health

I started treating sleep like my boyfriend. Now we have the best relationship ever.

Sleeping is one of the few things I’ve always been really good at.

My parents used to make jokes about me making the Olympic sleep team and for a while there, sleeping was kind of “my thing”.

But around eight years ago I began experiencing crippling anxiety. I had to kiss goodbye any meaningful sleep.

On some days, panic attacks would leave me physically exhausted and needing more sleep than ever.

Behold: the Olympic sleeper. Source: iStock.

On other days, my generalised anxiety would see me awake for hours, staring at the ceiling and trying not to chew through the sides of my cheeks while peering into the dark abyss of "what ifs".

Explaining this rapid change to other people was difficult and at times embarrassing.

No one wants to be the woman in their 20s going home early because they need to sleep.

But you also don't want to be the person hyperventilating and vomiting at the club at 2am because it's all too much to handle.

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Then, after years of self-medicating and unreasonable arguments with people about the most mundane of things, I went to my GP and asked for help.

Halfway through the checkup, she summed up my attitude toward sleep in the most perfect, glaringly obvious way that only a medical practitioner could.

"Thousands of scientists have dedicated their lives to finding out how much sleep humans need. It's eight hours. We know it's eight hours. You know it's eight hours," she said, clearly frustrated.

"Stop trying to be smarter than science. Get eight hours.

"People think getting enough sleep is a luxury, but it's not. It's a necessity, and it's free."

It was brutal, but fair.

The dressing down made something click immediately and made me want to embark on a quest for prioritising sleep.

She explained that, in addition to eight hours, you also need to set aside wind down and wake up times, which a lot of people don't do.

And it's this stolen hour or so that usually makes us so groggy and cantankerous in the morning.

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And so began my year of magical sleeping.

"I don't have kids yet," I thought to myself. "These years are the last in which I'll get this opportunity."

So with that, I bought new pillows and fresh linen.

I spent time meticulously cleaning my room and looking for a bedside lamp that was ambient but affordable.

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I started creating pre-bed rituals like turning off the television and reaching for a book instead.

I carved out a decadent 15 minutes to do things like wash my face, brush my teeth, remove my jewellery, apply hand cream and make a hot water bottle.

I began treating sleep with the respect that I would any other human relationship. Just like a boyfriend, I gave it the TLC it needed.

And eventually, it knew where it stood with me and because I was treating it well, it was treating me well in return.

girl with book sleeping

Learning how to sleep better is an achievable dream. Source: iStock.

Quickly, I began to wake up feeling relaxed, rather than paralysed by irrational fears.

I had enough energy to get to the shower without wanting to hurt someone.

I stopped needing so much coffee and started saying yes to more activities again.

I started exercising and being a pleasant person to be around.

I looked forward to going to bed because I knew a good time was about to be had.

When a friend recently commented on how well I seemed to be doing, I explained the self-imposed sleep school I had set up for myself.

He seemed uncomfortable about it and admitted that it seemed like a mission of luxury.

But in my mind, deciding to prioritise sleep is no different to someone deciding they're going to clean their teeth twice a day and doing a thorough job of it.

If we've got to do it why not do it well?

Why are we looking at this bodily necessity as though it's a high end item we can cut off and trade in for some more time with Netflix?

An accurate visual representation of magical sleep. Source: Facebook.

Now when I do have bad sleep, it's abundantly clear because I bear a striking resemblance to Oscar the Grouch.

Sometimes it's because I've stayed out late and sometimes it's through no fault of my own, but I'm sure having a bank of good night's up my sleeve has to be helping.

And finally, I did it because I've spent enough time working with parents to know that when I do have kids, sleep is sure to once again a distant concept out of my reach.

And when I'm there, I like to think I will look back on this time in my life and be really happy (read: spiteful and jealous) for the younger me that took an opportunity when it appeared.

Anway, gtg. It's nap time somewhere in the world.

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