My eyes flicker open, and a moment later I feel a tiny tingle in my toes. Excitement. Waking after a good, restful sleep is a simple joy. I bounce out of bed, looking forward to the day. Then suddenly, I’m standing, motionless, gazing out the window in wonder. I’m looking forward to my day! I’m looking forward to my day? Detroit, What up Doe?
I refuse to be contained. I gyrate my hips, Bluetooth speaker on Rihanna’s “work, work, work, work, work” and arms in sync, dancing around my bedroom, wondering whether my 10-year-old will walk in. I don’t care. This is what a woman looks like who finally had a good night’s sleep. But how?
Don’t sleep on sleep
Sleep is something some people take for granted. Like oxygen. Or blood running through our veins. Or the sunrise. But it’s not that way for everyone. When people tell me they’re tired, I resist the temptation to give them my life story. Or, at least, my night-time story of the past decade.
It began when I was expecting Nya, my one and only child. “At-risk pregnancy,” my primary doctor told me repeatedly, “is common with a woman your age and your size.” The discomfort of added stress on expecting with no job, no home, and no baby’s father added pressure.
I experienced anxiety, depression, and a feeling of unworthiness every day of my pregnancy. But at night, I would easily drop off to sleep, exhausted from my thoughts. But then suddenly and completely, I’d wake up assuming it was morning. It wasn’t. It was 12:30 a.m.
I wasn’t uncomfortable. Didn’t need to pee. I was simply wide-awake and alert, my brain playing vivid images of my life in front of me as a mother. I had to produce more, be more, have more money, make life better for her. Ping! 3 a.m. 5:30 a.m. 6 a.m.
It was a pattern that continued after Nya was born—and for 10 more years. Only now I was getting up through the night to investigate, watch, clean, and fuss over her; it was all part of the sleeplessness cocktail. There was no going back to sleep for several hours or, more often, the rest of the night. It was a vicious maddening cycle.
“With wellness, we always look at it from a dual point of view, nutrition and activity, but that’s wrong,” says Safwan Badr, MD, endowed professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine. “We need to look at wellness as a three-legged stool of nutrition, activity, and sleep.”
Spending his days seeing patients, teaching, researching, and serving the community, Badr has much love for Detroit. In 2013, Badr was appointed the president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Back then he understood the importance of sleep, so he focused his work on the future of sleep medicine.
“Poor sleep contributes to obesity, heart disease, airway disease, and depression and is a leading cause of car accidents and subsequent deaths,” he says. “We must start to prioritize sleep. Turn off the streaming videos, turn off the cell phone notifications, and sleep.”
Statistics haven’t been collected specifically on sleep deprivation in Detroit, but medical scientists believe that if you find obesity, it’s likely that insufficient sleep will follow, according to Badr.
Michigan has higher rates of obesity and more inactive adults than the national average. It also has higher poverty rates, which have long been tied to poor health, according to a 2018 study by the United Health Foundation.
“Most of the patients I see say they’re too busy to sleep,” says Badr. “The fact is that the clinical work that’s being done is suggesting that with high rates of obesity, it’s likely that sleep problems will occur. Chronic disease in Detroit is one of the nation’s highest so there are a lot of patients getting an insufficient amount of sleep.”
That’s me. It was all starting to make sense. The heavier I was, the less sleep I was getting. The more active my work and personal life, the more my mind raced, preventing me from sound sleep. The more accessible I was to my family, friends, and social circles, the more I was preventing myself from getting sleep.
First things first. Prioritize sleep.
“Women over 50 have a more difficult time getting their rest, which makes it even more important to prioritize sleep. Good sleep helps improve concentration, memory, immunity—all things that become more important with age,” says Erin Berman, brand strategist at Resident Mattress. “When women are within the years of menopause, they might be experiencing shifts in their normal sleeping habits due to physiological changes. However, as people reach middle age, aches and pains can make sleeping difficult, so creating the best sleep environment possible can make a big impact.”
For me it started with the right mattress. “You want to look for a mattress that will support you. Not all mattresses are created equal,” says Berman. “The beauty of a hybrid mattress is that it combines the best latex and traditional coils. The coils help evenly distribute weight and reduce motion transfer for undisturbed rest, while the latex gives just a touch of bounce.”
Once I was equipped with my hybrid mattress, I set out for a good night’s sleep, which meant that, gasp, I had to shut down my devices. All of them, even the notification cameras that alert me when there’s motion at my front and back doors. It was easy to cut off my phone but hard to shut off the lights that glowed in my smart house. Yet I prioritized this thing that eluded me night after night. I took a hot soapy bath and then wrapped myself in a soft comforter in a nest of warm pillows.
I lay down to sleep. Not to save the world. Not to win another award. Not to start another business. But to sleep with as much passion and vigor as I could muster.
And to my surprise, sleep came.