How to Sleep (Zzzz) Your Way to the Top


I am in love with Arianna Huffington.

Not for her money, or fame, or sexy Greek accent. I love her because she has made rest a part of the national conversation.

After suffering her own major burnout and health crisis after years of overwork and exhaustion, Arianna got serious about talking about sleep. (You can listen to some of her story here, read her book, or read about her organization, Thrive Global, which is striving to change the notion that burnout is required for modern success.)

I used to be a terrible sleeper.

I had a terrible time falling asleep. I would wake at the drop of a pin. My last several hours of sleep would barely be sleep at all. I would wake not feeling rested. I suffered terrible shoulder pain because of my sleeping position. I would have to wake before 5am on work days. I was exhausted all the time.

Since shifting my life and career around, I’ve seen so much improvement in my sleep. I do still struggle with chronic fatigue at times, but the quality of sleep that I do get has improved dramatically.

Perhaps the most important shift is I now wake without an alarm on most days. Think about it: Arianna reminds us that it’s called an “alarm” for a reason. The feeling of jolting unnaturally out of repose produces not just a jarring effect on the body, but a traumatic one. Now I realize it may be impractical or challenging for many of us to implement this change right away, or across the board. But as someone who burned much of her previous life to the ground in order to establish a better quality of life, I can tell you it’s worth some pretty major changes.

I am very prone to worry. Terrifically so, actually, probably both by nature and nurture. (This is something I’ve worked very hard to rescript and reprogram of late.) The thing about waking up to an alarm for me? It tends to completely ruin my last several hours of sleep. It’s like even in sleep, my brain knows that it is expected to wake at a certain time, and then it worries about that impending wakeup. Crazy, but very true for me. There is a big element of surrender in sleep. If the brain can’t completely surrender, neither can the body. Eliminating the alarm really helps me with this.

Now, for a few more practical (and easier) tips that have worked well for me. Having a bedtime routine has been huge. I cannot transition from activity/stimulation/doing stuff to rest in a blink. My nightly routine includes some household and pet chores, and then I get in a bath. I do this almost every night. The ritual element is amazing, plus the actual physical effect for me of sitting in warm water, with lavender essential oil, and just breathing and relaxing, is huge. Sometimes I feel like it has the equivalent effect of an actual sedative for me.

Changes to my bed and bedroom environment have also been huge. In my previous space, my bedroom was about the size of a broom closet, and I didn’t actually really enjoy spending time in my bed or bedroom. Now I have a bit more space, and an east facing window where the California sunshine streams in almost every morning. I also have a bed I really love getting into. When I moved, I kept my old mattress but purchased a new bed in my new location. But the real kicker for me has been my amazing mattress hack. Rather than buy a pricey new mattress, I kept the old and put a 3” thick memory foam topper from Costco on top (I actually have to thank my dad for this amazing idea). My body pain from sleeping has disappeared, and I now feel like I am sinking into a delicious cloud every time I get in bed. Add to that an amazing Italian water gel pillow (I went to the sleep store where they bring the pillow cart over to you, assess how you sleep, and you get to try them out on a bed in the store!)… nirvana. I was never a fan of the feel of memory foam pillows before, but this supports my neck in an incredible way, and for a person who perpetually suffers neck and shoulder pain, this has been huge.

The cherry on top in my bedroom is a LectroFan white noise machine, which has made sleeping through city sounds so much better, since I tend to be very noise-sensitive while sleeping.

The ultimate effect, though, of improving my sleep has meant that I feel good about going to bed and getting rest. I don’t dread it. It feels nourishing. Which truly changes my quality of life.

There are myriad tips and tricks for establishing better sleep hygiene, and certainly no one size fits all. I haven’t talked about technology in the bedroom, which is a big one. (Perhaps it’s because I wrote this from my laptop in bed??) This is something I’m still negotiating for myself. I’d love to hear what’s been transformative for you. Share your favorite ways to sleep (Zzzz!) to the top here.


Photographer unknown.

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