This morning, I woke up hearing my oldest son getting ready to work with his uncle for the day. I said good morning and accidentally spooked him.
“Ahh, you scared me!” he said. We laughed, and I asked him how his night was. He answered, “I was feeling so excited about my day that I didn’t sleep well.” I suspect that wondering how to sleep before a big event had been occupying his mind for some of the night.
Most of us know the feeling. Whether we’re facing a test, trip, game, race, or the first day at a new job or school, it’s easy to lie awake with excitement and nervousness.
We know we need our sleep before the big day. But there’s a double whammy:
- The anxiety over the upcoming adventure keeps us awake.
- The stress of lying sleepless all night prevents us from getting enough rest.
It would take me a month of blogging to document my struggle to get enough healthy sleep. However, I’ll limit it to a couple of posts for now.
Today, I’ll focus on the importance of having a healthy sleep pattern. If you don’t know how to sleep before a big event, start by examining your rhythm.
Having one that’s all over the place throws your circadian rhythm into constant confusion. Your circadian rhythm’s job is to regulate your sleep cycle. Without consistency, it can’t work as Nature intended!
When your bedtime and wake-up time is erratic, your internal clock won’t be much use on the nights you need it most!
From my experience, the first and most crucial step in learning how to sleep before a big event starts a month before the event itself.
How to Sleep before a Big Event: Reset Your Internal Clock
Your internal clock thrives on regularity. Until you establish a predictable rhythm, you’ll have a hard time falling asleep when you most want to.
Until last year, I’d never had a regular sleep pattern.
As a college student, I worked a night job. Monday through Friday, I’d sleep two to four hours after work. I’d make up crashing for 8 to 16 hours on the weekend.
On Monday morning, the cycle would begin again. And the craziness didn’t end after college.
During most of 2018 and 2019, the stress of building my business led to a raging case of insomnia. I need eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested and was averaging only four.
The chronic sleeplessness only exacerbated the stress and fatigue. However, in the fall of 2019, I read Dr. W. Chris Winter’s book, The Sleep Solution.
Of the several tips, I adopted from his book, the one I struggled with most is his recommendation to wake up at the same time every morning, seven days a week.
I’d try to follow his advice but inevitably hit the snooze button on weekends.
How to Sleep before a Big Event: Commit to a Regular Wake-up Time
At the end of 2020, I was ready to try again. Waking up at the same time every morning became my top New Year’s Resolution for 2021.
For more than a month, I’ve awakened at the same time every morning, seven days a week. The results have been astounding.
My room has no clocks. Without looking at my phone, I have no idea what time it is. But twice last week, I grabbed my phone right at 5:59, seconds before my alarm went off.
This week, something even more remarkable happened. Still half asleep, I became aware that I was counting as if I were doing pushups. It was entirely unintentional, but when I reached 60, the alarm went off.
I had no way have of knowing the time. But my internal clock knew it, down to the second! The episode stunned me so much that I immediately grabbed my phone and googled, “How does my body know when my alarm will go off?”
I clicked on the top result, Lucas Reilly’s Mental Floss article. It resonated with everything else I’ve read on the sleep cycle.
Reilly explains how the PER protein helps regulate our sleep/wake cycle:
“If you follow a diligent sleep routine – waking up the same time every day – your body learns to increase your PER levels in time for your alarm. About an hour before you’re supposed to wake up, PER levels rise… To prepare for the stress of waking, your body releases a cocktail of stress hormones, like cortisol. Gradually, your sleep becomes lighter and lighter.”
How precise is our internal clock? Reilly claims it “… is just as good, if not better, than the contraption shrieking atop your nightstand.”
The critical point?
According to author Bill Bryson, in his 2019 book The Body, “What is certain is that the circadian system can get seriously confused if its normal daily rhythms are disturbed.”
Unless you awaken at the same time every morning, your body’s clock can’t function with precision.
How to Sleep before a Big Event: Coddle Your Circadian Rhythm
Over the past month, I’ve had plenty of nights in which I didn’t get to bed when I wanted. Or I woke up in the middle of the night and stayed awake for more than an hour.
But no matter how little sleep I had, I still got up at the same time. I might have been tired the next day. But, given a consistent morning baseline, my body automatically compensated with healthy sleep on other nights.
In addition to my New Year’s Resolution, I’ve stopped drinking coffee and taking naps. (I may add them back in the future.) But in 2021, I’m doing everything I can to baby my circadian rhythm.
Is it working? Have I figured out the answer to the nagging question of how to sleep before a big event?
The night before my big 25k race last Saturday, the news I’d be running against Navy Seals left me nervous and excited. I went to bed at my usual time – and got up, rested, and ready to run, a minute before my alarm went off.
My body knew what time I would wake up – and it treated me with a good night’s sleep and an incredible race!
(Have you been reading this in the middle of the night, with a big event scheduled in the morning? And you desperately need sleep, right now!!)?
You’re suffering from sleep anxiety – and we’ll get to that in my next post. But for now, relax. I think you’ll do great – even without enough sleep!