock of her statement, the realization hit that she was quiet literally talking about sleeping. Sleep is so undervalued in our society where “push hard” and “go, go, go!” is a priority. But what is the best cure for the common cold and the flu? Sleep. Rest. Repeat. Why? Because our bodies need it. And we don’t get enough of it. When we do nothing but push hard, we are constantly breaking down our immune system, our brain functionality, and our body’s ability to repair itself after stress. Instead, we encourage the development of disease, illness and disfunction.

When we don’t get enough sleep or give our selves a chance to recoup, we can seriously injure ourselves or the people around us. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, let me tell you a little story about how serious this is…

I was pregnant with my first girl. Super pregnant, actually. It was the day before my due date and we were finishing up a few things in her baby bedroom. I should have been chillin’ but instead I was determined to get everything done. Just had a few more things to hang. My mom lives next door and I needed to grab a hammer or some nails or something. From my driveway, I can pass through a black chainlink gate, walk down a few wooden steps, and take the path toward the back of her house. I was exhausted. I had had a terrible pregnancy - I was a sort of grey-green color, sick from day one to the very end -  and should have been sitting on the couch reading, or watching bad TV, or just breathing. But no. I’m stubborn and think I’m invincible so I headed through the gate with my sister. Took the two steps down from the gate, placed one foot on the first stepping stone, took a bad step with my other foot, and went crashing down. Landed on my side thankfully, my sister kneeling next to me, screaming for help. I could not move and knew something was very, very wrong. An intense calm washed over me in that moment. I had pushed it too far and in that instance I had been humbled. I did not listen to that intuitive voice just moments before, telling me to f*cking relax already. I responded with “just this last thing and then I’ll sit down.” But my body revolted and made me stop dead in my tracks.

And now I had a choice - feed into the chaos or find the peace within in it.

When we got to the hospital and I was laying on the gurney, I stared at my leg in disbelief and awe. It looked like my left foot was on backwards - like my right foot had been on my left. Turns out I broke my ankle in a multitude of places. We had to wait a few days for the swelling to go down before they could do surgery and turn me into the bionic mom-to-be. A plate, a bunch of screws, two pins, a bright pink cast, and a horrible morphine come-down later, I was wheeled out of the hospital with baby still on board. Didn’t last long though. I was home for about 7 hours before I was rushed back to the hospital for delivery. Delivering a baby with a cast on meant I could not do any of my natural birthing practices. Having a newborn with a cast and crutches meant I could not walk and carry my baby at the same time. I needed help with every little thing and felt completely incapacitated - NOT the way any new parent wants to welcome their newborn into the world.

We can choose to listen to the clues our body gives us…or not; we can choose to be proactive and make rest a part of a daily routine…or not. Either way, our body will ultimately get what it needs. If you suffer from anxiety, chronic illness, depression, overachievers syndrome, perfectionism, or any other ailment - what would happen if you started to set aside time to calm down and find some inner peace? What would happen if you dedicated 10 minutes a day - even 5 minutes a day - to doing nothing but BEING?

Try This:

If you know you’ve got some crazy madness coming up, build in some time before and/or after for you to do nothing but sleep and relax. For example, I knew the first 6 months of 2019 were going to be full speed ahead. Between activities for my girls, my full time job, my side hustle, my 2.5 hour commute, my big plans for VIBE and all it takes to get that into motion, and every other thing…I took the time to mentally prepare myself for what was ahead. So the few days before and after the New Year, while my two girls were riding dunes in the desert with the grandparents, I did a whole lot of rejuvenating. I slept a lot. I curled up with some good books by the fire, hung out with my doggies, meditated for hours every day, caught up with some serious couch time (aka Game of Thrones) and gave my body the chance to fill up on reserve energy. Now, a month into the new year, whenever I feel like I’d rather be sleeping than anything else, I take myself back to those 5 days and I feel a sense of calm and relaxation wash over me. I knew a month ago that I would need it now, in this moment, when the world around me seems to be spinning at a thousand miles a hour. I can tap into that reserve energy and it pulls me through.

For My Educators:

I have two things to say to my educators, one in reference to YOUR self care, and one in reference to your students self care.

First, you.

How much work do you bring home every day, over weekends, and over breaks? If you’re anything like me, you basically pack up your entire classroom or office and convince yourself that you'll get a ton of work done. Never happens though, does it?

After years and years of this useless ritual, I finally decided NOT to bring home my work and leave my guilt in the classroom. Instead of feeling crappy about the work I’m not doing, I focused on my time with my family and on resting. Being “on” for 90-120 middle schoolers every day takes a lot out of you. Take time to let go of the grind, the pressure, and the stress - and be human! Decompress and leave your work at work. Trust me, your family - even the furry ones - will thank you for it! And so will your students.

Second, your students.

We’ve all had student fall asleep in our classes. Instead of assuming its cuz your teaching is boring, maybe find out why they’re so tired all the time. When I’ve stopped to talk to them about why they’re so tired, I’ve learned some pretty intense things about their circumstances: their window faces the street and there’s gunshots almost every night so they sleep on the floor to avoid getting accidentally shot; they have to drive their mom to work at 4am every morning before they come to school; their parents are fighting and sometimes its physical; their work shift ends at midnight; the list goes on. So, first find out what’s going on. Then ask what you can do to support them through this. And please be sure to follow through.

Game Changers:

You gotta watch Arianna Huffington’s speech and hear her talk about the importance of sleep. Its hilarious and heartwarming and a history lesson - all wrapped up in one!

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