In the next 4-6 weeks, I’m going to do a series on health. Those who follow my facebook page will notice I’ve recently been talking about taking better care of myself.
Historically, I’ve adopted the identity of the person who knows as much as possible and gets shit done. However, what that identity lacks is taking really good care of yourself. Often, I have achieved this, but at a cost to my body, my sleep, or my other healthy habits.
This is something I want to change about myself, so what better way than to explore it with my readers?
Ed’s History With Sleep
As I wrote about early on, I struggle with oversleeping.
I often push myself: hard. Usually, I do this at the cost of sleep:
In undergraduate college, I would practice the french horn very late. I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night.
When I switched majors, I signed up for 28 credits each my last two semesters. I averaged 4 hours, but used polyphasic sleep to soften the blow.
When I graduated, I used this to catch up on sleep. I was a healthy sleeper averaging 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
As I grew my ambition, so did I reduce my sleep. Grad school was probably the worst: I got back into the 4-5 hour sleep territory, but could no longer do polyphasic sleep.
And now, I tend to average 5-6 during the weekdays and 8-10 during the weekends. It’s hard to give up that extra time once your body is used to it, so I generally find something I’m working on to rationalize it.
So, what is polyphasic sleep? I mentioned it twice. The idea instead of sleeping in one large chunk of time, is to take small naps every 4 hours. The time of the nap is typically 20 minutes, but I experimented with 30 and 40 minute naps. The main reason I did this was I read that even though REM (deep, very health sleep) on average took 90 minutes to reach, but by sleeping every 4 hours, you could force your brain to enter REM sleep faster.
So, did it work?
Well, the first week I felt like a total ZOMBIE! But once I got over that hill, I actually felt quite alert. But it was really hard to fit sleep in every 4 hours. Ultimately, I gave it up since the world primarily sleeps in one chunk and I didn’t want to miss all the time with my friends, family and loved ones. So, while it was neat, I can’t really recommend it to most people.
So how much sleep should we get?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) does a really good job explaining this:
The national sleep foundation recommends me to get to 7-9 hours of sleep. It seems I have some work to do 😎
Good Sleep Habits
But what else do we need to do to have good, solid sleep?
Does your mind ever race before you go to bed? Do you toss and turn at night?
I tend to get hot really easily, so I like to make my bedroom the temperature of a freezer (60 F). Thankfully my wife is an angel and generally lets me do this 😍
The sleep foundation does a really nice job of laying out good habits to have:
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
- Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
- Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
- If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
- If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.
For me, the key is getting into a solid habit of exercising and fewer screens before I sleep. I’m setting a goal for myself to exercise daily and sleep at least 7 hours a day. This is a bit challenging for me since I wake up at 4:30 and usually get home about 7, but I should accept to be a healthier me I only have 2 hours after I home!
But what about times when I HAVE to stay up? For example, If I feel I must finish a blog post or I’m running against a deadline at work?
The Truth About Sleep Debt
A conversation in my head often goes like this:
Ok, Ed: last night you got 4.5 hours of sleep. That’s 3 rem cycles. In total this week you managed 30 hours of sleep. 7*5 is 35, so if you sleep 12 hours on saturday, you’ll be all caught up!
Sleep debt! I always imagined if I did things like this, I was saying thank you to my body and letting it catch up from my crazy week. But does this actually work?
Yes, but it can lead to bad habits. If you sleep too much on the weekends, it doesn’t erase all the sleep deprivation effects! You will feel less sleepy, but you won’t return to your full level of alertness until you get back to a regular, healthy amount of sleep.
But did you pull an all-nighter the night before?
Taking an early-mid afternoon nap can definitely help!
So, I have several takeaways from this for myself:
- I’m going to stop sleep depriving myself. It has long-term effects that are really bad for my health.
- Sleeping in on weekends need to stop. I should start adulting and actually go to bed consistently!
- I can’t do polyphasic sleep, but I should shoot for at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
- I should start consistently exercising as that can help me sleep consistently at night.