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.

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17 thoughts on “The Primal Blueprint for Busy People – Part 1: Sleep and Stress”

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  1. about sleeping you can also:
    -Adjust the temperature in your room (if you can)
    -Play soothing music
    -Resist the urge to do any work or watch television in bed
    -Take a warm bath or shower before bed
    -night-time routine is good to induce sleep
    -Go to the bathroom before don’t drink caffeine and don’t eat before bed
    -and finally
    I tell you it works

  2. I know this is something I desparately need to work on – we have an old dog who makes alot of noise at night !!! Also, I need a good humidifier that is really quiet – anyone have a recommendation ??

    1. I best way and the cheapest, is to just crack your window a little. Old school rules. Have a Great day!

  3. Ditch nocturnal pets, such as hamsters and other rodents. They’ll only keep you up at night with their squeaky wheels and rustlings.

  4. Important post!!! I have 3 sons under 3.5. I leave the house at 6, and come home no sooner. I work on a trading desk. Can you say STRESS??!!! AAAHHH!!!!

    Good news!! No tv…the thing that I love to do is….grilling!! I come home, my oldest boy is my helper, and we make delicious and healthy food for the family.

    I have rings, pullup bar, and bumper plates and squat rack in my very tiny backyard…I go home, get the charcoal going, play a little Ted Nugent, and to my lifts and wods! After that, it’s time to eat!

    A year ago, I was drinking 3 martinis every night, weighed 225, and would come home screaming.

    Thanks to the primal blueprint, crossfit, and some hard work and research of my own, I wake up smiling, I am a better producer at work than I have ever been, and I know how to tune out when it’s finished!

    It will never be easy, it will always be important. Health and longevity are at the TOP of the list, and they’ll stay there!

  5. A lack of time is seldom a problem for me, more common problem is what to do with all this time.

  6. Great ideas and suggestions! However, for a post aimed at people with not very much time, it is a tad verbose. 😉

    Changing gears to constructive contribution to the topic:

    1. Sleep: I’ve found that a rhythm before bed helps me tremendously.
    2. Stress: I have to consciously *let things go*. Even so far as saying out loud to myself, “I’m letting that go.” Over and over again. Also, I try not to add anything new to my To Do list until a significant portion is completed. Otherwise, I’ll feel like I’m working on the same list forever!

  7. Awesome post, tis somethign I think we all need a hand on in this day and age with stressful jobs and working environments.
    I find some of the following really help:
    – Leave coffee to breakfast time and tea in the afternoon.
    -Practice deep breathing for 10 minutes a day, everyday
    -Get to sleep before 10:30PM regularly
    – When stressed go for a short hard run or play some sports to release excess adrenaline.

    Thanks for the post Mark. Some awesome stuff up on your site recently!

  8. I’m wondering about melatonin. Is it safe long term? It does help me but I feel like I’m cheating somehow. Oh, “tension tamer” tea is nice stuff. I have cut way back on coffee and that has helped a lot for sleep.

  9. I’ve always found sitting by a fire staring at stars and fireflies relaxing. something about staring into a fire puts you in a trans

  10. I have always suffered horrible insomnia. After putting our son to bed, my husband and I turn off the TV, turn on some music, light some candles, and hang out in our bedroom talking, sometimes exchanging massages. This not only relaxes me, but it keeps me from “foraging” unnecessarily. All the relaxing usually leads to another primal activity, which help us drift off to sleep feeling relaxed, fulfilled, and satisfied 😉 Funny how the PB has improved everything in my life…including my marriage.

  11. Although I still struggle with getting enough sleep between work and family commitments,I routinely get a full hour more of sleep since our family gave up cable last January. It has been the single best thing for our stress levels. No longer do I watch pundits linger on for hours about the woes of the economy. I read my paper to stay informed–and go to bed on time!

  12. I find milk and eating a banana before i go to bed helps me sleep. I stop watching TV like an hour before i go to bed helps as well.

  13. Have to have an alarm, otherwise will never get up to exercise and go to work.

  14. Yes, it’s challenging have active thoughts during the night, but this really helps me: I take a very warm bath, and use lavender essential oil. I light candles, and get my body ready for the low light. DON’T turn on bright lights!
    Establish habits, low light, cool room, and set an intention: go over the things you are grateful that happened in the past day, and what you intend for the following day. You can even set an intention for what you want to dream about. With practice, and patience, it will happen. Sleep well! Your health and happiness depend upon it!

  15. It’s really amazing what a huge role stress and sleep play in our everyday life and most importantly in our bodies.
    When it comes to sleep, I think that a common mistake that many people make is taking really long naps. Taking 3 hours for a nap and waking up feeling worse isn’t better than not taking a nap at all. I bet that most of us feel much more energized if we take a short 20 minute nap (40, at most). Something many of us must have noticed when it comes to trying to fall asleep at night is to not tell ourselves “come on go to sleep” because the more we do that, the harder it will be to fall asleep. Saying stuff like that to ourselves as we try is one of the surest ways to actually stay awake.
    About the importance of stress – many of us forget too much how we should do what we love. We try to do our best at things that we don’t love and forget about our passion. We all know that things work out the best if we are passionate about them – whether that is losing weight, changing our lifestyle or simply learning a certain skill.
    We should never undermine the importance of sleep and stress to be as happy and healthy as we can.

  16. I set alarms on my phone to “GO TO BED!,” and even set alarms to leave events and when visiting friends in the evening, so that I can be home at the right time to wind down for bed. Seriously! I also have all my friends and family on board to help shoo me off to bed when my leave/bed alarms goes off. This may seem excessive to some, but this is the way that helps me manage my time to prioritize sleep.