I should preface this post by being upfront about a life-long issue. You see, my sleep-wake transition is a cluster-you-know-what. In short, this means that my brain has trouble moving out of dreamland and into waking life. A powerful force—the crazy characters and nonsensical scenes—pulls me back into unconsciousness as soon as my very loud alarm clock sounds. Nine minutes of snooze, to me, feels like hours of pleasant or not-so-pleasant adventures. It was Inception before the movie plot was planted in its screenwriters’ heads.
Please scroll down a few paragraphs, to the “On to the tip…” header if you want to get right to the reveal—I don’t want to keep you from this amazing nugget of information. But, for those interested in the sleep stuff, I’m going to give a little more background: this will help drive home how much of a welcome change this tip was for me.
[OK, time in]
It takes me a between five and 10 snoozes to realize I’ve actually hit snooze between five and 10 times (it’s how I learned my times tables as a kid)–I usually set (multiple) alarms starting 90 minutes before I actually HAVE to be up.
When I do get out of bed, I experience sleep-drunkenness. Yes. That’s the REAL term for it. Completely sober, yet intoxicated with the stuff dreams are made of. I fumble and I mumble. And when I’m forming actual words, I’m spouting spoonerisms.
Then, it takes a good 15 or 20 minutes to function after I finally turn off the alarm, sit up, do some kind of unidentified yoga pose to stretch out and finally step out of bed, usually missing one, just one, sock. I’m foggy, groggy, sometimes grouchy. A little movement and a shower magically transform that me into the functional me.
Parents, former roommates, and my wife—anyone I’ve shared living quarters with when I had to set an alarm and not just sleep until I wake up—can vouch for this. But others? Well, let’s just say it’s hard to get support, or even have certain people take a sleep issue or actual sleep disorder seriously.
I’ve met more than a fair share of unsympathetic folks. I wanted to scream to high heaven, “IT DOESN’T MATTER!” to my ‘sleep skeptics’ who’d say, “Maybe you just go to bed too late.” Sure, I had my late nights. But when I’d strive to get seven, eight, nine hours of sleep, my index finger would still be fused with the snooze. Repeat the scenes I described above. Morning after morning after sometimes afternoon.
To make an already long story short, in 2004 I learned, officially, I experience parasomnias (which basically means I do weird things in my sleep and dream while I’m kind of awake—a sleep lab technician told me once: “you’re one of the fun ones”), and I was diagnosed with hypersomnia/narcolepsy (the non-cataplexy kind, which means, no, I’m not like the girl in Deuce Bigelow).
I even learned that those dream-like states while waking actually are a thing—hypnopompic hallucinations. I’ve been treated on and off for it since then. I’ll leave the specifics out because, well, I guess there are some things that should remain between a man and his doctor and his confidants. But I will say, most narcolepsy treatments only help the daytime issues—nothing really works to switch your brain from wake to sleep at the exact time you need it. (Yet?)
Aside from running late on some mornings, my sleeping issues have not negatively impacted me professionally and, for that, I am grateful. The people who matter understand. Other strange sleepers aren’t as fortunate. Many struggle with more severe cases of narcolepsy and other, worse, sleeping disorders. Because sleep science is still kind of a new territory, many folks with the more “rare” and “misunderstood” sleep disorders are often (mis)labeled as “lazy”. But that’s another blog post!
With that said, I’ve always been searching for ways to wake up easier, more refreshed. Exercise helps. Sleep hygiene tips like cleaning sheets regularly and doing “wind-down” activities help. As far as my relationship with the alarm clock itself, I’ve tried some things, which I’ll write about in another post.
But it was the most unsuspecting place to stumble on a health tip. At least that’s what I thought at the time; I’ve finally admitted to myself that personal health totally impacts business health. I was elated to have stumbled across a section of the cover story of Inc., “20 skills every founder needs to master.” Number 13, in the “How to Be Way More Productive” section grabbed my attention immediately with its first heading: “Wake Up With More Energy.”
Holy crap, I thought. This is JUST what I need. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, shared part of his simple-yet-revolutionary evening routine. But he prefaced it with something I’ve known my whole life:
No matter how much sleep you get at night, you still might not wake up refreshed.
His reason blew me away, made me rethink everything I shared above about WHY I struggle with mornings. Ferriss claims that people feel so sluggish in the morning because of low blood sugar—it drops as we dream.
His solution? “Eat a tablespoon or two of unsweetened almond butter before you go to sleep.”
The next day I picked up a jar of Jif and have since tried a few organic brands too. Guess the heck what!
The first morning after I licked this tasty stuff off of a spoon before bedtime, I jolted out of bed. I did NOT hit snooze once. My husband asked if peanut butter would work too since almond butter is a tad pricey. I reasoned no, because Ferriss would have suggested it (unless he’s getting kickbacks from almond harvesters).
Then, out of curiosity, I looked at the nutritional information on both jars, and I found a difference between the two nutty butters.
I’d love to chat with a chemist or biologist at work (I work at a college) about this because I’m just so fascinated with how well this worked, and I want to know the science of why! I wasn’t able to find much else online about the almond butter trick, except other articles on “content farm-ish” sites that seemed to, uh, “paraphrase” Ferriss’ exact words. So I think he’s a pioneer here on something that’s going to “stir” lots of interest!
So yeah. Almond butter. Al-mazing!
I learned from Inc. and Tim Ferris and a creamy substance that mornings can still be a process for me – just a way different, better process. One of my Getting Sh*t Done goals is to get up earlier on weekday mornings so that I can go for a walk and then get about an hour of reading, writing or homework done before going to the office. It’s not fun to rush.
The almond-butter-before-bed drastically changed my bedtime routine and made mornings easier. I’m not sure if I’m ready to rule out my sleep issues as being a medical condition just yet, but there’s always a possibility the craziness that consumed my waking-brain was due to deprivation of a sweet substance.
Now where is my spoon?