Brain at three a.m. … “I can see you’re trying to sleep, so I would like to offer you a selection of every memory, unresolved issue, or things you should have done and said in the past 40 years.” (meme)
Sleep does pretty much everything you want in your life. Resets your heart and mind, locks in memories, good for your heart, makes you less hungry, keeps you alive longer, makes you not a crabby buttface the next day. It’s been proven you can retain 20 percent more info after a good night’s rest. I find myself waaay more creative—decisions are easier, willpower is up, etc.
I am not a great sleeper. I sleep light, and if I wake up in the night, my mind takes over like a hurricane in a vacuum tube. Thankfully, I’m pretty good at naps in cars, airplanes, and old bread trucks. Living on the road has been good training to sleep in small amounts and still function, but when I get home, I have to work really hard at getting back on a schedule. I have to keep my days as packed as they were on the road so I can stay asleep.
Typical post-tour night back in Nashville: It’s 3:33 a.m. and my queen—Rakki—will say to me in a tiny little whispered voice. “Go to sleep…” It’s her way of acknowledging that I’m lying in bed next to her trying to be quiet with my mind on fire. She knows I’m about to go downstairs and eat every single thing in the fridge, come back to bed at 5:33 a.m., wake her and our three stray dogs up (at least one is on my pillow by then), and then feel like crap the entire next day.
I call these couple of hours in the middle of the night THE WOLF HOUR. It’s where every thought is WHAT IF and wants to bite you. It’s where everything you were sure of can be twisted around and questioned. It’s where fear and doubt have the upper hand, and it’s the pits. Creative people are really good at this game, and frankly, it sucks as much as anything out there. It’s gotten better with age, for sure—I was an anxious wreck as a little dude—but the questions love to appear when you can’t find the dawn.
There is a cycle here. When you don’t sleep, you worry more, then you are tired the next day and might not give your all, and then BOOM, you don’t want to sleep the next night. You start eating worse, you skip the workout, etc., etc. The things that help you sleep the most are destroyed by no sleep—a vicious cycle.
Here’s all the best advice I’ve compiled from other insomniacs, books, and my own trial and error … and in the end, the three things that work best for me.
NO PHONES/NO NEWS AT BEDTIME. Most things in the news right now make me want to pull my eyeballs out through my earhole, and that feeling is definitely not what you want when you are trying to rest up to fight another day.
WORK OUT OR AT LEAST MOVE EVERY DAY. I have been alternating between run days and strength training, but just STAY ACTIVE throughout the day so your body has a reason to rest. We forget how hard it used to be for humans to even get food, the miles they trekked to stay alive. Our bodies can take SO MUCH MORE than we think. It’s no wonder we aren’t tired if we have been sitting on the couch all day doing nothing. If I have phone calls to make or I’m checking mixes, I try to walk while I do it. Multitask—burn that energy up.
GET YOUR NUMBER/TAKE LITTLE NAPS ONLY. This takes some work, and I had to fill up a lot of journals before I saw that the pattern for me is six hours and a little 15–20 minute nap after lunch. A long nap will kill the next night, but a short one after lunch is MAGIC. Half the planet takes a siesta (look up Greece, Spain) and for me, low tide has always been mid-afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever written a decent song in the afternoon. (Here’s your cue—Baby, you ain’t ever written a decent song!) It’s early morning and late night that the muse has the shingle out to do business anyway, so I also eat a good deal of my calories for the day at lunch and try not to ever nap too long.
I’m insanely lucky that my day job is music, and I can often take a nap when I need it. If you work in an office, maybe you can meditate or take a tiny nap over lunch. Try drinking a cup of coffee before the nap, and by the time the caffeine kicks in, you are up and ready to roll.
Speaking of caffeine … FRESH POTS!!!
LESS CAFFEINE AFTER 5 P.M. (decaf at night). This is hardest thing in the world ’cause I LIVE on coffee. I love it. I kiss the cup after I pour it. It’s a drug that is legal and doesn’t ruin our careers or kill our families. It’s cheap and effective. Perfection. I once tried to kick coffee during a fast, and wifey said either the coffee comes back or I go. I was whiny and crabby. She can leave it (and probably me) at will—she is from Montana, and that state just makes tough people. She can fast for days at will too—I am in the corner reading books and whining while she is building an addition on the house. But I digress…
LESS BOOZE. This was harder when I was living in rock ’n’ roll clubs, as you are expected to take a shot with anyone at the bar, but booze means I would wake up and the Wolf Hour is at the door. Alcohol did a pretty good number on my family growing up, so I have been lucky to break the chain and put the brakes on when it’s creeping up on me, but even a couple of glasses of wine can have me bouncing back up at three a.m. like a skeleton in Disney’s haunted house.
SWEATPANTS AND LOOSE T-SHIRT. I sleep deeper, and I dream more. It’s no favor to the neighbors in the a.m., but when I’m off the road, I’m OFF. 🙂
SAME TIME EVERY NIGHT. If you can pull this off with your schedule, it helps. A ton. When I can stay on a schedule, I don’t need an alarm clock. Back in Nashville, it’s 11ish to 5ish, and I feel solid. So far so good.
NO SLEEP AIDS. THROW ’EM AWAY! I have Benadryl in my backpack next to me everywhere I go for a deadly allergy. I fell into a dangerous little hole for a few years where I would take it every now and then to sleep a ton into a day off on the road. When you go from a sleep number of six hours to nine hours, you can imagine how screwed up the next day is gonna be. Now I will say I LOVE THE STATE it puts me in. I’m foggy and useless for any real logical thinking or business, but writing lyrics and music in this state is amazing. The problem is this junk is linked to memory loss, among other horrible things. What am I gonna bore the grandkids with if I can’t remember jamming at a bowling alley in West Virginia when I’m telling my stories in 40 years?
HEALTHY FOOD AND LESS PROTEIN AT NIGHT. I’m basically vegetarian, though I still eat fish, and if I eat healthy all day, there is a much better chance I won’t be climbing up the walls at night. One thing they have at all mid-level hotels is bananas. Eat a banana before bed. (Thanks to Neal Barnard at PCRM for this one.) It totally works. Also, get most of your protein when you start the day. I once drank my protein shake after a night workout in bed. It was a night of binge-watching Netflix and feeling like a truck hit me the entire next day.
BLOCK LIGHT AND SOUND. I have a sleep mask and earplugs in my backpack everywhere I go. My friends have taken some silly pictures of me sleeping in weird places in the middle of the day with a sleep mask on like a little primadonna.
MEDITATE. I heard that Seinfeld meditated and rested his mind every single lunchbreak. Yeah, that show was mildly successful. The list of successful people who do this is crazy. I got my mantra in LA a few years back (of course you did, bud), but the basics of how to mediate are for everyone, and you don’t need to pay someone to give you permission. A wonderful book on this is David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish (thanks, Wade Hampton).
IF YOU ARE UP, GET OUT OF BED. Don’t lie there worrying. Get up and do something. They also say your body needs to know the bed is only for sleeping. I’m not sure on that one. When we are on the road and have been playing every day, hiding in the hotel room is restorative. Steve Martin had a great bit about this in his bio, saying he literally hid out in bed until it was time to take the stage every night. You are gathering energy and regrouping. Exchanging energy with tons of people actually takes more energy than people think (anyone with jobs around tons of people all day knows this feeling—you are wired, and then you want nothing to do with anyone for a little bit). The problem is I get so used to hanging in the hotel bed (especially now that we are in Hamptons—SILVER MEMBER!) that I forget when I come home that this behavior will not fly. Grabbing a book and a huge bowl of cereal in bed is fine on tour, but at home, it leads to being awake at night, and again … divorce papers. Man, my wifey is a patient woman.
Last one and it’s painfully important…
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF TIRED, ONE THAT REQUIRES REST AND ONE THAT REQUIRES PEACE (thanks, Deb T). This list assumes you aren’t going through something horrible right now. Of course, if something rare and traumatic is happening in your life, you are gonna have to operate on less sleep and push through it. And sometimes if we aren’t sleeping, it’s because there is something chewing on our minds that we have to address, something we have to face and solve before our subconscious is gonna give us the luxury of curling up in the pillows. Much like anxiety, the pain signals the mind sends us can actually be wonderful gifts if we are brave enough to face them and address them.
Quick recap. Here’s what has solved it for me: Don’t drink too much, don’t eat too much (and not after 8 p.m.), and work out like the world is gonna end. When I stick to those disciplines, the ol’ Wolf Hour can’t find me. Good riddance, you bastard. 🙂
All right, folks. Go take a tiny nap and be nice to each other and create awesome stuff. See you next week and can’t wait for your comments!
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