However hard you try to get a goodnight’s sleep on a consistent basis, even if you succeed for a while there’s just ALWAYS something that eventually comes along to mess it up.
You get sick, or you go to a late movie showing, or you eat too much chocolate ate too close to bedtime and end up having murderous headless unicorn nightmares and heart palpitations all night long.
Whatever YOLO type of thing is robbing you of your precious beauty sleep, it’s always pretty annoying when just that one bad night completely turns your sleep cycle upside down so that every waking moment of every single day feels like the most intense, excruciating agony you’ve ever experienced in your entire life.
For me, it’s when daylight saving time begins.
Friggin. Daylight. Saving. Time.
We’re but a mere week away from when most of North America cranks the clocks ahead by an hour to “spring forward” once again [straight into morning time wake-up hell don’tcha know].
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things to look forward to during this time of year — specifically longer days with lots more light, all the Cadbury Cream Eggs and Mini Eggs I could ever dream of, the slow shedding of layered clothing I’m forced to pile on every winter, and even the slight chance of seeing a single blade of grass after four months of stubbornly unmelted snow.
But losing an hour of time is NOT one of those things on the list.
Last year while trying to maintain a 5am wake-up schedule, daylight saving time messed me up so much that I completely turned right back into a night person again.
Little did I even know that I was a night person all along.
I tried to get back into it again, but it was hopeless.
It wasn’t until I did more digging around about sleep that I was able to slowly (very slowly) fix myself.
Before I dive deep into this so-called “genius” way anyone can reset their sleep schedule, I want you to consider a couple of details first.
Before you do anything, you need to determine whether you’re a morning person or a night person.
I think most people probably have a pretty good idea about which one the are.
If you don’t, take a moment to think about when you feel the most alert, the most creative, the most productive, and the most motivated to actually do stuff.
Are you typically feeling fresh and good to go at 9 A.M. without at least three cups of coffee first?
Congratulations, you are a morning person.
But if you’re anything like me, then you know that you really feel the wheels in your head start to turn in the afternoon or evening hours (or maybe even much later).
I usually feel the most creative and motivated to work between the hours of 7 P.M. to midnight, and I’ve been this way my entire life — a true night owl.
There’s real science suggesting that the night person / morning person thing isn’t just all in your head — it’s part of your unique biological composition.
Everything from your blood pressure to your hormones work to influence your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the the cyclical changes your body goes through over a typical 24-hour period.
It was only recently discovered that a person’s genes actually affect their circadian rhythm, thus suggesting that changing your habits to force your sleep cycle a certain way isn’t as easy (or ideally healthy) as you’ve probably been led to think.
So what am I getting at here?
My point is that not everybody is going to benefit from forcing themselves to get up earlier or stay up later, and that should be something important to consider when designing your ideal sleep cycle.
If you already know that your alertness sweet spot lies between the hours of 1 and 5 A.M., then working a typical 9-to-5 job isn’t going to line up so great with the way you’re naturally wired.
If there’s something you can do to maybe start working even just an hour later (or earlier — whatever floats your boat), then it can make all the difference in your performance AND your health.
To use myself as an example, I discovered that getting up at 5 A.M. is usually not optimal for me, despite being attracted to the idea of being one those mega early birds.
It’s too hard on my body clock, and I struggle with it even when I get a good eight hours of sleep.
Fighting your body’s natural rhythm can cause unnecessary stress, so as a result, I’ve adjusted my own personal wake-up time to about 6:30 or 7 A.M., and it’s made all the difference.
Lucky for me, I have the flexibility and natural hermit-like lifestyle habits of being a freelancer so I can design my schedule the way I want.
I realize that people who have to be at work for a specific time or people who have kids will have the hardest time with this, but just like everything you want to change in your life, effort and sacrifice are almost always involved, so YOU have to decide how bad you want it.
If you’re sick of feeling completely out of it all day and can’t stand being wide awake anymore when you should be asleep, it’s time for you to stop letting all the things in your life be your lame excuse for your rotten sleep habits and find a way to balance both life and your sleep as best you can.
Next, determine how much sleep you need on average per night.
This is easy, because the National Sleep Foundation just released a whole bunch of recommendations based off a whole whack of research studies.
If you’re an adult, which I assume that you are, then you need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
Keep in mind that this is just a guideline, and what really matters is identifying your own best number of hours to sleep.
It will probably fall somewhere between that 7 to 9-hour range anyway.
How do you figure it out to know for sure?
If you seriously have no idea, all you need to do is start tracking your sleep and your energy levels.
You can do this simply by using a regular notebook or journal to record the times you go to bed and wake up along with some notes on how you feel during the day — alert, drowsy, unfocused, needed to nap, etc.
On the other hand, you could take advantage of all the awesome technology we have access to nowadays and use a sleep tracker app on your phone to see all the interesting details of how good (or bad) your sleeping really is.
Sleepbot is one of the best.
It tracks your motion throughout the night so you can get a closer glimpse at your sleep patterns via the trend graphs it shows you.
After I started tracking my own sleep, I discovered that I’m the most alert, focused and energetic when I get 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night.
Nine hours is usually way too long and I’ll really only sleep that long occasionally if I’m sleep deprived.
On seven hours of sleep or less, my performance levels during the day are noticeably impaired.
Some people might find that seven hours are enough.
Other people might realize that they need at least nine hours to feel fully rested.
Try tracking your sleep for at least 30 days and see what you discover about yourself.
Sidenote: Even if you get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, remember that quality of sleep always trumps quantity of hours.
I’ve had some really shitty nights where I slept 8 or 9 hours yet still felt like I got hit by a truck the whole next day.
Time in bed with your eyes closed isn’t enough.
About 25 percent of the time you spend asleep should be in the REM (rapid eye movement) state, which is that magical time when your brain and body quietly go through a biological repair process to be refreshed and fully rejuvenated for the next day.
The best ways to maintain good quality sleep is to stick to the same schedule as closely and as often as possible every night (even on weekends, god bless you), turn off all glowing screens about 1 to 3 hours before bed to avoid blue light exposure (which keeps you awake), and do something relaxing (like meditate, read a book, or take a hot shower) to shut off all those thoughts and anxieties flying around your head.
I know, easier said than done, right?
1. Stick to a routine sleep and wake-up schedule at least six days of the week and give yourself one day off to stay up late or sleep in, with the promise and commitment of getting right back into your routine the next day. (We all gotta get out there once in a while to live and have some fun, right?)
2. Buy a pair of amber-tinted glasses to wear a couple hours before bed if you can’t tear yourself away from the TV, computer screen, or your smartphone.
3. Download a free guided meditation app to follow every night you can’t seem to shut your mind off.
Yes, I use all three of these strategies to improve my chances of getting a better quality of sleep.
No, I don’t look normal at all when sitting cross-legged and wearing orange glasses in the dark with my iPhone.
But it’s worth it if it means I’ll have enough energy in the morning to work out, I’ll be able to fulfill the creative demands of my work, and I won’t have to put layers of concealer underneath my eyes to cover up the bags.
Alright, so, you now know how to identify your personal sleep rhythm and determine about how many hours of sleep you need a night.
Now comes the fun part — changing your sleep habits when they’re kind of screwed up.
How does one go about establishing the perfect 10pm fall-asleep feeling with a correspondingly perfect 6am rise-and-shine feeling?
I’ll tell you what most people do.
Most people try to simply change their habits overnight.
They’ll say, “I’m going to get up early tomorrow! And then I’ll do it the next day! And the next day!”
They might feel okay the first morning if they’re lucky, but the second morning and third?
Before they realize it, they’re taking three-hour afternoon naps or accidentally sleeping in to compensate for trying so hard to wake up early.
I know this because I was one of these people.
Remember, your body follows a 24-hour rhythm.
If you’ve been sticking to relatively the same rhythm for a while, give or take an hour or so, then it should be no surprise that your brain and body aren’t going to cooperate when you decide to drastically change the cycle its used to all of a sudden.
But people these days want instant results, so that’s what they do.
If you want to design proper sleep cycle habits that feel natural and are long lasting, then you need to make small changes over a longer period of time.
There’s nothing exciting or heroic or impressive about it, but that’s how it’s done.
So, here’s what you’re going to do.
You’re going to take that data you got from that app or journal you used to track your sleep and wake-up times, and you’re going to average them out.
Let’s say that on average you usually go to bed around 11:45 P.M., but you really need to be going to bed at 10 o’clock to feel good to wake up at 6.
You need to shave back your bedtime by a full hour and 45 minutes, and you’re NOT going to do this all at once.
Doing it all at once is too hard on your body, and it likely won’t stick.
With that said, there are TWO great strategies I recommend to tackle this.
1. Commit to going to sleep one minute earlier every single night, and set your alarm to go off one minute earlier every morning (in accordance with how much sleep you should get, of course),
2. Commit to going to sleep five minutes earlier every night for one week, and set your alarm to go off five minutes earlier every morning for one week — then shave off another five minutes the next week, and so on.
You keep shaving off a minute per night (or five minutes per night for a week) until you reach your desired bedtime and ideal wake-up time.
Not only does this gently shift your body into better a sleep pattern over time, but it also becomes a habit as you do it.
With this kind of strategy, the hard part isn’t forcing yourself to go to sleep early or wake up early.
The hardest part is actually committing to doing this every night for as long as it takes.
If you take the one-minute route to shift your bedtime from 11:45 P.M. to 10 P.M., it could take you three or four months to fully establish your new sleep cycle.
I didn’t say this would be easy; I only said that it would work if you did it.
So, given the fact that this is indeed a long-term commitment to take on, I’d suggest you do everything you can to motivate and remind yourself to actually do it each and every day.
If that means setting an alarm every single night to remind you of the exact minute you need to be in bed with your head on the pillow and your eyes closed with all the lights out, then so be it.
Your sleep should never be something that gets placed on the back burner of life.
Humans can’t stay alive without sleep.
Putting work and all of life’s responsibilities first before a proper night’s sleep is not only detrimental to your own health, but it even affects the people you interact with on a daily basis.
I think that society has discounted the importance of sleep too much in place of living a full and busy life, and only now are we beginning to openly discuss how bad it is for us to try and live on such little sleep.
Tomorrow is March 1st, and my new monthly challenge is to use the exact strategies I laid out here to adjust my sleep cycle back by about an hour or so in preparation for daylight saving time starting up again on the 8th.
Because seriously, no late night Netflix binge-fest or 4 A.M. half-marathon run will ever feel better than a great night’s sleep and an alert state of mind so I can enjoy my fabulous day.
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