I Did a 5-Day Sleep Challenge: Here’s What I Learned

(Disclaimer: Bedtime Bulb and Gravid provided samples for this writer to use, and this post contains affiliate links. As always, we only talk about the things, brands, and experiences we are passionate about and all opinions are our own.)

Some people can fall asleep sprawled across armchairs (my dad), mid-page in a magazine (my sister), or with the TV blaring (my best friend). Then there are those of us whose sleep needs include an eye mask, ear plugs, and a sound machine. Even with my zzz-inducing aides, I often struggle with my nighttime rest, waging a fruitless battle against anxiety and its cruel friend, insomnia. 

So when the opportunity arose to take on a five-night sleep challenge with aSweatLife, I decided to go for it. With help from our partners, aSweatLife outfitted me with the following:

five day sleep challenge

I’ll tell you upfront: my sleep improved. But why? The lack of scientific rigor that went into our “study” makes me leery to draw any real conclusions. We didn’t and couldn’t control for other factors, like how tiring my day had been, what time I went to bed or woke up, how many times during the night my daughter’s cough interrupted my slumber, etc. Further, I slept poorly the first two nights, so there was nowhere to go but up, so to speak. The next three nights were much better.

With that disclaimer in mind, I still took away some valuable lessons from this experiment. Here’s what I learned over the course of five nights. 

Half the battle is carving out time to prepare to sleep

My daughter typically goes to sleep by 8 pm, and I aim to be in bed at 9:30 pm. Between talking with my husband, catching up on emails, watching a 30-minute TV show, getting ready for bed, and reading for 20 minutes, that hour and a half disappears in a flash. During the sleep challenge, however, I had to be a lot more conscious about how I was using my time. 

I needed time to prepare and drink my tea, set up the aromatherapy and get the mist going, spend an hour or so in the presence of my bedtime bulb lamp, and make sure I set aside 10 minutes for meditation. By necessity, sleep was on my mind much earlier than usual, and this shift forced me to pay attention to how I was spending each minute. No more dilly-dallying on Instagram or mindlessly scrolling through Netflix holiday movie options. I had to put in the effort to prepare for a good night’s sleep. It wasn’t always easy (one night I just couldn’t get myself off the couch), but acknowledging that it was up to me to carve out that time helped me to focus on doing just that. 

Believe in the ritual

Once I made it a priority to set aside time to focus on getting better zzz’s, the actual process was also important. The tea, aromatherapy, light therapy, and meditation under a heavy blanket together built a structure to my evening that told my brain “it’s time to wind down.” The ritual signaled the transition from the craziness of the day to the calm of bedtime.

You don’t need to follow the exact ritual I did to improve your sleep. In fact, I will make some tweaks in the future. I’m fairly sensitive to perfume smells, so aromatherapy wasn’t my favorite part of this challenge, but I’d be willing swap out the oils for a soothing candle.

Also, it turns out I’m not a huge fan of spearmint tea blends, but I’d consider subbing in a small cup of decaf chai or decaf vanilla. And while I admire the concept of blue light-blocking bulbs, I needed a few more bulbs to make my room bright enough to spend an hour reading in bed. 

So think about what might help you ease into bedtime. A hot bath? Putting aside your phone for half an hour? Ten minutes of yoga? Fifteen minutes with a good book? Create your own ritual and use it daily to set yourself up for a successful night of sleep. 

Beware of too much tea!

This is a silly one but relevant. A steaming cup of caffeine-free tea before bedtime is a great way to relax, but I had to cut back on my tea consumption as this challenge progressed because liquids before bedtime meant bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. Also, I didn’t do myself any favors adding a spoonful of sugar to my tea. Too much sugar before bedtime is a recipe for a poor night’s sleep!

Meditation for the win

When aSweatLife editor-in-chief Kristen Geil suggested adding a meditation app to my sleep challenge routine, I inwardly groaned. I had attempted meditating before and decided it wasn’t for me. But that was three and a half years ago, and I was willing to give it another shot. 

I’m so glad I did. As a devoted Peloton rider, I thought the app’s meditation channel might appeal to me. I started with a five minute meditation from the Relax & Sleep category and loved everything about it. Instead of sitting upright in a chair, the instructor told me I could lie down as if I was going to sleep. This simple change made a huge difference.

The next night, I was fully prepared for bed before I started the meditation: pajamas on, teeth brushed, under my gravity blanket. I did a 10-minute meditation and could feel my body relaxing and gently moving toward sleep as soothing music played and the instructor’s melodious voice flowed through my ear. It hardly mattered what she was saying, though I think it was something about letting go of negative thoughts. I was sold. 

This sleep challenge also introduced the Gravid blanket into my life. I had trouble adjusting to the heaviness of the blanket at first, but by the third night, I found this pressure soothing. If nothing else, it was extra warmth on a few chilly Chicago nights, so I’m planning to keep using it as part of my new sleep routine. 

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About Kelsey Schagemann

Kelsey is a former NCAA Division III cross country and track athlete who exchanged sneakers for spin shoes in her twenties. Hailing from the great state of Oregon (by way of St. Louis, where she spent her childhood), Kelsey has made Chicago her home since 2006. She can often be found at the helm of her daughter’s stroller, walking miles throughout the city. Her other favorite fitness activities include spinning, yoga, lifting weights and biking. As a freelance writer, Kelsey works with universities, nonprofits, websites and magazines (visit bit.ly/kelseyschagemann for more information). In her spare time, she enjoys trying new recipes, traveling with her family and keeping the library in business. Kelsey holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.