The Primal Blueprint for Busy People – Part 1: Sleep and Stress

Last week we took on the eternal “no time” excuse in our “No Better Time than the Present” post, and we were thrilled by the response. Readers offered their own efficiency strategies as well as continuing challenges for fitting in all their Primal goals. Busy. Hectic. Maybe a few moments of frantic thrown in there. It seems most of us fit into this category these days – some voluntarily, some not so much. Life just won’t slow down. In response we’re always looking to get more done in less time.

In truth, we’ve done “on the run” posts before with tips on “Primal Pronto” food and exercise, and they’ve been among our most popular. Last week’s comments got us thinking then, why not expand the field? Here’s the first (or third actually) in a series that will put the PB into hyperdrive. Quick, cut to the chase, on the button, effective strategies for living all the PB laws – conveniently constructed with a hectic life in mind. Although the Primal Blueprint is itself designed for efficiency – the most bang for your buck and power for your hour, we all find ourselves in particularly tight circumstances now and then. Work picks up the pace. We add another child to the family. We take on another job or a big volunteer position. We take care of an ailing family member or friend. Real life hits us with a one-two punch that can send us reeling – and send us back to the drawing board to fit in taking care of ourselves.

Inherent in the “on the run” discussion are questions surrounding time management, personal priorities and obligation overload. Sometimes an honest look at our schedules can be revealing. How much time do we spend on “must-see” T.V.? Can we condense errands during the week? How about reasonably handing off responsibilities or chores? A few nips and tucks in the schedule book can open time slots we never dreamed we’d have. Furthermore, logical overlapping (i.e. multi-tasking) can free up additional blocks in the day. We do our best to balance responsibilities against the clock and peel away what obligations we can. In doing so, simple revisions reveal that we actually have ample time for all our health goals. Nonetheless, for the days when we’ve exhausted time management strategies, there are plenty of ways to make the PB work for you.

As mentioned, we’ve covered Primal “pronto” food and workouts. Next in the lineup – lifestyle issues that get to the very heart of hectic living itself – sleep and stress. Sure, good food and lots of activity, you’ll find, go a long way in both of these areas. Eating right gets you off the blood sugar rollercoaster. Exercising gets you out of the sluggish stupor. However, even the most hardcore among us can still hit the wall when nighttime falls or the daily tensions mount. Look no more! PB stress and sleep strategies (15 minutes or less) for the busiest of Primal people….


We’d all love to get our recommended 8-9 hours of shut eye every night, but the reality is for many of us that we’re not fully in control of our own schedules. We work the swing shift and then have family duties that cause us to fit in what sleep hours we can. Parenting duties keep us up into the night. A long commute means getting up earlier than we should. If we simply can’t get the recommended hours in, we’re left with essentially two approaches to the sleep question: supplementing our sleep with other rest periods and maximizing the sleep we can get.

  • Nap – any way you can. It’s the obvious option, sure. If you can’t get your full dose of snooze at night (or even if you can), a brief nap can work wonders – particularly at midday when the body is generally ready for one. (Yeah, who wouldn’t sign a petition for national siesta at this point?) Don’t think you need the full out sleep ensemble though. No blanket, no horizontal position, no hour block of time necessary. Even sitting upright allowing yourself to discretely nod off for a few minutes can leave you more refreshed than simply dragging yourself through the afternoon fighting that impulse every minute. Give in. Just have a coworker buddy ready to rouse you if necessary.
  • Create a bedtime routine. Kids thrive on them, and it’s not out of sheer stubbornness. A routine focused on relaxation (however brief) cues the body for sleep when practiced regularly. You’ll fall asleep faster and make the most of your z-time. Turn off the T.V. and computer. Turn down the lights. If you must read, choose something light and positive. (This is not time to make yourself more socially conscious, politically informed or financially savvy.) Do something quiet and physically soothing – anything from gentle stretches, yoga positions, a warm shower, quick steam facial massage (a pot on the stove will do), a hair massage (those wire contraptions work wonders – as do a partner’s hands of course), temple massage, even nail filing. Think short and sweet – ten minutes or so. Then lights out.
  • Set the scene. Everybody’s different, but dress the scene the way it works for you. Light blocking curtains? White noise machine? Open window? Fan? Humidifier? Cooler temps? Body pillow? Eye pillow? Whatever floats your boat. Additions, anyone?
  • Get real – about the alarm. How many of us know people who set their alarm for the time they think they should get up rather than the time they actually do get their butts out of bed? (We’re not talking a single snooze cycle either.) If you’re one of them, dump the dream, and get real about when you’re honestly going to get out of bed. If you sleep next to one of these people, it’s time for a talk.

What about those of us who conscientiously devote our eight hours to rest but then hit the roadblock once our head hits the pillow? Just as our bodies slip into the soothing comfort of cool sheets, our minds suddenly spring awake and won’t turn off. The hours become a scramble of thoughts as you lay there turning over conversations, project schedules, financial anxieties, parenting questions, relationship issues, etc. (Turns out it’s hard to check your busy person’s energy at the bedroom door.) Unconsciousness quickly seems like an unattainable splendor. When your mind won’t observe bedtime, what can you do?

  • Makeshift meditation. A soothing bedtime routine should help stave off a mind run amok, but some improvised meditation can step in when the usual just doesn’t cut it. Sure, the point of meditation isn’t to fall asleep, but who’s really asking when you’re just trying to get some zzzs to make it through the next day? Sometimes, the end justifies the means. (If you end up benefiting somewhat from the means itself, then all the better.) Of course, consistent meditation practices can help turn around an ongoing insomnia problem, but you can even make up your own approach for the occasional night when your mind just won’t shut off. As you’re facing nocturnal hyper-brain, sometimes the hardest thing is to “unfocus.” Instead of trying in vain to empty your head, redirect it. Forget the conventional relaxation guidelines and images. Instead, hone in on the (or a) situation that’s bugging you. Indulge in a few minutes of makeshift “compassion meditation.” Actively focus on a person (coworker, child, even yourself) at the center of your stress. Allow the rough edges of your frustration to melt as you shift your view toward compassion. See the person as generously as you can, and re-imagine their actions or words with a kinder, gentler lens. You’ll not only sleep better but breathe easier the next day. Is this a good de-stress segue or what?


The words we attach to stress tell oodles about our varying attitudes. We “manage” our stress – actively attempt to organize it, contain and mold it as if it’s a force to be led. We wear ourselves out in an ironic battle for psychic balance. On the other hand, we look for stress relief, a dodge, an escape, a stepping in of some elusive outside force that lifts the psychic weight. It seems we’re either white-knuckling our attempt to beat back stress with a stick or passively hoping to be saved from it. What are some realistic, time efficient ideas for genuinely revising our relationship with stress: restoring our sense of agency while realigning our perception of what we can (or should) control? Settling into this kind of personal homeostasis takes time and practice, but there are indeed short steps you can take every day along that path.

  • Get out of your head. The idea here isn’t necessarily more exercise, although that might work for a lot of people. For many of us, all the passive “relaxing” in the world can’t unwind us as much as totally shifting gears and engaging our corporeal selves. Whether we’re hiking, cleaning out the attic, cooking, gardening or putting up drywall, the physical focus allows stress to slip away. (What was I grumbling about earlier?) We’d even notice those stress-induced aches and pains melt away if we weren’t so into the material moment.
  • Indulge in some self-care/self-development. A common piece of advice we often neglect (or simply forget) is to do one thing you love every day. In this case, do one thing that makes you feel good, relaxed, fulfilled. The positive power of it will carry into your attitude the rest of the day. Carve out just fifteen minutes a day. (Sure you can.) Whether it’s yoga, novel reading, a crossword, journal writing, woodworking, bonsai keeping, photography, bird watching, a chair massage, or painting. Feed your soul, your intellect, your passions somehow each day in some small way, and you’ll be less stressed by the constant frustration of dreams deferred. Think you don’t have fifteen minutes a day to devote to yourself? Consider that you’ll be less harried, more directed and more energized if you can dial down the stress. Trust us, you’ll come to get pretty efficient in maximizing those few precious moments. What’s more, you’ll look forward to them.
  • Tune out by stepping out – outside that is. Again, the wonders of meditation are unmatched, but here’s a quick tip if you don’t (or if you do) have a regular meditation practice. Go outside once a day without any intentions – no chores, no projects. Don’t pick up the kids’ toys on the lawn. Forget the gardening tools you left out. Ignore the sad state of your lawn. Just be in the moment and lose yourself in the natural world around you. Make the most of your ten minutes by lying down and looking up at the clouds – or the stars and moon. Channel your ten-year-old self, and just watch. Every other thought will melt away, we promise. (Seriously, when is the last time you did this? Talk about a Primal essential!)
  • Create your own de-stress cues. But what if my stress tends to hit in the middle of the day when I can’t just get up and walk outside or pick up my whittling tools? Your answer might be in a routine that you actually set at home. Create a regular de-stress routine complete with elements that you can mentally conjure or even physically transport and use in other settings. Delve into an inner “quiet” space for a brief and discrete moment with a tangible reminder of more relaxed states. Counselors sometimes recommend something as simple as a rock in your pocket that you hold when you need it. Some people wear bracelets or carry worry beads. It could be a handkerchief scented with some oil you burn during your home quiet time or a CD you regularly play. It could be a quote, a poem or prayer that you read when you’re relaxing. As long as it’s a regular fixture that you strongly associate with letting go, it should help take the edge off and help you re-center.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. We’ll turn it over to you now to fill in your thoughts. What do you do to unwind for stress or sleep? Thanks for your comments.

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!