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What to Do When Falling Asleep Feels Like Hard Work

The missing key to a more productive morning routine after age 35.

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

It seems that every internet productivity guru claims that a solid morning routine will revolutionize how you live your life. I decided to give it a try when I started my freelance writing business at home. I thought doing so would help me create boundaries around work and personal time. I always started with the greatest of intentions. I said, “This coming Monday, I’m going to wake up at 5am!” I was going to use willpower to force my body into waking up earlier. And, sure enough, 5am Monday morning would come around and I’d peek out from under the covers. But shortly after, I would fall back asleep after a less than restful slumber. I couldn’t understand why I always felt like I was just getting to the deep sleep stage just as soon as the sun started to come up.  

I tried this Monday 5am #fail routine off and on for months until it was just embarrassing to even say it to myself anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to wake up at 5am. I’ve never been lazy or one to make excuses when it came to accomplishing my goals. The truth was that I was exhausted at 5am. It’s impossible to jumpstart your day with a powerful morning routine if you can’t even drag yourself out of bed. That’s when I had to ask the question… When did falling asleep start to feel like such a chore? 

Falling Asleep After 35 is More Work Than I Thought

Sleep had never really been a problem for me until around age 35. In my 20’s I prided myself on working a full time job, teaching and going to graduate school at night, then staying out well past midnight with friends — sometimes 2 or 3 days in a row. My rationale was that I was young and could catch up on sleep on the weekend.

When I got to my 30’s, I had the hardest time getting to sleep and staying asleep. The slightest bit of noise would disturb my slumber. After completing my master’s degree, I was working a 9to5 job in social work. My days were filled with adults who had serious life problems, coupled with long hours spent hunched over a computer. I rarely made time to get to the gym which meant that my body was a big ball of stress by the end of the day. And now it seems that at 41, getting my sleep routine together continues to be a work in progress.

The Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California at Berkeley published a study in 2017 on sleep trends stating that adults in their mid-30’s experience a decline in deep sleep. This trend gets progressively worse as we age. We can expect that by the age of 50, we will only be getting 50% of the deep sleep we got as teens. While sleep disturbances can happen to men as well as women, it seems that women tend to experience insomnia after interrupted sleep in the middle of the night more often than men.   

So what’s a girl to do when it’s 3am and you know your body desperately needs to fall asleep, but the bags under your eyes are telling you not a chance in hell? 

#1 Shut off all technological devices a minimum of 1 hour before bed.

As a full-time freelance writer who works from home, I find it difficult to detach from my technological devices. While I love my business, my attachment to technology has proven to be more unhealthy as I have gotten older. CNN reported in 2016 that American adults spent more than 10 hours per day staring at a computer screen — whether it was a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. And the trend is growing. 

If you want to improve your sleep, keep those screens out of the bedroom. That means shutting off the phone, the Kindle, and even the TV a minimum of one hour before bed. Try winding down with a warm shower and a good book (the old-fashioned kind). The National Sleep Foundation says that light from electronic devices promotes wakefulness. Photoreceptors in the retina can sense light and dark, sending a signal to your brain saying it’s time to wake up. What we want to do is retrain our body’s circadian rhythm so that we get darkness at night and light in the early morning. This tip, alone, has had a profound impact on my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. 

#2 Switch your workout routine to the early morning. 

Research the hashtag, #gymrats, on Instagram and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of posts from early morning risers who couldn’t wait to get their day started with a hardcore workout. However when you’re not so athletically inclined like me, workouts tend to wait until the end of the day when I could fit them in (if I did them at all). I figured a workout in the evening is better than no workout at all, right? What I didn’t understand was that not prioritizing my exercise for the morning hours was putting a damper on my ability to sleep.

Exercise helps to boost your energy, so it makes sense to do it earlier so that you’ll have more sustained energy throughout the day. Newsweek reported a 2011 study that states those who started their workout at 7am slept for longer periods of time when compared to those who exercised in the afternoon or evening. So if you’ve been saving your workouts for after work hours, here’s a perfectly good reason to move them to as early in the morning as possible. 

#3 Relax with essential oils.

The right essential oils can be powerful sleep aids. Essential oils are extracted from plant leaves, bark, and peel using steam or a mechanical press. Research studies suggest that essential oils can be a safe alternative to drugs for mild to moderate sleep problems.

Lavender is the most scientifically studied of all the essential oils for contributing to a good night’s sleep. One study found that lavender mixed with chamomile and neroli essential oils contributed to better sleep for heart patients in the intensive care unit.

Other essential oils that can help you get some rest include:

  • Bergamot
  • Vetiver
  • Ylang ylang
  • Sandalwood
  • Cedarwood

There are several ways that essential oils can be used to help you wind down after a long day. Try mixing a few drops of your favorite essential oil with a natural carrier oil like olive or coconut. Rub it directly on your skin after taking a warm, calming shower. You can place a drop or two on your pillowcase before bed. Purchase an oil diffuser and mix water with a few drops of essential oil and place it on your nightstand.

If you’ve been having trouble kickstarting your morning routine, then it may be connected to your lack of sleep the night before. Start paying attention to your sleep patterns and make note of them in a journal. Implement these suggestions one at a time and evaluate the change it makes in your ability to fall asleep.

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