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Meet Kris Puckett, a 33-year-old product designer who’s honed his skills at the likes of Facebook (where he built tools to prevent election interference), Treehouse (an education platform), Invision (a digital product design platform), and Knapsack (connects design and code). He’s based out of Denver, Colorado, where he lives with his wife—“she’s a biomedical engineer who builds surgical navigation robots, so she’s definitely the brains of the operation,” jokes Puckett—and one-year-old daughter, who was born JUST before lockdown set in.
“We went to the store after she was born, and it was empty! Like the apocalypse. And we had no idea because we were focused on, you know, being new parents. So it was pretty wild.”
Below, Kris opens about the past trauma that affected his sleep, the years-long journey he’s been on to find a solution, and just how impactful sleep is on his creativity at work.
I’m a pretty open book about it, but about 10 years ago, I was in a pretty abusive marriage and divorce. And through the trauma of all that, my sleep was really impacted, and I spent years hobbling along. I then started going to counseling and getting the help that I needed, which was great—it’s made a huge difference. But there’s still this chronic fatigue that can happen from some of the mental health stuff. And so there are times when it’s really bad and I’ll try anything to get to sleep, to feel better. I had two sleep studies done because of the severity of what I went through. We were trying to figure out why I was having such a hard time sleeping, and the results came back that it wasn’t apnea. It was more psychosomatic.
When I was in college and grad school, it was pretty easy for me to get up early, and I really liked that. I was definitely a morning person. But ever since everything happened, it’s been painful to get up—which sounds weird because nobody wants to get out of bed, but it can be very tough for me. Over the years, it’s improved through taking care of myself, eating right...all that stuff...but there are still weeks when I feel exhausted. I don’t have trouble going to sleep, but I’ll have a hard time getting rest and feeling like I have energy the next day. I could sleep 10 hours or 15 minutes and it wouldn’t matter, I’d still have the same feeling.
But thankfully, because I have a daughter and I love her, I’ve got reasons to get up and get moving.
Prescription sleep medications...
I tried prescription stuff nine years ago, and it was awful. I just hated it. I mean, it feels nice before you go to bed, it feels very relaxing. But I just felt SO groggy in the morning. There was so much brain fog, and it felt like I couldn’t think or put two thoughts together, and I’m an active extrovert. So I stopped taking that pretty quickly.
Melatonin was a go-to because it’s basically the standard. You’re having trouble sleeping...take some melatonin. And I read a book called Why We Sleep and learned a bit more about the mechanisms behind why melatonin is helpful, but it really doesn’t address the actual problems that I was having. And on top of that, I don’t really have a hard time going to sleep.
I have taken Propranolol, which is a beta blocker for your heart. I don’t have any heart conditions, but on a super low dosage, it can help relax and calm things. That was helpful for a while, but I don’t take that much anymore.
I tried ALL the teas: valerian root tea, sleepytime tea, calm teas...all that stuff.
I started seeing these ads for supplements and a sleep coaching session, and so I did it. And within about a week and a half, two weeks, I noticed a pretty significant difference in my energy levels. I do the sleep tracking stuff on my Apple watch, and one of the apps that I use started registering consistently about six to 10% improvement in sleep quality per night, which I felt the next day. So I was pretty much sold.
Proper has helped with the inertia of getting out of bed in the morning. My energy is higher, and my focus is much more in line with where I want it to be—with where it was before everything happened.
Sleep coaching has really helped as well. My coach identified a few patterns that needed some work—specifically some unhealthy patterns around routines, plus I was stressing myself out before bed. And I really wouldn’t have thought about getting a sleep coach before doing that with Proper, so that was a huge win as well.
I use the Pillow sleep tracker to make sure my heart rate is not super elevated throughout the night, which is a symptom of PTSD—either having night terrors or just anxiety during sleep. So I keep an eye on that, and now I also keep an eye on the routines themselves. So am I going to bed at the same time every night? Am I waking up around the same time? Are there nights when I’m waking up a lot? If so, I try to look back at what I ate or drank during the day that could have caused some of that. I also try to avoid alcohol right before bed—you know, all that Proper sleep hygiene.
My work is very creative, and so not being able to have intense focus time where I can have deep work is a huge disadvantage. My peak creative times are usually mid-morning. When I don’t sleep well, I have a hard time even just reading a screen. So it feels like a superpower for me when my focus is intense and I can just sit for hours and work. I had a week and a half where I didn’t take Proper, and I noticed a huge dip in my focus and energy levels.
My work is very creative, and so not being able to have intense focus time where I can have deep work is a huge disadvantage. When I don’t sleep well, I have a hard time even just reading a screen. So it feels like a superpower for me when my focus is intense and I can just sit for hours and work.Kris Puckett
I wasn’t entirely sure what was in Proper that was working so well. So I did some research on GABA and Valerian and was pretty excited. Because like I mentioned, I tried melatonin in the past and always felt hungover, groggy, and just awful the next day. So that was a big improvement. But I had a lot of skepticism because I’ve also tried other stuff that just hasn’t worked at all. And I think the vitamin/supplement industry is very good at marketing and very rarely does it actually follow through with the science stuff, or the science claims are exaggerated, or they’re just completely made up. So I talked to my doctor about it. She looked into it and was really excited that it was helping me, and actually began recommending it to her other patients who had similar issues. Plus, I saw all the studies that you posted on your site, so I never had any concerns of like, “they’re just pulling this out of thin air.”