I used to be a “night owl.” It worked just fine for me, so I thought.
During my college years, I got all my studies done between 10pm and 2am, while the house was quiet. I was fired up to get my stuff done, and my brain seemed to work better. Who cares, when you are at the college, that you have to sleep in. It seemed only natural to me. I was young, and I felt great. Being used to staying up late most of the nights naturally led to partying on the days I didn’t study. I had fun. I stayed in bed longer, quite often till noon. And why not? I got stuff done, I was passing with good grades
Being up late got harder when I became a school teacher and had to be at work at seven. I still identified myself as a night owl and would be catching up on sleep during weekends. I felt healthy and loved hanging out late and watching TV till midnight. The downfall was, I wasn’t able to fall asleep for another hour or so. I sure was lacking me some sleep, but I was in my twenties and could handle it.
Later, I moved to the States and the job that made the most sense to get as a night person was waiting tables. I had a blast talking to customers, having fun in the waiter station, learning new menus, tasting wines and going out after work.
I lived the dream
I was becoming hungry for more. I wanted more from my life.
In the winter I would teach skiing, and heading to the restaurant afterward seemed natural and effortless. Neither of my jobs was the kind you bring home with you. I didn’t know what overwhelmed meant. I am not saying I wouldn’t stress on a busy night, running around and wishing I would have said no to the last table given to me. It’s just that the tension didn’t linger past the working hours. I left all the anxiety behind the restaurant door. It all seemed fun and doable, but slowly, I started to realize the unsustainability of my lifestyle.
I wasn’t into this “sleeping-in” cutting into my day anymore. I couldn’t fit in all I wanted to. More and more I felt guilty and ashamed of my choices.
I realized I was missing a direction, growth and purpose. And that’s when I dove into studying and taking courses. Unfortunately, for many years, I didn’t have the motivation needed for improvement and implementation of new skills. I wouldn’t practice what I was learning. I spend my morning hours in bed because I got home from work late and wired up. I couldn’t fall asleep before midnight because I was charged up. Little did I know that having a “shifty” won’t help my sleeping pattern. I had no clue about winding down. About the unsustainability of my habits.
I would call myself Ayurveda girl, but on the paper only.
When I first heard from this centuries old “science of longevity” that a “night owl” is not a body type or a personality trade, but a learned habit that actually can not work for humans, in the long run, I was shocked. I was surprised at least and definitely dealt with a major resistance to becoming an “early bird.”
How is that possible that I have lived like that for almost twenty adult years, loved it and stayed healthy, was my question. I had to become very honest with myself to even see the signs of “unhealthiness” of my lifestyle. There were several indications of my slow way to the “disease world.” Besides not getting much done, I realized that my health was taking a toll. Swollen and sore knees had to do with skiing to some level for sure, but not sleeping enough was a major contributor to the inflammation and ever-present pain. I realized that my bumping into things was not just a clumsiness, but a lack of quality deep sleep. I had a hard time concentrating and I couldn’t remember the orders at work. If someone asked for lemon I had to write it down. Pen and paper were my saviors. I didn’t feel very sharp nor on target. I was easily distracted and had a hard time being present. If you told me then that all of this was from a lack of sleep, the daily glass of wine and erratic schedule, I would have laughed.
Fortunately for me, I fell in love with Ayurveda from day one and eventually took the advice seriously and changed my life for once and for ever.
Fun or not, I had to shift identity of who I was. Don’t let me fool you, it was not without a struggle and dedication; without feeling like I was swimming upstream. All my friends kept partying and staying up late while I was sneaking out of parties to be in bed “earlyish” just because this new habit of getting up with sun stole my heart already.
Let me tell you, it sure was not an easy journey to switch to an early bir. I guess many years of not sleeping well created a bit of debt. I had all the evidence and even science behind this habit to get me worried about the long-term results of the night lifestyle. I had a challenge in front of me. My identity for many years was that of a “party girl.” I had a believe that that’s where the fun was. Staying up late daily and having a drink to unwind after work was the “normal,” not just on the weekends.
But was it right for me?
Was this really fun?
With a drink in your hand, you can relax, become more social, and your friends will laugh at your jokes with ease. You learn to participate in this kind of activities and accept this personality. You think that’s who you are and that’s what others see you as. Someone who entertains at parties. It’s not that hard to do, as you might know.
Boy, did I think that enjoying life and going to sleep early were opposites, not possible at the same time. The first doubts my mind was throwing in there were: “Only old people sleep before 11. You will lose all your friends. You are never going to have fun again. It’s not gonna work with your job”. And yet, at the same time, I was already harvesting the benefits of deep sleep. I felt stronger, full of life! I saw the sun rising! Literally! Which I hadn’t in years!
Ayurveda considers the early morning hour the most auspicious time of the day. And it fast became my favorite moment to tap into. Having stable energy, getting more stuff done and feeling more vibrant were the first benefits. Not missing the late night fun was a pleasant surprise to me. It took me much shorter than I expected to adjust to a different sleeping schedule. I immediately felt that this is the right thing to do and I knew soon after, that there is no way back for me.
The deep sleep benefit enormously outweighed the “late night silliness.” I never looked back with regret. Now, I laugh at the naiveness of putting an importance on the party time. I don’t find the pictures where I am passed out in a bar funny. I didn’t lose any friends, if anything, the closest ones followed on this wellness journey. They learned from me, and now our most common topic is a “better us.” Including health, dharma, spirituality, relationships, you name it.
How can we grow and support ourselves? Keeping each other in check, holding the others accountable for what they want to work on is a necessity to our friendship. How about the other “old friends?” I just don’t see them as much anymore.
As we get older, there is this inevitable “awakening to the bigger potential.” Many of us don’t ever go down the path I did, but maybe you have taken a different wrong turn and felt like your habits didn’t support you anymore. I didn’t change just my sleeping habits. I overturned my whole life to be where I am right now. It took quite longer than I thought it would just to get on the “health trajectory.”
The problem is that you never arrive, it is a journey, not a final line. And as the world with its newest inventions keeps changing, so do we. There is always the freshest fad diet; there will be a discovery and science of what is wholesome. It’s not always easy to navigate through the information coming at you, and you could quickly become obsessed with what’s right and how to live correctly. You might have to remind yourself to remember that there is always the option of just relaxing into what you already know. You know the solutions. And if you don’t, your body does.
A wellness path...
What is good for me? What shall I eat today? What will make me feel better? Just ask and allow for the answers to come to you. Listen to what is your belly saying after you overloaded it. What is your liver saying to that late night bowl of french fries? How about your pancreas versus the German chocolate cake? Can you take a moment and listen? Just pause for a minute and be present. Drop and wait. Have you never done this? Or have you forgotten that you have this driver’s manual?
How is the decision you are making right now going to influence how you feel later? Is the habit you have had since high school serving you? Are you feeling better after your choice or do you feel guilty? Do you regret as soon as you eat that frozen pizza? Is that third cup of coffee at six pm a good idea? So, the question is how do we align ourselves with our ideal? How do we change our habits to be who we want to be? How do we get from here to there? From the outdated to the desired?
Your body has the answers
Finding the lowest hanging fruit that will propel you towards the new you is the key. Every time you are making a decision, slow down and ask your body? Is this the better choice for me? If you keep taking the wrong turns, give yourself, even more time before choosing. Make a pause your go-to. A carrot or a cheesecake? That hasty habitual decision might not be the wisest one. It is a good idea to take several deep breaths before you go snack on that bag of chips. Ask yourself, “Do you honestly need that piece of chocolate?” Sometimes you actually might; even after a long pause and big glass of water. You truly might need that “perk up” and by allowing your body to decide you are creating a container of trust.
You might want to enter the search area of what emotions are you missing? What is the feeling that you get from that cheesecake and how can you source it in a more sustainable way? Is it this creamy, soothing, kind of “love-like” texture? Maybe, do you need a hug or words of appreciation? Are you lonely, sad?
Are you possibly eating emotionally? Is this you: “Every time you are stressed, you reach for a peanut butter cup? When you are tired, you grab another cappuccino? You much because you are bored?” Is this a pattern? Do you work harder when you are exhausted instead of resting? Do you go get more stuff done because there must be something wrong with you if you are feeling tired? The list goes on, and the question is the same.
Slowly and step by step
Are you in charge? Are you on the side of your body? Are your decisions health oriented? Are you following what you know? What you know that is better for you? And if you are not, what is blocking you?
Are you in the driver's seat?
Can you find a friend and ask for help? It is much easier to take a right turn on the way to health with a buddy, with someone to support you, someone who will listen to you, who will keep an eye on you and will keep you accountable. Find one that is already where you wanna be, or you become the “one” to someone who needs a guide. Humans, especially women learn and improve faster in the group. With the support behind them. With others going through similar challenges. Implementing new habits can be a strain and a stretch, make every effort to make it easy. Start with changes that are doable for you right now. Find small steps you can easily commit to. You want to set yourself for success! Don’t be afraid to give yourself a star or a high five when you do take the right turn. Every little step in the right direction counts. The good habits, just like the bad ones, compound and build on top of each other. Baby steps are the answer. There might be old outdated habits that are simply better off changed straight up “cold turkey.” Quitting smoking or alcohol might be easiest done instantly. Other habits will be better done by weening off gently, like quitting coffee or sugar. Again, your body knows what is it capable of. Are you capable of having only a few of the french fries? Is your willpower intact and you are sure that you can stop before you finish the whole plate? If not, don’t tempt yourself, don’t put the first one in your mouth if you are gonna regret later. Set yourself for success. Maybe don’t buy that dark chocolate, say no to the dessert list. Ask your friends not to order fried food as an appetizer. You might have to change how you socialize. Go out earlier. If you don’t want to drink alcohol and you have been meeting up in the bars, go for a walk with your friend or discover a world of “mocktails.”
You might need to carry a thermos with hot water to sip on to help you avoid snacking and sugar cravings. It might seem like a lot shall be improved and you might feel overwhelmed. Remember though that once you decide to start taking baby steps towards better health, you will soon be in the flow and feel the positive healing energy on your side and very probably you will even escape getting ill.
With the new me and new habits, came new friends; I am attracted to people who already have the habits I wanna have and the old fun? Am I missing the after-midnight jokes? You know the answer. My new joy looks very different but honestly is not less fun, it’s just different. An another level, a bit more mature, a bit more aligned and a lot more natural. It feels right to be in touch with my body and listen to it. Does it mean I will never enjoy a cheesecake again? Heck no, I might just have less than a whole one, and I might not have one every day. I still want to live and love life. I will go out with friends here and then but will choose wisely when and what I eat. Am I gonna drink a bottle of wine? Hopefully not!
I choose myself.
I choose my body over my tongue.
I choose sleep over a party time.
I choose less.
So can I still have fun?