I am not a calm person by nature. I’ve always got a million things on the go and the idea of just sitting still, even for a few minutes, fills me with dread. But when the folks behind the Calm app challenged me to just chill out for 21 days, I accepted that challenge because I am very competitive by nature — to the point that I had to quit going to yoga classes because I was always trying to beat everyone else. Not the goal, I know.
Here’s what I started with on day one of the Calm app project:
- I exercise for an hour a day, five days a week
- I make most of my own food from scratch (because cooking is one thing that does kind of relax me)
- I try to limit alcohol to one drink per night on weeknights, two (maybe three) on the weekend
- The exercise and diet are all because I have essential hypertension (that’s genetic high blood pressure — I really need to relax)
- I get up early, between 5:00 am and 6.30 am depending on if I’m working from home or the office
- While I can fall asleep pretty much anywhere (love me a nap), my overnight sleep has been pretty restless for a while, with everything from broken sleep throughout the night, to night sweats and even night terrors, meaning I would wake up feeling tired
- I’ve always been highly strung with a million things running through my head at any time
- I don’t have a TV in my bedroom but I do charge my phone next to my bed at night because it’s also my morning alarm
Here’s how the experience went
I had used a free trial of the Calm app a few years ago after a training session at work introduced it as a tool for helping to deal with stressful situations and general burnout.
This time around I started with the 7 Days of Sleep challenge. Each day involves a 10-minute meditation and recommends a different feature in the sleep section of the Calm app to help you drift off at night. The Deep Sleep Release — which you can set at 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes — helps you to relax by tensing up each muscle group, one by one, and then releasing. I found the 10 to 15-minute range was best for me — it suited my general impatience, but was long enough to ensure I was just about to nod off by the end of the session.
There was one instance in the trial when I did wake up in the middle of the night. I turned on the Gently Back to Sleep meditation (go for the waves version, it’s very soothing) and was back to sleep in no time (it runs for 49 minutes, in case you’re really struggling for shut-eye).
Because it takes 21 days for a new habit to fully set in, apparently, I was determined to stick with it. I kept up the Daily Calm sessions and honestly, it made me feel much more relaxed. I set aside 10 minutes after finishing work or as soon as I got home each day as a bit of a boundary to say “this day is DONE”. It got to the point where I actually looked forward to just sitting down, closing my eyes and listening to the waves crash (that’s the app — I live absolutely nowhere near the beach, for the record). Although some of the themes in the meditation sessions were so bang-on with the issues I was dealing with that day that it kind of spooked me.
But the winning feature for me was the sleep stories, which I’ve become so obsessed with that I’m still using every night. Nick Offerman reading The Big Bad Wolf Learns Anger Management is my favourite. I’ve turned to it many times now and it works a treat. I have no idea how it ends though because I’ve never made it past the first few minutes of the story. Zzzzz.
I did, however, work out that non-fiction stories are not for me — I tend to listen too intently because I don’t want to miss any facts and just can’t fall asleep. And the shorter stories under 15 minutes tend to make me a bit anxious — I get worried that I won’t fall asleep before the story ends, which is exactly what ends up happening. The completely fictional stories that run for 30 minutes or more are my sweet spot.
I’m definitely sleeping more soundly (although I may now have an addiction to requiring a bedtime story every night), and the tips from the daily 10-minute meditation sessions have made me feel more confident in being able to stay (slightly) calmer when things flare up during the day.
A 12-month subscription to the Calm app costs $US69.99 ($90) and includes access to a full library of sleep stories, plus programs to deal with anxiety, pain management and even dating.