As long as I can remember, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that sleep was the key to a healthy life (and weight).  Lately I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of stuff that seems to proving my instincts right.

The problem with my sleep worship was that it mostly revolved around sleeping in.  When I had my corporate job, I’d purposely go in late because I knew I didn’t get enough sleep.  I’d stroll in around 10 am without much guilt and openly decree I was late because I overslept. People would look at me in amazement and wonder how I could get away with being so “belligerent.”

It wasn’t about “giving it to the man,” (though that was my mindset at the time and now realize it was more about my ego than the man, but that’s a topic for another day), it wasn’t about late-night clubbing – it was about screwing around, usually in my bed with podcasts, web surfing or movies.

The first year of my Ironman training was laced with sleepless nights and 5 am wake up calls for swim or bike training.  Much of the time I was a zombie scrambling for the nearest cave. Hell, I only slept 3 sketchy hours before Ironman Wisconsin that year.  In the last couple weeks I’ve finally gotten serious about getting into my bed to sleep.

I knew what to do, but the turning point and motivation came from Daniel Vitalis on the James Swanwick podcast.  Daniel’s philosophy is based on pursuing the purest forms of the basic elements of life:  food, water, air, and light.

It was the “air and light” parts that changed the way I thought about sleep.  So, I decided to take these 5 steps to become a better sleeper.

Get Rid of Dust –  My dog is the sweetest person I know, but I was sort of oblivious to her shedding.  Step one of air cleaning was to get rid of the dust and dander that was recycling through my room and lungs.  I was astonished by the amount of pet hair under my bed.  I deep cleaned the floors, walls, and beat out the mattress.  I took out a skanky rug and for now have left just the hardwood floor.

Breathe Cleaner Air – I went to Home Depot and picked up a $65 air purifier.  Not only does it suck random particles from the air, it sounds a little like an old-school window air conditioner, which is nice.  I’ve been keeping the door shut during the day and it’s amazing how fresh and clean the room feels when I go in there at night to SLEEP.

De-Screen  –  Watching TV in bed is like an American right, but I needed drastic measures. Not only is TV a ridiculous temptation, it is a stimulant and there’s a lot of research about WiFi being bad news.  So, TV, Apple TV, and cable box, all gone.

I also got rid of my alarm clock (which might not be so easy for someone who has an actual job) with the goal of eventually going to sleep at an hour that allows me to wake up early enough for anything.

I’ve also made a new rule that goes something like this:  My cell phone is banned from my bedroom at all times.  Even during the day, when it would be easy to kick back on the bed with my phone, limp around Facebook and fall into a nap with WiFi polluting my brain.

This was the hard part, but there are literally two electronic devices left in my room:  a lamp and the air purifier.

Black Out –  It starts with dark curtains, but includes tiny “on buttons” of electronics, LED alarm clocks, cell phones, etc.  It’s amazing how much light those little devices put out when your room is truly dark, and they can definitely affect your sleep.  I haven’t gone to those sleeping masks yet, but I’m definitely considering.

Oxygenate – The last thing I did was add a big plant in the corner of the room.  I don’t know the science, but here’s a link to a NASA graph of the best air quality plants.  I’m not sure my plant is on but I’m learning and pretty sure my room will soon be a jungle.

Aside from those things, I’ve also de-cluttered entirely.  The only thing left on my floor (other than the plant and air purifier) is a yoga matt and meditation pillow.  It’s amazing how easy it is to drop into a pose and sit in meditation at night when there isn’t dirty laundry or gym bags or bike tires and TVs around.

Like Ironman training, this is a work in progress, but I can definitely say I’ve had some really nice uninterrupted sleeps in the last week or so.  I’ve been falling asleep around midnight and naturally waking up around 8-9 o’clock.  I honestly think my lifestyle has saddled me with a deep-seeded exhaustion of sorts and am excited about restoring my joints, muscles, and brain.

I’ve also been exploring general hydration and feel like I’m making some nice discoveries there as well.  I’ll get into that, along with an update on the book I’m writing about my journey from the couch to sub-12 Ironman, in my next post.


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5 Steps to Sleep Training