How I'm Finding Peace Amidst a Storm

Here's how I stay sane during India's COVID emergency: by ensuring I sleep well each night and wake up to a fresh day. Three steps on how I managed to build my sleep cycle + a list of sleep products:

I've had a slightly crazy two months. India's COVID surge started in April, and quickly turned into my nation's worst humanitarian crisis in history. I was involved in a COVID relief effort that reached hundreds of thousands of people, so I quickly shifted focus away from my other commitments to give it my all. It was stressful work, but I'm slowly beginning to create some semblance of order in my life again. Now, I'm working on the COVID effort, my full-time job at On Deck, and side projects such as 'The Notionette', and this newsletter.

In this edition, we'll talk more about sleep. As India continues its COVID battle, here’s how I’m finding sanity and stability amidst all the chaos that threatens to consume me: I ensure I sleep well each night.

Sleeping well is an art and one that I struggled to learn for months. I'm still no master of it, but a devoted student of learning it, understanding its importance and role in bringing me peace amidst turbulence.

It is sleeping well that helps me anchor myself in a sea of chaos that threatens to overwhelm me. With all the triggers around me that can cause a mental breakdown, what with mounting deaths and illnesses of loved ones, it is a good night's sleep that helps me wake up to a fresh start each day and continue my work.

In addition to the process to ease into a peaceful sleep I mentioned in my previous issue, here are three concrete steps that have helped me the best in the last two months to ensure that my life was still anchored amidst a storm:

1️⃣ Getting More Sun

Sunlight regulates our circadian rhythm- the bodily cycle that tells us when to wake up and sleep and is also responsible for our activity levels throughout the day. Our body produces the sleep hormone melatonin during the night, telling us it is time to sleep. However, since the lockdowns started and our lives were upturned, most of us spend most of our time inside, and hence the body finds it difficult to know if it's day or night.

Our pre-agricultural revolution bodies evolved to tell the time based on sunlight, and therefore our body can only regulate its functions properly if it gets sufficient sunlight. When you step out into the sun during the daytime, your body knows it is day and accordingly regulates the energy levels to be more active. It also slowly translates into feeling more ready for bed at night.

I learned this the hard way when I was cooped up in my room for weeks, working all day and night on my COVID app. Not only was I getting very little sleep, but I got no sunlight. This quickly became a vicious cycle of feeling sleepy during the day and unable to sleep at night. It also didn't help that there was (and still is) so much despair all around, and I couldn't bring myself to stop work to rest, but once I managed to fall asleep, I didn't have the strength to wake up to the anguish.

Finally, after two months of suffering, I couldn't go on anymore, and one small habit changed everything.

To take my mind off the app and the news, and not wanting to rely on screens while I was taking a break, I began reading. I'd purchased a beautiful hardcover of Sapiens: A Graphic History just before the crisis started, and I decided to get down to reading it one evening finally. And instead of reading in my room, I decided to sit on the porch and catch some air. I saw the results from the first day. While I could only spend an hour or so reading before sunset, the little sunlight that I did manage to soak in infused new life into me. At first, I thought it was because of how much I loved the book, and so I continued reading it every evening on the porch. I finished the book in three days, but I continued to feel the energy even after that, so I picked up another book.

That's when I also started noticing changes in the nights- in addition to feeling active in the period I was outside, I also found the first wisps of sleepiness in the nights. So now I pick up a book and read it on the porch every evening for an hour! I also try to catch the morning sun and keep my windows wide open throughout the day to let plenty of sunlight in. During the day, it feels like a new life, and at night, it is easier to relax and get ready for bed.

2️⃣ Working Out

As with sunlight, while I knew its benefits for sleep, it was random how I found the importance of working out and incorporated it into my life.

The story is that while I did Yoga for many years, I never did a full split, but I always wanted to. Sometime before the crisis, I explored tutorials and found a splits training app with a free one-week trial. The week had lapsed during the crisis, and my card got charged, so I was very intent on finally beginning its 30-day challenge not to let it go to waste. That's how I started working out each day after my reading session.

Working out for an hour will tire your body and will force it to want rest. While my split training is not very intense (mainly stretching and flexibility endurance), it is perfect for tiring myself out in the evening. I follow it with a relaxing shower to begin my wind-down practice.

3️⃣ Aromatherapy

I love fragrances, and I was delighted to come across aromatherapy. Certain scents help you relax and sleep better.

Lavender is usually the main ingredient in all of them since it helps trigger the sleep hormone melatonin. I light up a diffuser with lavender essential oils in the evening after my workout and use a lavender-based body wash in the shower. After my PM skincare routine, I also use a lavender-and-vanilla body lotion post the shower. There are also a few pillow sprays and neck sprays that help you relax- I recommend the ones from Forest Essentials since they're all-natural and ayurvedic (ancient Indian herbal medicine).

⬇️ Here's a list of all the products (including the above ones) that help you build a better sleep cycle and find calmness in rocky seas.

Sleeping well ensures that I end my day and put it behind me, knowing that tomorrow will be a fresh chance at doing better and doing more, of being a better person. Over the weeks, with these steps, I started being able to sleep. These days, my goal is now to wake up decently early and catch some morning sun. I'd love to know from you: What's your tiny goal for this week?

These have been my three highlights from the productivity and personal growth space this week. If you liked what you read, connect with me on Twitter and let me know. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, subscribe to GrowPro Labs here to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

I'm on a mission to make Mondays great, and this newsletter is a part of my efforts in helping you achieve mindful productivity, personal growth, and living your Ikigai.