So, that’s it. The Sleep & Supplement Challenge is over.
It’s actually been 9 weeks since it started (where does the time go?) with it technically finishing last Monday. This post details an look-back of what it was all about, the expectations involved and some end-of-challenge conclusions. So let’s dive right in!
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. The Supplement Challenge could reasonably be called a total failure by anyone’s definition.
If you’ve been following me over the past couple of months, you’ll know I never really got to grips with this challenge. I don’t know why, I just wasn’t able to make it ‘stick’.
I may have been too ambitious at the start with wanting to take supplements at least twice a day (which I never came close to achieving).
Perhaps I was looking to take too many different kinds and somehow that subconsciously put me off taking them.
There’s also the possibility that deep down, I just didn’t believe it would make any difference and so I sabotaged my efforts from the outset; it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I really don’t know.
I still don’t have an opinion on supplements, their efficacy and what the benefits and /or dangers may be.
I am firmly sitting on the fence. Which ironically, reflects the many bottles of supplements now firmly sitting on my shelf.
Conclusion: FAIL (although I never really gave it a fair chance.)
This is where my focus has been for the past couple of months. Overall, I feel it has been worthwhile and pretty much successful, just not in the way I’d expected.
But before we get to that, here’s a rundown of the sleep interventions I experimented with (in a totally unscientific way), with varying degrees of success.
I’ve mentioned this several times but I continue to be impressed by how effective the lavender sleep spray appears to be. It’s nothing special, just regular sleep spray you can buy in any health food shop.
I probably overuse it – two sprays per pillow – but it takes less than 5 seconds so it’s hardly an onerous task.
I can’t actually smell the lavender anymore but I’m willing to accept my brain notices its presence and that it works at an unconscious level.
Plus, the mere act of spraying the pillow is a signal to my head that it’s bedtime and becomes a positive trigger, letting me know that long-coveted rest is on its way.
I’ve massaged my feet at bedtime on a sporadic basis for years but the Sleep Challenge is the first time I’ve ever managed it with any kind of consistency.
I’ve no evidence but it seems to help me sleep more deeply. Oddly, it’s when I wake in the morning that I really notice the effect; my feet feel ‘lighter’ somehow.
Like the sleep spray, the foot massage tells me it’s bedtime as it’s the only time in the day I perform this mini-ritual.
Anecdotally, I have been told that sleep experts recognise foot massage as a way of promoting better sleep so who am I to argue?
A nice side-effect is it has also helped to improve my facial skincare routine. I’m rubbish at moisturising at night and because I tend to use face cream to massage my feet.
I use it as an opportunity to slather it over my face too (obvs, right?!). I have dry skin these days so this little side-effect is helping to combat that – a real top-to-toe win.
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to try out a sleep mask. Wish I’d done it years ago.
I did change the bedroom curtains at the start of the challenge to help reduce the amount of light but it was only partially effective. A sleep mask was always the answer.
It’s awesome and if you’re the type who relaxes best when indulging in a spot of sensory deprivation, you have simply got to get yourself one of these. Sleep masks are cheap, effective and they work. Who knew?!
I’ve been testing the salt lamp for a couple of weeks now and it’s … nice. The way I understand it, they are meant to emit negative ions which essentially promotes a calmer, more relaxing environment and therefore is more conducive to sleep.
Ideally you leave them on 24/7 but having a seemingly clear preference for sensory deprivation when trying to rest (see: sleep mask), that wouldn’t work for me so I turn it off at night.
The orangey-light it gives is full of warmth and reminds me of fire-light. It really is lovely and I can’t wait to use it in winter.
I have no idea whether the room is now more ‘negatively charged’ and I can’t say I’ve noticed it impact my sleep in any way.
But like I said, it’s nice.
All the things I planned to test in an effort to wind down before bedtime and see which worked best for me. I managed to test precisely none of them.
However I do really want to find out what benefits they would bring in terms of effective stress management so I’m going to do it as part of the relaxation challenge this autumn.
The absolute star of the challenge has been the discovery of how well I respond to the ‘right’ noise at bedtime. I started with regular music which worked so well I decided not to test out any other intervention (see above).
But then I thought about trying out relaxation apps which typically focus on everyday sounds. There are scores of free apps available but I’m the type that once I’ve found something that works for me, I don’t bother looking for something bigger/better/faster.
I’m happy to go with the thing I know works.
So whilst I downloaded several apps, within minutes (yes, really) I discovered that the Sleepo app was for me.
I love the rainfall sound it uses (it’s more gentle and soothing than the other apps I tried) and now play it for 20 minutes at the point the light goes out.
For me, it’s even more effective than music and something I see myself using for the foreseeable future.
Setting a bedtime
I’ve long known I’m someone who is at the 9 hours end of the 7-9 hours optimum sleep spectrum. Therefore an early bedtime was always going to be on the challenge agenda.
I’d originally intended to start with a ‘lights out’ at 9.30pm and then bring it forward by 15 minutes every two weeks. It just wasn’t to be. Whilst I can manage a 9.30pm bedtime, I never really factored in the pre-sleep music/app part of the routine.
Combined with an average ‘getting home’ time of 6pm, an earlier bedtime was starting to feel like I had no evening at all so I altered my expectations around this pretty quickly.
I now try to be in bed by 9.30pm (10pm at the weekend) and allow up to 30 minutes for the relaxation app to kick in.
This results in 8.5-9 hours of being in bed (not necessarily asleep) which makes getting up the next day a little less painful.
I suspect a 9pm bedtime would work really well for me but there’s no point starting something I’ll struggle to maintain so 9.30pm it is.
A Rather Large Caveat
All in all, I’d say the sleep interventions have been really positive, the evidence being I’ve stuck with most of them.
However, they have all been – and will continue to be – subject to a rather large caveat; they only work if I sleep alone.
I’ve always preferred sleeping alone as I enjoy the solitude and my body has a habit of naturally sleeping diagonally, no idea why.
It also turns out that Mr Annette has a nocturnal habit of being far more fidgety than during the day and as I’m a fairly light sleeper, these things do not mix well and I’m practically guaranteed a bad night’s sleep.
So for the majority of the challenge, Mr Annette kindly agreed to sleep in the guest room so I could meaningfully test out all the interventions.
Many of them I’m able to continue regardless but the big exception is the relaxation app as Mr Annette does not find the sound of rainfall in the slightest bit relaxing.
We also decided to test whether I was imagining his night-time roadrunner status by using the Dream Talk Recorder app to track our sleep movements.
On average, Mr Annette moves four times as much as I do. On really bad nights – like last night – the tracker showed he moved 750 times compared with my 18.
This is the extreme end of the spectrum but it does show that I’m not making it up and we simply don’t have ‘sleep compatibility’; his constant moving wakes me up and I find it hard to return to sleep.
So, for me, the sleep challenge has proven that sleeping alone isn’t just my preference, I genuinely sleep better for it.
Whilst this validation is helpful, obviously it means a choice has to be made around implementing my new routine which only works if I’m alone.
For now, it seems to work best if we sleep separately during the week and together at weekends.
I realise that a lot of people hold a belief that it’s weird if married couples sleep apart but I find that a bit odd in itself.
When I got married, I didn’t sign up to worsen my health, that makes no sense at all.
Anecdotal conversations I’ve had tell me couples sleep separately A LOT. They just don’t mention it for fear of the relationship being judged.
All I’d say is that I know which version of Annette I’d want to be in a relationship with if it’s a choice between the one who has slept and the one who hasn’t. Just sayin’.
Overall Thoughts and Conclusions
When all is said and done, I consider the Sleep Challenge to have been a success, albeit a moderate one. But not for the reasons you may think.
I don’t consider it a success because I now have amazing sleep. I don’t. I wake up just as often as before and have just as many bad dreams.
In that sense, not much has changed. But there are two big lessons I’ve learned through doing this that has made it completely worthwhile.
It’s the little things that add up to big changes
The first lesson is that it really is the smallest things that can effect the biggest change 9side-note, I do mean (effect’ and not ‘affect’).
A spray, cream, piece of cloth and noise app put together may not guarantee me great sleep but they do combine to result in a much better mindset at the end of my day.
Instead of going to sleep stressed and frazzled, my small, fast and simple ritual means I go to sleep in a calmer, more relaxed and more positive frame of mind.
A lovely and unexpected by-product is I also have more of a tendency to wake up in this way, regardless of the sleep itself.
The benefits are both fast and tangible which in turn helps me to cement these actions into a sustainable habit, thus becoming a virtuous circle.
It’s so much easier to form small habits through small actions that combine to produce a large effect that trying to force one big change and hoping it will stick – something I’ve been guilty of in the past.
The importance of managing self-expectation
The second lesson is around managing my own expectations about success. Specifically, how to measure it.
I started this challenge with the assumption that success would equate to sticking rigidly to the original rules because that way, I would almost certainly end up getting around 8 hours regenerative sleep each night.
Yes, with hindsight, I realise that sounds totally ridiculous.
It’s rarely a good idea to set rules with no in-built flexibility. Things change and so rules need to be robust and resilient to cope.
We learn and evolve through change so it makes sense when setting these kinds of challenges to have guidelines as opposed to rules. It’s a subtle but important distinction and one that I think will really help me in future challenges.
On reflection, the success of the challenge was never in how much quantity, or even quality, of sleep I get.
They are important but are things I plan to continue to work on but the expectation of a ‘do X and measure Y as its success’ was flawed. Because I’ve got so many other things out of this process.
Doing anything for 60 days is hard when it means altering your routine. At least, me sticking at anything for 60 days is pretty much a success story all by itself.
Learning what works for and what doesn’t, how I react to noise and light and smell, the variation of a bedtime by 15 mins… it’s all these things that add up to be the most reliable measure of success.
I know where my sticking points are and what I’m best motivated by.
I recognise how important my relationship is but that solitude is a necessity for me.
I understand that I need flexibility in the goals I set myself because without it, my default setting is ‘perfection or failure’ when neither is the case.
The last word
I’ve learned a lot about myself – what I want, what I need and how tiny changes can help me feel better.
A little less anxious. A quieter brass band playing in my head. An appreciation of stillness.
These things are all measures of success.
And if the Sleep & Supplement Challenge has helped me understand this just a little better, then how can I call it anything other than successful?