My Balanced Life Starts With Sleep: 4 Lessons from a Plus Size Wellness Blogger
Why is it essential to get a good night sleep? As a plus size personal growth blogger, health and wellness is something I spend a lot of time focusing on. Because of that, I take sleep pretty seriously. When I sat down to address this, my first reaction was to start with a good ol’ Google. I wanted to motivate you to honor your body; to give it the fuel it deserves and recharge it every day. As if you were the world’s most precious battery! I searched for compelling science that I could share in a blog post with the inspiration of an Alvin Ailey dance piece.
Along the way, I found some cool stats. Did you know, that if a sleep-deprived woman gets a single extra hour of shut-eye, she'll be 14 percent more likely to become aroused and engage in sexual activity the next day? Or, if a person is awake for 17-19 hours straight, it makes them as cognitively-impaired as someone who is practically legally drunk? That English Bulldogs naturally suffer from sleep apnea? I learned all this, and more!
Except for none of that matters. You can Google and find the science for yourself. What I can share, is my personal story. Education from my own, hands-on experience… So I put the Google down and came back to my truth. My simple, truth.
Sleep makes a HUGE difference in my life. When I get it, life is better; when I don’t, it’s harder. It’s pretty simple. And yet, for many years, I refused to acknowledge this. I fought against this, rebelling away from the idea that my body needed to rest and recharge on a regular basis.
We live in a society that rewards “running on empty.” We prize people for burning the candle at both ends. For me, I learned this at an early age.
When I was eight years old, I had a babysitter I thought was the epitome of cool. She had shocking red hair, wore scrunchies around her wrist and pants pegged at the ankle. She once told me a story of how she and her friends at boarding school stayed up all night. They drank coffee and Jolt Cola, played Cheap Trick, and danced down the hallways all night long. At that moment, I learned a lesson. I learned that “cool girls” pulled All Nighters; they had the most fun and always aced their tests after a sleepless study binge. That was the single moment that sleep lost its value in my life.
As a college student, I prided myself on staying up late to party or study for exams. We napped during the day or slept through classes. But we could do that at 21; our bodies were more elastic, and we laughed it off as part of the cliche college experience.
In my mid 20’s, as a publicist working in Las Vegas, all-nighters were regular for me. I’d come home at six or seven in the morning, pass out in my halter top and bootcut jeans, sleep for two hours and then get up and do it all over again. Every single night.
As I got older, I sacrificed my sleep for work. I wanted to excel in my jobs, so I put my work before everything else in my life. I’ve had a few entrepreneur bosses who worked insane hours bringing their dream to life. And, because I valued them, I valued what THEY valued; work above self-care became my norm.
My wakeup call came at 36 years of age. Both my parents ended up at the hospital at the same time; both had a history of heart disease. My wellness became a tangible thing. My desire to feel better in my life became visceral and the knowledge that I had to PROACTIVELY make choices that supported my body became crystal clear.
That was when I realized sleep was a dealbreaker. After years of living chronically exhausted and in pain, it was time for me to start taking better care of my body.
4 Ways That Sleep Makes My Life More Awesome
When I sleep…
1. I’m a nicer person. No, really.
Being cranky isn’t cool; frankly, it’s for the birds. When I sleep less, I’m more irritable and angry. My fuse is shorter. I am less willing to see good things. It is harder for me to make balanced choices in my self-care. I am more likely to skip newly acquired habits that keep me grounded (like making the bed or meditating) to hit the snooze button instead.
Let me give you this example. I believe that happiness is a choice we make; it’s not an end destination, but a state of being we have to willingly put ourselves in. We have to choose happiness fifty times a day, as our day ebbs and flows and obstacles present themselves to us. Sometimes the choice is easier; sometimes it’s harder. The more tired I am, the harder it becomes for me to make that conscious choice. I react impulsively from my Animal Brain, which cares more about survival than joy. And survival doesn’t always feel great. It’s aggressive, defensive and sharp... This is no way to live.
When I sleep regularly, I'm more inclined to...
- Be reasonable,
- Identify the “truth” instead of feeling things I am scared of and being held back by them, and
- Feel less anxious and stressed, thanks to a more regulated level of cortisol in my bodacious bod.
2. I can DO MORE, and everything hurts less.
Exercise and strength training has become a huge joy in my life. I love the feeling of pushing my body, developing muscles and getting stronger. But with this, comes a strong need for my body to heal itself, rest and replenish. This is where sleep comes in.
The restorative benefits of sleep on the body are well documented; during Stage N3 sleep, a bunch of pretty badass things happen to us. Delta Sleep, as it is sometimes known, is when our brain waves slow down, and when our body heals and repairs itself. Our blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles relax, blood supply to our muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored, and growth hormone is released.
Have you ever seen that movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie? And they have this bath which somehow magically restores all their injuries? Imagine it’s kinda like that. Except, you know, without fixing bullet holes. And, I’m not Angelina Jolie, but who is keeping score anyway? (Grin)
Jokes aside. As a plus size woman who works out, resting my body is essential to getting stronger and avoiding injury. Injuries, like a tweaked back, that can wipe me out of the running for weeks at a time. When I sleep regularly, I am less likely to injure myself. And, if I do experience injury, I heal faster and can get back to taking on the world.
In October 2016, I tweaked my back getting of bed. Rolling. Out of bed. That’s all I did. Just roll… For two weeks I was unable to stand upright. I fell on the floor trying to put pants on and, instead, went pantless around my house. I felt like Bridget Jones, falling over simply trying to stand, certain I’d be found passed out and eaten alive by wild dogs. Lucky for me, my Shih Tzu prefers kibble to the human flesh, but at the time, it sounded plausible in my head.
My injury lasted for five weeks. At the time, my bed was soft and supportive; I had to sleep on the floor to avoid exasperating my pain. During that time, my work suffered. I was unable to exercise, cook and meal prep, shower without intense challenges, and function at a normal level. It affected my mood, my mindset, and made it hard to stay connected to my love, kindness, and desire for positivity in life. In short, it really sucked.
Sleep is badass for your body. Point blank. You don’t need to be Serena Williams to reap the benefit. Whether your daily activity is walking through the office, running on a treadmill, hiking, playing with your kids, or simply getting out and about, you just have to be someone who moves in general!
3. I don’t want to eat every single thing in front of me.
I am someone who chooses to exercise mindful eating. This means every day I work to better understand my relationship to food. I try to eat when I am hungry instead of when I am driven by emotions. I can very easily live in the land of Emotional Eating... Which is totally ok; no judgments. For me, part of my wellness journey is to be able to understand when I’m hungry instead of when I’m eating out of habit.
Leptin and ghrelin are hormones; when our bodies don’t get the proper dose of each of these (which happens automatically when we sleep--- cause our bodies are pretty badass, magical creatures), we feel hungrier all the time. In short, our mind tricks us into believing we are hungry and it becomes harder to feel full.
On top of that, as I mentioned before, exhaustion is more likely to make us fall back on habits, including eating patterns that we determine do not support or growth and joy. If you are someone who practices mindful eating, this might make things tricky.
One other note, research shows that sleeping well actually makes our hearts healthier. When we sleep a healthful amount , it works to reduce calcium deposits in our coronary arteries. As the child of two parents with a history of heart disease, the idea of shut eye lending a helping hand to my ticker is a benefit I can appreciate!
4. It allows me to be “present” in my own life.
This is a blanket statement, but I can make it with 100 percent confidence. When I am well rested, it is easier for me to show up in my life. My attention span increases, my memory is sharper, and my ability to observe and enjoy heightens. It’s like living in full color vs. a television with the color muted out.
Side note: It's also important to sleep on the RIGHT bed for your body. Have you ever woken up and ached all over? Have you ever lived like that non-stop? Low-level discomfort caused by sleeping in poor body positioning is a surefire way to feel less present in your life. When you are unable to feel real joy because your back hurts, or when you can’t focus on an activity because you’re locked and tight, it makes it harder to live.
I’m a stomach sleeper. Super-soft beds cause me to hyperextend my lower back when I sleep. When I wake up in the morning after sleeping on a super soft bed, it hurts like bananas. I sit on the edge of my bed and feel stiff and sore and unable to move. I start the day from a grumpy and painful place. Which makes it THAT much harder to change that energy up and live a great day. Not only is it essential for me to sleep, but also to do so in a bed that properly supports my body!
Arianna Huffington once explained sleep, as the choice between driving through your life in a beaten down, gas guzzling car, or a Tesla. Both machines will physically get you to the destination. One, however, will do it faster, more efficiently and offer you a smoother ride.
At 38, I am looking to live my life in balance. What good is it to treat my soul with kindness and living a grateful life if I allow my body to battle against me?
In life, we have choices. These choices can empower and allow us to #BeGreater in our journey towards our best self... or they can leave us rooted and stuck in the mud.
The more rested and energized I am, the more I enjoy my life.
A rested Sarah is more loving, kind and more able to live a lifestyle that helps her thrive.
A rested Sarah is a better friend, colleague, guide and blossoming coach to other women looking to begin their wellness journey.
In my personal growth support group for plus size women, we share an idea. The more you show up for your own life, the greater you are able to show up for others. This means, the more full we live OUR own life, the greater connection we are able to have with others around us; the more positive of an imprint we will have. From our kids to our friends, partners, and loved ones, to the barista who makes our morning latte, life comes to LIFE when we approach it feeling rested, centered and ready. And that, to me, is a pretty badass way to live.