Sleep is for the weak and other myths by Trina Tan

Trina is from Pomona, California and received her BA in English Literature from California State University, Fullerton. She worked for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and is currently a first-year M.Ed student at the University of Vermont in the Higher Education Student Affairs program. Her interests include multiculturalism, social justice, leadership, politics, and social media/technology. Visit her Student Affairs Wellness blog at www.trinastan.com

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I walked into graduate school at the University of Vermont with the preconceived notion that in order for me to be successful I need to be “okay” with not having much sleep—the myth that people who sleep for 6-8 hours every night are not the ones making waves.

I wasn’t buying it.

I love/need sleep, and I knew that good, delicious rest was not something I would be shamed into sacrificing. In a work culture that often glorifies busyness and mistakes a lack of sleep for productivity, I knew I needed to plan out my sleep wellness with confidence and a plan.

Upon moving to Burlington, I did a few things to make sure that my sleep wellness was on point:

1. My bedroom is my sanctuary.

I’m all about environment, and creating a bedroom space that exemplified everything non-work was a top priority in my transition to graduate school.

I did my fair share of color therapy research (okay, mostly tips from Pinterest…) and I chose gorgeous sage greens and soft golds for my bedroom.

There’s also a blank wall in front of my bed, and I was intentional about not putting my “To Do” list whiteboard on it. Instead, I put up affirming quotes to give me something pleasing to look at first thing in the morning—nothing too busy or stressful.

Functionally, I bought a corner desk that I originally bought as a study desk.

It has since turned into a vanity.

I realized that if I wanted my bedroom to be a sacred place of sleep and relaxation, I couldn’t do work in it.

Now hold on. Stay with me.

Like many people in student affairs, I am working almost everyday from the moment I wake up and even if I’m not at work, I’m thinking about work. And if I’m not thinking about work, I’m thinking about my classes.

I decided early on that the one place I would not work would be my bedroom.

What does that mean for me?

It means I work at the table in my kitchen. It means I write papers in the library. It means when I walk into my bedroom, I associate it and everything in it as a place to get away… and SLEEP.

2. Name your best “waking up moments”

My alarm song used to be Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” thinking that it would get me fired up… ready to serve students… fight for social justice!

Instead, I almost fell out of my bed every morning. And if you have ever heard this song, you’ll quickly learn why.

Waking up so abruptly left me distraught, stressed out, and kind of cranky.

One big thing I missed about my home in California was waking up to the sunlight gradually filling my room. My apartment here in Vermont is surrounded by trees, and my environment will only get darker with winter. I also live on the first floor of my building, so leaving my curtains open didn’t feel like a safe option.

So I bought a wake up lamp.

Good sleep doesn’t end when you finally hit that REM peak; the waking up process is huge. I named that my best “waking up moments” happened when the sunlight from my window crept in and gradually woke me up. The lamp I bought gradually gets brighter 30 minutes before the set wake up time, emulates the sun, and plays the sounds of chirping birds.

The wake up lamp is definitely not for everyone and is not for everyone’s budget. It’s not really within my budget either, but I saved up for it recognizing that my waking up experience was a priority for me after naming what my best “waking up moments” looked like.

3. Relax your face

A line from one of my favorite artists, J. Cole, says, “I know you wanna change the world /But for night please/ Just reach over and hit the lights please.”

I am constantly thinking, and processing, and listing, and trying to change the world… all during bedtime, of course.

I also have a “thinking face” when I’m trying to sleep that looks something like shut eyes, furrowed, critical eyebrows, and tight lips.

Learning to relax my face started with learning to let go of the day’s worries. Sometimes I get up and make a list but learning to relieve the tight spots in my face have really done it for me.

As a hard Myer’s Briggs “J”, and I give myself quiet and clear instructions to relax parts of my face—starting from my forehead to my lips, focusing on the space between my eyebrows. Upon shifting my attention and focus on fulfilling the instructions I gave myself, I slowly soften the tension in my face and relax myself into slumber.

Now, there are many things I’m still working on to improve my sleep wellness, like doing my bedtime rituals earlier and saying no to late night social gathers. But as much as my sleep schedule is imperfect, I have another chance to get it right every night.  We all do.

One comment to Sleep is for the weak and other myths by Trina Tan

  • Judy  says:

    I really enjoyed your article! So glad I stumbled upon it…I’ve found as I have gotten older that I too love when the sun starts to come in my window. I enjoy waking up slowly & have found an alarm on my phone that is soothing to wake up to. It definitely sets a nice tone for the morning!

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