TEN WEEKS TO BETTER PEOPLE AND A BETTER PLANET
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
– Howard Zinn
What do you feel when you see plastic bags blowing in the wind, caught in trees and fence lines, floating in our waterways? Do you notice?
Is it really our problem as individuals? We didn’t allow our bags to end up there, and sometimes we have even picked up bags tossed aside by others.
Certainly, the manufacturers that make them and the retailers that provide them have a huge role to play in alleviating the problem.
Oftentimes when we see something that we believe is wrong or that we think we could help with, we want to take action and
do something, but it seems impossible. There are just too many obstacles in the way. We don’t have enough time, we don’t see the impact, we don’t know how.
My hope is that if we can get our lives into balance, we can find the time, see the impact, and have the capacity to learn how—and as a result, change our habits in a way that allows us to do better for ourselves and for the environment.
Better habits, better health, better happiness, and better relationships lead to a better environment.
Is it possible that by acting with our collective force as indi- viduals, we can change the supply and demand balance by reducing the use of plastic bags, straws, and similar items?
On the way to becoming the people we are today, our habits were shaped and formed by our experiences, often without us even knowing. Little did we know that some of the experiences that were forming and shaping us were also constraining us. It is only upon self-reflection that we can see how our particular stories unfolded and how the lessons we learned—or thought we learned—along the way informed our current ways of being.
It takes work to unravel the stories we have so carefully knitted together about ourselves—but it’s worth it.
After reinforcing the foundations of our daily living—sleep
and play—we can begin to dissect our story and start to act in a way that is more aligned with our true selves. This means spending our time and money more intentionally, serving others, shedding the negative stories we tell ourselves, stretching ourselves, creating mindful habits, making space for what is important to us, and then sharing it in an impactful way.
Letting go of the stories that hold us back can allow us to make space for something better, something that might just surprise us.
These are my stories. I frame these stories as lessons learned because they are the things I determined to be true at that time in my life. They informed my way of thinking and being and seeing the world—some in a good way, some not so much. I had to debunk some of these lessons in order to create the space needed to get to a better place. In that better place we become people and better people create a better planet.
It should have been the happiest time of my life. I had a beau- tiful four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, my husband and I were working in careers that both challenged us and paid well, we had a live-in au pair to care for our children while we were working, and we owned a home in a beautiful, safe neighborhood in the country.
Instead I was deeply depressed. I went through the motions, did everything that was expected of me, and was desperately tired. Instead of enjoying bath time with my little ones, it was an exercise to get through just so they could go to bed—which meant I could, too. Even my time outdoors, which usually reju- venated me, was spent sitting in a patio chair staring into space. I was unable to articulate to my husband and those close to me just how unhappy I was. After all, I was living the American dream!
For six months in that state, I plotted how to leave my job. How to walk away from what started out as my dream position with a six-figure income at a Fortune 500 company whose environmental ideals aligned with my own. My self-esteem suffered; what had I done wrong? I always did my best work, but somehow, that wasn’t enough. I wasn’t just depressed, I was scared. Scared to stay and scared to leave.
I was struggling to mesh my two selves—the one who wanted to be seen as a stay-at-home mom, and the one who wanted to be seen as a working professional. Yet, I couldn’t see myself as only a full-time mom, and I couldn’t see myself staying in what had become “the daily grind.” During those six months, turning it all over and over and over in my mind, I realized that sometimes you have to leave something to build something that allows you to be you (and still make a living!).
I am not the first woman to struggle with this internal conflict. We strive to “have it all” but don’t really know how to make that happen. I was determined to have it all, my way. But I had to let go of many of the lessons I had learned along the way and dig deep to rediscover me.
It’s a Boy’s World but Girls Can Find Fun Too
When I graduated from a high school class of fifty-seven students in rural, Southern Illinois, it seemed as though I had two choices in a county with a population of 7,500 people: become a farmer or become a farmer’s wife.
The second of four children, my older sister and I shadowed my dad, a part-time farmer and daytime Western Union employee, as much as we were allowed. I vividly remember a time when I was preschool age wanting to be with my dad when he harvested corn on our little eight-acre farm where we lived at that time in Central Illinois. My parents tried to convince me that I wouldn’t like it, but I was insistent. It was cold, so my mom bundled me up like a little version of the Michelin Man, and they placed me in the back of the wagon, away from the trajectory of ear corn shot there from the corn picker. It was so cold and very noisy. I quickly found it wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I had to wait until my dad reached a stopping point before I could get out. Sometimes, things just aren’t what you think they will be.
The highlight of our childhood days was accompanying our dad to the feed store, dusty and sweet smelling from all the ground feed, and being allowed to get a bottled soda and candy from the old-style vending machines. My dad was raising pigs at the time, and I followed him around doing that as well, muddy and smelly as it was. I am frequently reminded that I said to anyone who was listening, “I’m not going to be a pig woman!” Then the third child, a boy, arrived. Suddenly, my sister and I were no longer allowed to accompany our dad on his various farm errands; only our little brother accompanied him now. I’m sure that three kids were just too many to haul around, and we couldn’t fit in the cab of the old Ford truck anyway. We were also told we couldn’t go to the stockyard because of the bad language we might hear—which was apparently okay for the younger ears of our little brother!
That was when I first learned that things were different for boys and girls, and I didn’t like it one bit. So I wasn’t encouraged to be a farmer—that was for my brother—and I could not see myself as a farmer’s wife. From what I saw, the farmer’s wife’s job was to support the men by cooking and carrying food to them during the long days of planting and harvesting. I know many women, including my mom, who have done just that and enjoyed it, so I am in no way disrespecting that choice. A farming way of life can be a fulfilling partnership and a wonderful way to raise a family. For me, it was a reminder that there were unspoken role expectations that I didn’t understand and that I didn’t fit.
The gender role message was reinforced in other ways as well. I missed the bus one morning because I refused to put on the dress my mom had laid out for me. Who can tumble with the boys at recess in a skirt? I remember our Brownies (little Girl Scouts) meetings sitting in the elementary school cafeteria making angels out of cardboard toilet paper dowels, imagining how our Cub Scout counterparts must surely be out hiking in the forest, following stream beds for miles, exploring under every rock and fallen tree. By eighth grade, I had a science teacher who gave us credit for an outdoor education class every summer. He got to go fishing, and we got to traipse around in the woods like Cub Scouts, whether we were boys or girls.
So sometimes we do find a safe spot that lets us just be.
Zero Money Is Okay with Zero Debt—and a Job
By tenth grade, we had moved closer to my dad’s aging parents and now lived on more than 140 beautiful acres of woods with rolling hills and creeks in Southern Illinois. It was wonderful for taking long walks to explore nature, but too remote for much of a teenage social life. After graduation from high school, I went off to college at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, picking a major from my favorite subject, biology.
I had and still have a deep love of science, so biology (with a chemistry minor) was my degree plan, although I had no idea what to do with it. I found some volunteer work that I enjoyed while in college, which landed me in the environmental field, thanks to friends I made there.
After graduation and a summer of work so I would have gas money, I traveled north to Chicago. My aunt and uncle generously opened their home in suburban Chicago to me. I stayed with them until I could save enough money from my new job to get the first and last month’s rent and security deposit required to rent an apartment.
I had always thought I was poor—dirt poor—but now I realize I was actually well-off compared to many college graduates today. Between my jobs, short-term loans, and grants, I managed to graduate with zero money, but also zero debt. And I was lucky enough to have a job!
Sometimes You Have to Move to the Passing Lane
When I went to Chicago to work with an environmental services contractor, I thought I would stay with that company forever. After three or four years, they transferred me from Chicago to Houston and I was promoted to general manager of their new division where hazardous waste was treated. I worked nine- ty-hour weeks just for the love of building something new, and I really enjoyed the chemistry and understanding the regulatory classification systems.
Everything changed the day I dared to speak up to management, suggesting that we should not receive a particular waste stream that we were expected to handle; it was lucrative but had a strong acrid odor that caused a lot of problems. That act of speaking up cost me the position. I was demoted; I returned to Chicago briefly until I found a new job at an environmental consulting firm back in humid but sunny Houston. The demotion reminded me that no amount of hard work would be enough to allow me to have a say. I was expected to keep my head down and to stay in my lane. Time to move to the passing lane instead! Moving from contractor to consultant was a step in the right direction, but I soon realized that there was no career path for me in a consulting firm since I was neither an engineer nor a man. Although I had a female boss, an engineer who was extremely competent and an integral part of the office, she never moved up in the company. If she couldn’t do it, what hope did I have? I knew that to get the next good salary bump, I would need to move from contracting and consulting to an industrial company, so I accepted a position as an environmental supervisor at a crude oil terminal two hours east of Houston in Beaumont, Texas. They paid my moving expenses including $5,000 for “incidentals.” I laugh now at how amazed I was. I had never heard of such a thing—money for “incidentals.” I learned a lot about the energy business there, thanks to the kindness of the operations manager for whom no question was too dumb. During this time, my now husband, Lars, and I had started dating and decided to get married. Lars still lived in Houston, and I was lucky to get an opportunity to move back to the Houston area when my company moved its corporate offices from Los Angeles to Sugar Land, a Houston suburb.
So after two years in the Beaumont area, I transferred to the company’s re-located corporate office to serve first as the water advisor and then as a shared international environmental advisor. It was some of the most interesting work I have done, including about ten trips to Nicaragua to secure a permit from the environmental ministry for a geothermal project. My son was only about a year old during this project and it hurt my heart to leave him even for a short period of time. He, of course, was totally fine and well cared for by his dad. My daughter was born during my tenure with this company as well. With two little ones at home and the geothermal work that took me to Central America cancelled, it looked more and more like I would be required to travel to Indonesia.
With the work in Indonesia looming, I was concerned about the potential for a long time away from my family. So when I was called by a headhunter about a position as an environmen- tal team leader for a Fortune 500 company with an excellent reputation for environmental stewardship, I was thrilled. I had arrived—or at least I was on my way. Growing up in a small town, the kind that musician John Cougar Mellencamp wrote about, I would have never dreamed that I could work for such a well-known international company. I had hit the big leagues! Although there was some travel with the new job, it was domestic and less frequent. I could enjoy my kids and have a professional life. I was ecstatic to be a part of such a great company.
The Boss Can Be More Important than the Job
As they say, people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. And so it was for me. Just as I was hired, the supervisor who hired me was saying farewell and I was introduced to his replacement. Let’s just say that when your new boss pulls out his wallet to show you the very worn Bible verse his mother has given him cautioning against anger, it’s not a good sign.
I was still not great at company politics, and after about a year it became evident that this was a required skill not listed in the job description. I needed a change. I loved the company and what they were doing and really wanted to stay, so I asked for a transfer to another group where I could apply my skills. My boss denied the transfer request.
That was the last straw.
Less than two years after being recruited for the position, I handed in my resignation. My boss now offered me the transfer but by the time he reconsidered, the wheels had already been set in motion for my next big career move.
I formed a limited liability company (LLC) and was set to go out on my own as a sole proprietor environmental consultant. My kids were now five and two. My son was entering kinder- garten; now I could be the mom who took her kids to school and the mom who had a career.
As scary as it was to take that leap, it was truly the best thing I have ever done career-wise. I left my job with just a few hours of project work lined up with a colleague’s air quality consulting firm. And I never looked back.
Women Have to Fight for Leadership Roles—and I’m Not a Fighter
I learned a valuable lesson during those eighteen years in cor- porate America: there was little room for women in advanced positions, and I had neither the ability nor the interest in fighting for one of the few leadership spots available to someone like me. So instead I carved out my own niche and did what made me happy. There have been ups and downs and I have learned and changed so much. Seventeen years have elapsed since I took the leap to go out on my own. Instead of fighting for a leadership role in corporate America, I have learned that there are other ways to lead—like building a company and writing a book.
CREATING A SUSTAINABLE SELF CAN HELP US CREATE A SUSTAINABLE WORLD
The same philosophies we use to improve ourselves are the same ones we can use to improve our environment. What creates a sustainable self creates a sustainable world.
Over the course of ten weeks, we can make a real difference in achieving the balance in our lives that allows us to do better and be better.
There are 7.7 billion people in the world and more than one billion of them live in developed countries.1 Imagine what would happen if the people enjoying the good life decided to be more mindful of how our everyday choices affect the rest of the world and what we are leaving for the next generation.
We are living in a society that uses items, which are designed to last hundreds of years, just one time and then throws them away. From the 150 million tons of plastic produced every year, more than eight million tons end up in our oceans. One in three species of marine mammals have been found entangled in our discarded materials and over 90 percent of all seabirds have some plastic in their guts.2 And even worse than the ocean gyres of plastics, teeny-tiny, nanosized bits are making their way into the food chain—and thus us.3
Surely we can do better. And we want to do better.
And then there’s work, kids, finances, commuting, health issues, caregiving for family members—the list goes on and on. But we are hopeful, so we wake up each day and carry on. This book puts intention behind that hopefulness. In ten weeks, I believe you can be a better you and thus help create a better planet. Why ten weeks? Because science tells us it takes a little more than two months, give or take, to adopt a new behavior.4
Don’t worry, we’ll start small. Like how to remove single-use plastics from everyday use. In learning how to tackle little things, we will learn the skills to tackle much bigger issues as well, like the really big one of our time: climate change.
IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU
Using anecdotes from my personal journey through breast cancer, and drawing on my science background and general curiosity about everything, I have meshed together the science that will help us get our lives back in balance so that we can do things that matter for the environment. Better people, better planet.
How to Use This Book
As I worked my way back from the deconditioning (decreased physical capacity) that resulted from chemotherapy, I gained a clear understanding of the foundational elements we need in our lives to get the balance that living to our potential requires.
These elements became the basis for the chapters in this book. Each of the ten chapters is equivalent to one week and focuses on some aspect of how we can be better and do better. They are intended to be connected and each one builds on the previous chapters. Every week’s concept is based on science
and real-world experience.
This information is connected in a way that can be applied to our lives, our families, our homes, and our communities. There is no silver bullet or one size fits all. In every case you have to figure out what works for you. Hopefully in leading by example, you’ll get some ideas from my story.
This process starts with small steps. These small steps are the beginning of a journey that could very well take you to a place you had never imagined, doing more than you might have ever believed possible.
The order of these chapters is intentional so be sure to follow them sequentially. Ideally, you will only read one chapter each week, put the concepts into practice for seven days or so, and then move on to the next chapter the following week. During subsequent weeks, you will keep practicing the concepts from the prior weeks. This allows you to build and grow a foundation of better practices that enable a better life and that are also sustainable for the rest of your life. As you progress, your eyes will be opened to possibilities you walked right past before.
I imagine each week of practice as a stream of water. As the subsequent weeks are added, the flow grows stronger until after ten weeks, you have the power of a river propelling you along. If you are having trouble with the practices from one week, repeat them. Likewise, if you have already integrated one of the concepts, review it for a refresher and move on. After all, the concept that it takes ten weeks to make a habit automatic is really an average. It could be several days less or several days more to make any one of these a part of the rhythm of your life. And if the way this is presented doesn’t resonate with you, no worries; try another way, your way, and keep trying until you find what works for you.
Success does not require perfection. One little misstep does not mean failure.5 Every day is an opportunity to try again.
How the Book Is Organized
Each of the chapters are linked:
• Week 1: Sleep . . . so you can play.
• Week 2: Play . . . so you can be.
• Week 3: Be . . . so you can spend.
• Week 4: Spend . . . so you can serve.
• Week 5: Serve . . . so you can shed.
• Week 6: Shed . . . so you can stretch.
• Week 7: Stretch . . . so you can inhabit.
• Week 8: Inhabit . . . so you can make space.
• Week 9: Make space . . . so you can share.
• Week 10: Share . . . to make better people and a better planet.
After all that, there is a bonus section on science. With so much seemingly conflicting information out there, it can be hard to make sense in the chaos. Borrowing from experts in the field, I give you a recipe for exactly how to do just that.
There are actions you can take for yourself and the envi- ronment at the end of each chapter, identified as “Find Your Rhythm.” And if those small sustainability challenges at the end of each chapter are not enough, check out the list of “Shifts and Swaps” at the end of the book.
This planet called Earth doesn’t need us, but we sure need this planet. When we find ourselves at the “last straw,” the one that broke the camel’s back, the next steps in the journey of our lives become crystal clear. With that clarity, we can find the conviction to do what needs to be done to take care of ourselves and the environment.
SHARE YOUR JOURNEY
As you embark on this journey, I want to hear from you. Share your successes and seek support for your struggles from a like- minded community. Find the Facebook page titled “The Last Straw Book” and join the group “The Last Straw.” Also check our website, thelaststrawbook.com, from time to time for more information.
So, let’s get past the last straw—in your life, and the one we use for drinks, too.
WEEK 1: SLEEP
“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.”
– David Benioff, The City of Thieves
My family tells me that I was a very good sleeper as a child— so good that as a toddler playing with my little cousins, my mom would say, “Where’s Joycie?” She’d then come to find me underfoot of the others, toys strewn all over the floor, lying fast asleep in the midst of it. I do love sleep.
But you’re probably saying, seriously, your big entrance to this book is sleep? Yep. Getting enough sleep makes everything else possible, and if you have not gotten enough sleep in the past, it can be life changing.
In this chapter, I’ll share my sleep story—going from a brilliant sleeper to brilliantly sleep deprived—and hopefully
there will be some aspect that resonates with you and helps you improve your ability to sleep well. Once we have the foundation of sleep, we can begin to find balance in other parts of our daily life.
WE DON’T MISS SLEEP UNTIL WE CAN’T GET IT
In 2017, at a routine mammogram, a mass was discovered in my right breast. So, I did what needed to be done and got on with life. Except, after the surgery, and the chemo, and the radiation, and more than a year of recovery, I went from being a brilliant sleeper to just plain tired. I was tired all the time. So tired. I stayed in bed up to ten hours a night reaching for that elusive feeling that only comes with a good night’s rest. I took afternoon naps. I went to bed early. I slept late. I frequently woke up with headaches. I felt like I was in a fog.
There were slight (sometimes not so slight) pauses in con- versation as I searched to recall the word I was looking for. I was asked to pass the salt and handed over a butter knife. I made plans for New Year’s Eve and forgot them. I attended a motivational speaker event and even though it was still going strong and I was very engaged, my body said no more at 5 p.m. and I had to walk out. Visiting a friend in Colorado, I got to bed at 4 a.m. after delays from a snowstorm; getting just four hours of sleep that night, it took ten days before I felt quasi-normal again (that is, just tired, instead of walking-dead tired).
I was fifty-six years old and wondered, so is that it? Am I done? Am I old? Am I just waiting it out now?
Fatigue, chemo brain, deconditioning—all of these are very real and lasting effects of chemotherapy. Only in conducting research for this book did I learn that “twelve weeks of chemo- therapy is equivalent to a decade of cardiorespiratory fitness decline.”6 No wonder I was still tired!
I needed help, but I wasn’t so much afraid of asking as I was of the answer.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
So, on a routine follow-up visit to my oncologist, I asked, “Can this still be the effect of the chemo?” She asked a few questions, considered my age, and responded, “You need a sleep study.” I knew I had some kind of apnea because I was aware enough during sleep to know that at times I was waking myself when my airway closed. I was limited to two sleeping in two very price positions on either side: the pillow tucked between my neck and shoulder, bottom arm parallel to the pillow, elbow bent, fist anchored in the opposite shoulder, wrist under chin, bottom jaw pressed forward—all trying to keep my airway open while I slept. I knew there was a problem, but I did not want one of those ugly, noisy, ill-fitting, decidedly un-sexy CPAP machines.7 I did the sleep study—at home—and it was not nearly as disruptive as I thought it might be. The kit included a finger probe to measure oxygen saturation, a cannula under my nose to measure airflow, and sensors on my chest to measure chest rise and fall and heart rate—all stored in a data device.
They were able to get enough data to make a diagnosis of mild obstructive sleep apnea, based on the average number of events per hour when I stopped breathing for ten seconds or more.8 And of course, not breathing is bad because when we aren’t breathing, our body is not getting oxygen. I was surprised to find it is normal to have up to five of these events an hour. In other words, it is normal to stop breathing several times an hour when sleeping! Thirty or more events is categorized as severe.9 Imagine not breathing thirty times in an hour, ten seconds each time. You would be missing out on five minutes of sleep each hour! I didn’t even have the most severe sleep apnea and it was dramatically affecting my life.
So I ended up with an APAP machine (an automatic, as opposed to a continuous, positive airway pressure device) and it was instantly life changing.10 In an interview about her movie Wine Country, former Saturday Night Live cast member Amy Poehler said this about bringing her CPAP machine onto the movie set: “It has completely changed my life . . . I’ve always been a terrible sleeper. I performed most of my career incredibly sleep deprived . . . It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my health. So yeah, much like my friend Bradley Cooper, who used
his real dog in A Star Is Born, I used my real CPAP machine in this movie.”11
Thank you, Amy! If a famous actress/writer/producer like Amy Poehler can own it, so can I.
Luckily, I didn’t need the big honking mouth and nose covering mask Amy used in Wine Country (sorry Amy!), just a quiet, lightweight piece that puts air through my nose. I call it my sleep machine, and it is streamlined, nice looking, and my very best friend. I do not feel any air pressure at all when it is on, but it blows like a windstorm when I take it off. If I open my mouth, there’s a little bit of Darth Vader going on as air rushes out.
Yes, occasionally I feel like I am wrestling an octopus when the unnecessarily long, looping length of tubing doesn’t move with me, and I have been known to get entangled in my phone cord, Kindle charger cord, and APAP hose in hotels— but I always find my way out, and it’s worth it because this one amazing device gave me my life back. I wake up after almost exactly eight hours and I am rested. No more morning headaches! I have the energy to work out! I make plans and keep them! I don’t search for words! I have IDEAS again! I AM BACK! My sleep machine even helped with my dreams. I often remember my dreams upon waking; that had stopped entirely during sleep-deprived time. Dreaming is important in helping ideas coalesce and clarify. Joy Harjo, our US poet laureate says,
“It’s important to have a doorway open to the place without words, and that happens more easily when you’ve come from dreaming.”12 The science supports this. A review of studies on dreams and sleep apnea published in Frontiers in Neurology suggests that sleep apnea can affect dream recall and dream content.13 My conclusion: To dream big, sleep well!
To dream big, sleep well.
START WITH A SLEEP BUDGET
Anyone who has spent interrupted nights with a newborn knows just how important sleep is. I remember those first weeks back at work after having my babies, just wishing the day would end so that I could start fresh and try again tomorrow, hopefully with more energy after better rest. Sorting for recycling, reusable water bottles, and alternatives to disposable diapers were the last things on my mind—if they crossed my mind at all.
We know we need more sleep, but we often underestimate the impact insufficient sleep can have on us. Twenty percent of all American adults show some signs of chronic sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to weight gain, cardio- vascular issues, and memory issues.14 I can vouch for all three. If you have bragging rights for how little sleep you can get by on, or if you have ever said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” you’re getting it wrong. We need good sleep each night in order to have the energy to be our best each day.15 Sleep helps our creativity, our problem-solving, our memory, and our performance,16 but if you need to be persuaded that sleep is the most important part of your day (or night), try listening to Dr. Matthew Carter’s TEDx Talk, “The Science of Sleep (and the Art of Productivity).”17
Just like a financial budget can help us get to our money-re- lated goals faster, a sleep budget can help get us to our life goals faster. There are twenty-four hours in a day and eight of them (give or take a few for your body’s requirements) should be spent sleeping. Start with budgeting enough sleep, and then fit everything else in around that.
Make sleep a priority.
FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
If you need help with getting to sleep or staying asleep, there is plenty of advice available about reducing caffeine intake late in the day, avoiding alcohol, exercising, and limiting screen time just before bedtime.
For me, after I cozy up in bed, a mental rundown of the day followed by a silent acknowledgment on the thing I am most grateful for works every time. For waking at night, the advice is to do something rather than attempting to force yourself to sleep.
For me, reading on my Kindle works well—so well sometimes it conks me on the forehead as I fall asleep with it resting on my chest. For others, meditation or prayer is effective.
If you’re having problems, here are some more specific tips:
1. Increase bright light exposure during the day.
2. Reduce blue light exposure (from smartphones, tablets, and computers) in the evening.
3. Reserve caffeine for early in the day (six to eight hours before bedtime).
4. Reduce daytime naps (except power naps of thirty minutes or less).
5. Try to sleep and wake at consistent times.
6. Don’t drink alcohol.
7. Optimize your bedroom for temperature, noise, and lights.
8. Don’t eat or drink too late.
9. Create a relaxing nighttime routine that works for you (music, reading, bath or shower, meditation, gratitude recitation).
10. Do some physical activity, but not right before bed.
11. If you are already physically activity, then up the level and be sure and break a sweat.
12. Get the right mattress, pillows, and bed linens.18
And if you have seemingly insurmountable sleep issues, then maybe a sleep study is in your future, too. It’s really not so bad, especially since you can do it at home in your own bed.
FIND YOUR RHYTHM
In the introduction, I promised actions you can take for yourself and the environment at the end of each chapter. Once you get sleep down cold, maybe you can use your newfound energy to start making some small changes that move you toward more sustainable environmental habits.
> For You
Work on getting better at sleeping well this week. Keep a sleep journal every night this week; write down when you go to bed, when you wake up, how much activity (physical and screen time), how much food and caffeine you have in the six hours preceding bedtime, and any other information (for example, stress- ors) that relate to the amount of sleep you are (or aren’t) getting.
Based on this information, adjust your sleep habits using the list from this chapter. If you can’t resolve your sleep issues over the course of a few weeks, make an appointment with your physician to figure out why that is. In the meantime, keep making changes in your lifestyle to see if they help.
> For the Environment
Swap this for that. Choose at least one single-use, plastic item and eliminate it from your life. Our parents or grandparents managed just fine without these items.
• Swap plastic grocery bags for reusable cloth bags or paper bags in a pinch
• Swap single-use, plastic water bottles for reusable water bottles
• Swap Styrofoam coffee cups for reusable mugs
• And of course, swap plastic straws for no straws, paper straws, bamboo or stainless steel straws, or other reusable straws
Too easy? Already following these practices? Check out the “Shifts and Swaps” at the end of the book for more ideas.
Sleep makes everything better. Sleep makes everything possible. Getting enough sleep allows us to have the energy and the desire to change our habits for the better. If you want to be a better citizen of the world, if you want more sustainable practices in your life, start by getting enough sleep.
So, if incorporating an alternative to plastic straws in your life, or separating out recyclables from trash seems insurmountable, there’s a very good chance you need more sleep.
Sleep . . . so you can play! Because when you get enough rest, anything is possible. With enough sleep, you might even feel like making time to play.