I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That used to be my mantra. It felt concordant with a common mindset—one in which we see burning the candle at both ends as a sign of determination and unwavering focus. We celebrate folks who work around the clock to get things done, and we overlook the fact that perhaps they have neglected their families, health, and mental well-being to do so. But I went from being that person, the one who would tattoo her workout posts with the hashtag #NoDaysOff (completely bypassing the rest necessary for my athletic lifestyle) to being the person who is in bed unapologetically by 9 PM. Here are the changes I'm implementing.
Even when I finally decided to prioritize sleep, bedtime wasn't easy
Though I finally realized that adequate rest was imperative, and managed to get in bed by 9 PM, sleep didn’t meet me there. Night after night, I diligently climbed into bed, but either stared at the ceiling wishing for sleep to visit, or I stared at my television with empty eyes as yet another crime show eventually lulled me to sleep. Either way, there was always a considerable difference between the time I went to bed and the time I went to sleep. Sometimes I'd fall asleep as early as 11 PM, but other nights it was 2 AM. On any given night, I could have gotten anywhere between three to eight hours of sleep. And I found out the hard way that this level of volatility was not sustainable, particularly when training full-time.
Truthfully, at first, I hadn't considered that there was much I could do to change this. It had never occurred to me that sleep was something one could work at, particularly at non-bedtime hours. Sure, I was aware (as I think most people are) that my sleep could be improved, but it had never really hit home that I could prepare my brain and body for better sleep well before my head hit the pillow.
I knew I could make changes to my nighttime habits to improve sleep
I start every day with yoga and meditation, but oddly it never occurred to me to end my day with them, too. I had often done Yin yoga (a type of yoga practice that focuses on deep breathing and long holds) in the early evening as a way to calm my central nervous system after a tough day on the track or in the gym. And although this practice left me more relaxed in the few hours after my practice, I was doing a lot of things in my evenings that ramped me back up again before bed, mitigating the potential sleep benefits from my session.
Honestly, I was also practicing poor screen hygiene. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, especially lately, as I try to finish my book. I ultimately spend much more time getting blue light from screens than I do natural light from the sun. I often use my bed as a home office (tip: don’t do this!) and love to fall asleep with the television on. My mind often races at night, but the sound of the television—particularly if it's something familiar and comforting—can drown it out to the point that I can finally fall asleep. But all blue light is created equally, right?
Ultimately, I realized that these nighttime habits were sabotaging my chances of a good night's sleep. Blue light wreaks havoc on the body's circadian rhythm, and my evening routine was offsetting the potential sleep-inducing benefits of my early evening Yin yoga practice. I knew I had the tools to make a change.
My InsideTracker results identified personalized and specific ways I could improve sleep
When I got my Inside Tracker blood test results and recommendations, I was relieved to learn there were more things I could do to set my body up for better sleep. First, I was recommended to take ashwagandha, an herbal supplement that can improve stress levels, therefore helping you fall asleep. Interestingly, I had taken ashwagandha regularly in the past, and it worked like a miracle drug once it was built up in my system. But, like I tend to do when things are going really well, I had stopped taking it. What a mistake!
But the recommendation from InsideTracker was the push I needed to begin again. I also learned from my blood test results that I was deficient in magnesium. Magnesium helps with recovery because it improves nerve and muscle function. And for an athlete like me, whose entire training program boils down to the manipulation of the central nervous system by loading and unloading it, magnesium is critical. I just had no idea.
I did know that I was suffering from restless leg syndrome. Although this was likely brought on by my severe anemia, being deficient in magnesium wasn’t doing me any favors here either, and this was affecting my sleep big time. So, I began taking ashwagandha to calm me down and help me unwind my nervous system before bedtime, magnesium to improve muscle recovery, and iron to address the anemia that was wreaking havoc on my body in a myriad of ways.
Using the InsideTracker app, I'm starting a new bedtime routine
I had a great starting point for improving my sleep. I had a plan to change certain nighttime habits, the confidence to start taking supplements that were appropriate for my body, and the will to do what I knew I needed. The next step was to sew these into a cohesive action plan, and implement it. The InsideTracker app helped me create a schedule for addressing all of my recommendations into one plan. Once it was complete, I realized what I had created: a new bedtime ritual. And I love a good ritual.
I suppose that my bedtime ritual starts with dinner, which I try to eat before 7 PM—I tend to sleep better when I eat earlier. I've learned, however, that the research has shown the impact of meal time on sleep quality really boils down to individual differences. Some of us can go to sleep (and stay asleep) right after a big meal, while some of us (me) stare at the ceiling, extremely uncomfortable for having done so.
My new bedtime routine continues about two hours before my desired bedtime—around 7 or 7:30 PM, right after dinner. I wrap up whatever I’m working on and shut down the computers and screens. I use "downtime" on my iPhone (a setting that limits the availability of apps) to help me with this too. Depending on how stimulated I am from the day, this is also a good time to take my bedtime supplements (the trio I mentioned above), wash my face, brush my teeth, and run a bath for a salt soak. I like to read in the tub, unless I’m really tired—I’ve lost a few books to drowning by dropping them in the water. And yes, I stick to good old-fashioned books over e-readers to mitigate my blue light exposure. I’ll also use softer/warmer light (like a dimmer) in the room for a more relaxing, spa-like experience.
After the soak, because my muscles are warm, I’ll do a short Yin sequence (as a registered yoga teacher, it’s easier for me to create sequences on the fly than it used to be), followed by meditation or yoga Nidra, a type of guided yogic sleep meditation. Doing this closer to my actual bed time minimizes the chances that I'll get amped back up before bedtime.
I'm challenging myself to stick to my new routine
That should do it. I’m committing to this new ritual for 30 days can provide an update once I'm further along. Gone are the days of skipping out on rest. It takes a lot to be a badass, and it starts the second you wake up in the morning. With a good night's sleep, I'm not wasting a moment.
Tianna BartolettaTianna Bartoletta is a 2x Olympian with 3 Gold medals. She's the reigning long jump Olympic champion and is currently training to make the Tokyo Olympic Team. She's a yogi, meditator, and writer.