The Koala Bear Experiment
Mastering the Art of Sleep After 50
“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.”
JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom
One in five adults fails to get enough sleep. That’s a big problem, especially when you consider that we spend a third of our lives sleeping (or trying to sleep). Koala Bears, on the other hand, sleep 22 hours a day, which is why they are the official role model for this much-needed experiment.
If we want to turn aging into art, we must begin by mastering the challenges in our lives. This starts with a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, most of us spend more time figuring out what’s for dinner than we do figuring out how to improve the quality of our sleep. But, that all ends today.
Put on your pajamas folks. It’s time to master the art of sleep after 50.
A word to the highly educated: We know there are all kinds of scientific studies on how sleep changes when we get older; information that might make you think there’s nothing you can do to change your sleep. And maybe the studies are right. But, maybe they’re not. Not everything is black and white.
There is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis when it comes to our sleep challenges, and the moment we say there is, we risk blindly accepting a “new normal” in our lives, and you know from last week’s post, The New Normal, how dangerous that can be. (You can read it here).
And, besides, even if all the scientific studies were right, or even if you had Koala Bear-like sleeping skills, you’d still benefit from every experiment on the list.
Okay, before we put you to sleep, here are 15 mini sleep experiments for you to immediately put into action. Begin by trying one or two suggestions each night. Keep adding until you get your desired sleep results. Your success is not about doing one or two things. It's about combining elements (like a tinkering scientist) until you get the results you desire.
While not technically an experiment, this is the attitude upon which we should approach all experiments. The art of mastering sleep—like age—begins with the ability to look at what is not working in our lives, and then having the open-mindedness to find answers everywhere and the courage to do the work it takes to change. Remember, we’re not just mastering sleep, we’re mastering life.
#2 Turn off your mind and stop working.
You may think you’re productive when you try to squeeze in an extra hour or two of work at night, but all you’re doing is keeping your mind working overtime. This makes it much harder to turn off the brain when you’re finally ready to sleep. Want an edge? Be more rested and recharged. You’ll also be more creative and enjoyable to be around.
#3 Put down your electronic devices 2-3 hours before bed (see #2).
That means cell phones, iPads, and computer screens. Keep the pacemakers on. And while you’re at it, try cutting out TV an hour before bed. All those machines emit blue light and blue light screws with your melatonin which keeps you awake. If you must use your devices, at least use blue-blocking glasses which cuts out the melatonin destroying light. You’ll look like Bono, or a welder, but they work. You can find out about blue blocking glasses in next week’s BuzzWorthy Picks of the week. Spoiler alert, we like these expensive ones, available here on Amazon. Next week we’ll show you some cheaper options.
#4 Reduce and/or cut out caffeine.
You knew it was coming, right? Don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You can take baby steps. Try alternating between coffee and green tea, or coffee and decaf. And, most importantly, cut coffee no later than 1:00 p.m. (at least know your own cut-off time). If that doesn’t work, you might think about cutting out caffeine entirely, in which case, see #1 and stop whining.
#5 Eat light and eat early.
It’s easy to poke fun at the cliché of the early-bird dining habit—the 4:30 meal, split in half, with enough leftovers to last the week. Yes, I’m talking to you, Mom. But, instead of smirking, we should be thanking these Oxygen Blazers for their wisdom. It’s the way we should all eat. And since we’ll eventually get there, we might as well start now. Eat light. Eat early. Split meals. At the very least, try altering your meals so that dinner is your smallest meal of the day, and have it completed at least 3 hours before going to sleep. Bonus: you’ll probably get lighter too.
#6 Reduce/cut sugar in the evening.
Sugar wreaks havoc on your adrenal glands which is a major reason people see that 3:00 a.m. on their clock. So, if you can (and you can), cut your sugar intake after 6:00 p.m. And don’t think of it as depriving yourself. Think of it as treating yourself to a wonderful night’s sleep. Go ahead, reach for the apple. It won’t bite.
#7 Stop drinking alcohol 2-3 hours before bed.
#8 Take a bath before bed.
Here is a fun fact for your next party: That sleepy feeling you’re supposed to get each night? It typically happens as your body temperature drops, which makes you drowsy. That’s why a good warm bath before bed is so effective. It raises your temperature, and then the subsequent drop helps you sleep. The key is to take the bath 60-90 minutes before bed. And while you’re at it, turn that bath into a ritual that includes candles, bath salts, and soft music. A bath is a clear message to your mind and body that it’s time to rejuvenate.
#9 Read before bed. Become a student of your sleep.
Reading is the true penicillin for a good night’s sleep. It expands your world, relaxes your mind, and enlightens your way to sleep. If you find it hard to read, start with small doses and work your way up. The key is to make it a ritual…and something you look forward to. Find the right book.
Bill’s current bedtime book: The Gift of Imperfection, by René Brown
Sandi’s current bedtime book: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
And while you’re at it, find books that help you become a master of your own sleep. You can start with The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, or Dreamland by David K. Randall. Open your minds to new thoughts, and you’ll find new doors to achieving better sleep.
#10 Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary.
You can start by picking up your dirty socks and underwear. You can then make your room as dark as possible, and more cool than warm. Turn off all electronics. That means No Wifi. And if you’re really bold, toss the TV out of the room. Also, get rid of your pets. They’ll still love you. Your bedroom should be a clean and worry-free zone.
#11 Use aromatherapy.
We can’t tell you how important aromatherapy plays in creating a balanced and healthy environment, and in this case—the perfect mood to help you fall asleep. You can start by buying an aromatic diffuser for your bedroom. We’ll have several choices in next week’s BuzzWorthy Picks, which we have devoted to sleep. Or you can just head over to Amazon and buy this one. And if you’re looking for the perfect oil to help with your slumber, look no further than lavender. You could also try Roman Chamomile, Sandalwood, Marjoram, or Ylang Ylang, the latter of which also has aphrodisiac properties, which leads you down a whole other road to relaxing. Happy experimenting.
#12 Try a soothing sound machine.
Whether it’s white noise or pink noise, oceans or rivers, birds or crickets, the whole purpose of a sound machine is to decrease distraction by covering up noises that keep us awake. Think of a mother “sssshhing” her baby to sleep. Of course, if you’re one of 37 million people who is kept awake by tinnitus (ringing in the ears) you probably already know about sound machines. You can either use one of the many smartphone apps or a standalone unit. The standalone unit costs a bit more but eliminates phones in the bedroom. Check out our reviews next week.
#13 Put on some music with your new sleep headband.
If you don’t like the idea of a river flowing through your bedroom, try some soothing music instead. 10-20 minutes is plenty. If you have a partner who doesn’t want to hear music (or crickets for that matter) get yourself a sleep headband from www.sleepphones.com. This luxuriously soft headband contains thin removable speakers to play any music, audiobooks, meditation, or white noise. They’re extremely comfortable, and even work for side sleepers. They also have Bluetooth available, although we haven’t tried those.
#14 Meditate before bed.
We could speak volumes about meditation as a key to artful aging. For now, struggling sleepers take note: meditation lowers your blood pressure and heart rate and also increases your level of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. And if that’s not enough for you, meditation can also guide you gently down a pathway to peace, awareness, and enlightenment. Sleep on that!
#15 Go to bed grateful: Start a gratitude practice.
Outside of meditation the fastest way to guarantee a good night’s sleep is to fall on the pillow with a grateful heart. It doesn’t always come easy. One of the biggest causes of insomnia isn’t age; it’s the hold that our anxiety has over us—worry, regret, fear, anger, sadness. They’re all jackhammers under the pillow.
Starting a gratitude practice as part of your pre-sleep ritual will help quiet these jackhammers. Simply put a journal on your nightstand and spend 10-15 peaceful minutes every night writing down what you’re thankful for. Aim for 5-10 things. And you’re not writing War and Peace. Make it simple. Be honest. Your gratitude journal will lower your stress levels while giving you a perspective of what is important in your life. It will also help you realize what you want to bring more of into your life.
In the words of Arianna Huffington, who literally wrote the book on sleep: “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”
More than that, gratitude keeps us in the present moment, which is all we will ever need to get a good night’s sleep.
Now, who’s ready for bed?