Going to take a detour from talking about SwiftUI development this time to discuss how my sleep got wrecked by the pandemic and what I did about it.
As I suspect is the case for many people the pandemic did quite a number on my sleep. There’s family separation, concern about their health, and every day it seems like there’s something worse happening in the world. On top of that we’ve been doing this for over a year and a half! When I was supposed to be falling asleep I would keep myself awake with worrying, wake up multiple times throughout the night, and get up way earlier than I wanted. I was constantly finding myself cycling through a fun array of sleep deprivation symptoms such as grogginess, headaches, and nausea. At the beginning of June I decided to get serious about trying to get better. I’m happy to report that I did and wanted to share three things that really helped me.
This one should be common sense but I can’t express how hard it was for me to implement. I’ve always been an extreme night owl. I love being up late at night and would often not go to bed until after 2AM. Back in the day there were times I would arrive at the gym at 12:30AM! No matter if I was tired during the day I would always be wired and full of energy at night. Even though lately I was waking up more and more throughout the night and waking up earlier and earlier each day I never lost the desire or ability to stay up late. It was an awful combination. As much as I hated doing it I knew I had to force myself to go to bed much earlier than would ever want to. I kept experimenting with when I hit the sack and how I felt the next day until I landed upon the rule of “I have to be in bed by 11pm”.
As much as this did help it still took me what felt like forever to fall asleep and I would still have a hard time going back to sleep whenever I woke up in the middle of the night.
Meditation is one of those things that I’ve heard about but never looked seriously into. I remember downloading a free mediation app before the pandemic, trying it once or twice, shrugging my shoulders and never trying it again. Early in the pandemic I tried another app that was offering a free subscription and made it to two weeks before I quit again. One of my main issues was I didn’t know why I was doing all these strange things they were asking me to do. Focus on your breath. Feel the seat beneath you. “I’m sorry, what?” Another problem was that as an over-thinker that is new to meditation I have the attention span of a gnat. My mind would constantly be racing thinking of other things when I would try meditation and it felt like I was getting nowhere and didn’t understand what I was supposed to be getting out of the experience.
Getting a recommendation
My super power is that I’m really good at remembering good Tweets. I mean REALLY good. As I spend more and more time on Twitter I’ve started following a good number of Twitter employees. One of them is Joe Fabisevich. I remembered that he had posted about hitting a milestone with meditating and how it had made a huge impact.
Four years ago I started meditating every day and I’m still learning a lot. I’ve used meditation to not only grow mentally and emotionally this year, but through physical adversity as well. There’s a strong connection between the three that I’ve only come to appreciate this year.— ✨ Joe Fabisevich ✨ (@mergesort on Threads) (@mergesort) June 28, 2021
I was following Joe but had minimal interaction with him in the past. I reached out to him asking if he had recommendations for a mediation app. I was quite shocked when Joe wrote me a lengthy response detailing several potential choices. What an incredibly kind thing that was for him to do for someone he doesn’t know. What he wrote about Ten Percent Happier appealed to me so I researched it. I actually recognized the app when I saw it because it was an app I remembered looking at weeks earlier when I saw a story about it but when I saw the subscription price I immediately discounted it.
Ten Percent Happier
I started doing research about Dan Harris and why he started Ten Percent Happier. When I learned that he had written a book about meditation for “fidgety skeptics” I was intrigued. I watched several talks he gave that are available on YouTube and was so captivated by what I heard. Dan is a news anchor and actually experienced a panic attack on live television. That along with being assigned to cover religion and spirituality as a continuing assignment led him to learn about the practice of meditation. He actually tried to protest the assignment thinking he wasn’t the right person for it but was told that he was doing it anyway. As someone who’s not interested in a spiritual aspect of meditation this is the kind of content I was hungry for. If by some chance Mr. Harris ends up reading this I want him to know I truly mean this next sentence as a compliment. His slightly snarky personality and self-deprecating sense of humor is something that I also appreciated and could relate to.
What I really like about the Ten Percent Happier app is that in their courses you have a very short video (under 5 minutes) you watch before meditating. The videos go into the science of why you should meditate, reasons why people don’t think they can meditate, common challenges with meditating, etc. They’re all so entertaining and informative to me but they’re also optional and easy to skip if you chose to do so. Just recently they also had a “Ted Lasso challenge” where we watched short Ted Lasso clips and learned how radical kindness can be applied to others and ourselves. I also like that during meditation the instructors constantly remind you that if your mind wanders while you’re meditating that’s ok and completely normal. What I had earlier thought was me screwing up was something almost everyone goes through. Dan has explained that the process of realizing that your mind has wandered and bringing your focus back to your mindful breathing is like a bicep curl. The more you do it the more you pump up your skill at doing it (threw in some gym terminology there 😉).
Although I’m getting better I’m still a newbie to meditating and my mind still will wander often when I’m doing it. But say I’m only getting 3 mindful minutes out of a daily 10 minute mediation. That’s still over 20 minutes a week and well over an hour a month. An hour vacation from my mind constantly racing, worrying, and doing nothing but making me feel worse. You’re given statistics after each meditation session about how long you’ve spent in total and it adds up quickly!
Plus the app has some of the “nicest” notifications I’ve ever seen. In a week where I was “too busy” to meditate it sent me a Ted Lasso style message.
Has meditating with Ten Percent Happier made me ten percent happier? I’d say that it definitely has!
My only complaint is that some of the content that would appeal to beginners is way too long. The “Meditation for Skeptics” course is something that would appeal to someone just starting, but some of the meditation sessions are close to 20 minutes long. That’s still way, way too much for me to get through without struggling at this point. I love the instructor, Jeff Warren, and his sense of humor though.
The Cognitive Shuffle
The final change I made was to start using a technique from Luc P. Beaudoin called The Cognitive Shuffle.
The quick summary is that this technique will distract your mind from thoughts that can keep you awake by focusing on a random assortment of not-unpleasant images. I’ve tried counting techniques for falling asleep but frankly they’re boring as hell and could never keep my attention. I was extremely skeptical of this technique because while it seemed interesting enough to keep my attention, it also seemed like it was too involved and would keep me awake like my worrying thoughts did. Let me tell you that this technique knocks me out. You go through the letters of a random word and keep picking words that start with that letter. For each word you imagine an image of it in your head several times. When you get bored with the letter you’re using you just move on to the next letter. For example, if your random word was “watch” you could think of images of water, Willy Wonka, Wisconsin, winking before moving on to images of apples, armadillos, anchors, etc. I have never made it to the end of a word yet. When my mind starts to wander I use the same technique I’ve been strengthening with meditation to direct my attention back to random images.
By employing all of these techniques I started getting control of my sleep again. I’m sleeping longer without getting up and am getting enough sleep finally. I don’t spend the whole day yawning and feeling like a zombie any more. I’m a really private person and putting myself “out there” like this is actually quite uncomfortable. My hope is that this information will help someone else who is struggling like I was.
If this post was helpful to you I’d love to hear about it! Find me on Twitter.