Rock Yourself to Sleep
Creating your sweetest dreams with Bif Naked.
Across from me sits a rock ’n’ roll icon. Her blunt fringe bob is as jet black as depicted on her numerous albums covers over the years. Colourful body art tells a story of adventure and memories forever beautifully embedded on her skin. When it comes to a fast-paced life, wellness, spirituality and sleep, Bif Naked has some first-hand experiences to share.
Life hasn’t always been on the straight and narrow for Bif Naked. Now a devoted humanitarian, vegan, artist living a balanced lifestyle with her husband in Toronto. The Canadian singer started out life being orphaned shortly after her 15-year-old mother gave birth to her in India. She was soon after adopted by a family of missionaries who later moved to Canada, where she grew up for the remainder of her life. The artist tells us she is very grateful for her family.
You’ve been a touring artist for decades now, how do you prioritize your well-being?
In my mid-twenties I started to embrace sleep as a spiritual opportunity to meditate.
"Years on the road have taught me to think like an athlete, it takes endurance to be an athlete," she tells us before telling us about a common touring term –“bus fever.” Every travelling artist will relate to this term as a defining moment when– a few weeks into a tour – they realize the bus lifestyle isn’t all that supportive of their wellness. “I think I got a dose of that very early on in my career. I realized I was going to need strategies to take care of myself – rest and sleep were among some of the biggest requirements for being well.”
When she first started touring at the age of 18, Bif’s travelling and sleeping arrangements were far from glamorous. She was the only female travelling in close quarters with her bandmates in a standard family van. Emphasizing the reality of this lifestyle, she tells us “I was scarily thin at the time and operating on many sleepless nights. I fell into the role of being the responsible one very early on and stopped drinking all together. Somebody had to drive the van after shows and orchestrate load out – I took it upon myself to do that. Despite her decisions to assume the role of care-taker for her bandmates, Naked’s lived a very rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “On nights when sleep was possible, I curled up on the back-seat bench in the van, resting my head on a pile of sweaters.”
It wasn’t until later in her career that she rode on a large coach bus; although better, tour buses aren’t exactly a dreamy slumber either. “For years I slept in a very narrow bunk, singing 200 to 300 shows per year. I’m a light sleeper and wake quite easily; I would customarily get panicked if knew I wasn’t getting a quality sleep, because it really impacted my voice – I’d lose the ability to talk sometimes.”
Presently, Bif describes herself as one of those people who prefer fewer hours of sleep. Her ideal night’s rest entails of four uninterrupted hours of sleep. Sleeping as little as six hours, she notes is actually “too long” and doesn’t allow her to feel rested. A breast cancer survivor and globe-trotting signer, she tells us that her relationship with sleep has been ever evolving one. Turbulent life events and an increased resilience over the years have led her into a deep personal practice of prioritizing intentional moments of rest, over long hours of sleep.
Now, I treat sleep like Savasana and Corpse Pose – it's deliberation. I believe that anything deliberate is strength gathering – it heals the body because we’re physiologically registering our action.
You’re a breast cancer survivor, tell us more about that experience and how you learned to prioritize rest?
“When I was going through treatment for breast cancer, the number of hours I slept didn’t change. For me, it was more about how I slept and chose to rest my body. Sleep was challenging and uncomfortable – I actually slept sitting up for 2-years straight because my lymphatic system wouldn’t have it any other way, so I learned to get comfortable in a non-prescriptive way that felt restful for me at the time.” Rather than defining the quality of her rest based on the recommended 7.5-9 hours of sleep, this singer songwriter did exactly what the human body knows how to do best – she listened to the messages from her body to guide her through the best possible rest for her condition. A gentle reminder that sleep, does not need to look the same for everyone.
How important is what you wear for sleep?
“It’s funny, I always think of women in the 50’s who wore curlers to bed – how did they get any rest at night?” Bif tells us that her main goal is to sleep comfortably. “I’ve always wanted one of those beautiful oversized cooling silk slips for bed, but the truth is that I wear a hooded sweater to bed every night. It’s a ritual that’s ingrained in me from my touring days. “I keep trying to convince my husband that we should sleep naked – we never do”– she jokingly adds.
Does your creative energy interfere with sleep?
I work best in the ambrosial hours of the morning.
While Bif doesn’t have a classic case of being kept up at night by her art, she does find her creative juices flow better in the mornings before anyone is awake. “I’m a caretaker for my loved ones, so my creative work needs to happen while my husband is asleep in the early mornings. The peak of my creativity certainly comes just before the morning birds sing and the sun peeks over the horizon.”
What are your sleep rituals now?
Although she doesn’t have a regimented bedtime routine, Bif tells us there are however a few things she needs in order to get a sweet slumber. “I can’t go to bed if the kitchen isn’t clean and I have to lay my workout clothes out along with my headphones before going to sleep.” The remainder of her ritual feels quite familiar and includes brushing her teeth and listening to relaxing music. For many of us, we best get to sleep when the mind and body feel peaceful - how we get to that peace is a matter of personal preference.
Despite teenage misadventures and big learnings, you’re still full of peace and grace – how do you live in this restful state?
“I draw strength from laughter, creativity and my community. I always have.” From teenage misadventures to sexual assault, divorce and cancer, this Canadian icon has had many opportunities to redefine resilience, while developing new meditative ways to live out her life.
What can we foster in ourselves when we are grappling with something challenging in life?
She references her cancer diagnosis as a “cancer vacation,” an opportunity she used to take stock of what was most important to her. An exercise in gratitude she practices every day.
“I’m motivated by determination. Nothing is going to stop you if you can draw a charge from your situation.” Bif reminds us all that what is truly essential in life is invisible to the eye, and that a good night’s rest comes with trusting that we have at all times, everything we need to propel forward into joy.
Be sure to check our interview with Bif Naked and Kris Mereigh, Director of Wellness Programming at Smith College on Well Now, Season 3, Episode 5.