This morning I was out for my usual walk and thinking of a speaking engagement I have coming up. It's an all day conference and I'll have to be there early, so I was contemplating what time I'd have to get up in order to pick up my assistant and make it to the venue in time for set-up, sound checks etc.
I calculated how long I needed to do hair and makeup and the driving time, cringing as I realized I'd have to get up before 6 am. I'm not an early bird, and I'm usually keyed up before an event and have a hard time falling asleep (or getting to bed early) the night before.
Also, to be at my best mentally, physically and emotionally for my speech and the many social interactions such as signing books for dozens of people, I need to get as much sleep as possible the night before.
In a snap, I decided to wear my hair tied back. That way I could shower the evening before (harnessing my night-before nervous energy for vigorous shampooing), skip the morning style-a-thon and get up at least half an hour later. Woohoo! I'm pretty sure my decision prompted a little skip as I was walking.
It also prompted this post, as I started thinking of the tricks I use to get my standard 8 hours. If you're like most people, statistics show that you get less than 7, so I'm hoping this might help you:
1) Set the minimum hours of sleep you know you need to function optimally (read: optimally, not just to get by); do whatever you have to do clock it in every night
Ever since the 36-hour shifts of medical residency I've been pretty sleep-obsessed. Every morning I reflect on how many hours I slept, based on a rough estimate of when I fell asleep and the time on the clock when I woke up. If I get less than 7 hours sleep a couple nights in a row I get concerned (see Tip #2) and take aggressive action to get more sleep than usual the next few nights to catch up.
Your body keeps track of how much you sleep, and how much you've missed over time (aka "sleep debt"). You don't get a fresh start every day. If your body needs 8 hours a night to function its best and you only give it 7 hours a night all week, it resentfully remembers that you "owe" it the 7 hours you skipped. I remember reading a study that put people in an environment without light and time cues and let them sleep whenever they were tired. Because of their sleep debt, they slept 16 hours a night for days on end! And were amazed by how much happier and more energetic they felt. Just like traditional debt, sleep debt can really weigh on you.
2) Scare yourself into sleeping more
It's not enough to just tell myself "get eight hours a night and you'll feel great"; you might be the same. Nope, I have to motivate myself with the big guns, such as the following facts:
1) lack of sleep makes you age much more rapidly;
2) lack of sleep triggers hormones that automatically make you eat more and gain weight;
3) lack of sleep hinders your immune system and makes you more likely to catch someone's cold on an airplane (I'm on airplanes a lot);
4) lack of sleep actually changes your body's insulin levels and puts you into a pre-diabetic high-sugar inflammatory state for several days AFTER the night you missed that precious sleep - aack! ;
5) lack of sleep makes my face look all old and dark-circled and haggard the next morning (I once saw a high-definition TV interview I did in Nashville at 7 am - the equivalent of 4 am West Coast time - after having only around 3 hours of sleep; I almost fell off my chair at how horrific I looked, like something in one of those zombie movies).
These are just a handful of the ones I use to get myself to bed on time, they work rather well.
3) Make a pact with someone
Whenever you want to make a positive change in your habits, it's good to be accountable. Making a pact with someone else so that you both plan to get to bed earlier can work really well (especially if they're your spouse and have the same problem!)
4) Identify patterns or habits that keep you up late and interrupt them
The culprit that most commonly defeats all my greatest plans to get to bed earlier is my laptop. I have identified that there's a critical moment in the evening when I decide whether or not I'm going to sit down at my computer for "just one more email check" or a quick Google search for something that's on my mind. No matter how much I tell myself it'll be just for 30 seconds, that's a lie. We all know what will really happen. One hour later, I'll be saying "Darn it!! Can't believe I'm going to bed at midnight AGAIN!"
So, I've learned to intercept myself. If I've finished brushing my teeth and feel the slightest pull towards my computer I block the thought, telling myself that I know exactly where that leads. I shut the bedroom door and force myself into bed. Before I know it I'm asleep and the threat has been successfully averted for one more night. What do you need to say NO to, that beckons and tempts you at any point past 10 pm?
5) Minimize your morning routine
Are there changes you could make to your morning to make it more efficient, so you can sleep in a little more? Examples include decreasing your primping time (as in my case above), checking your email for the first time on the bus or train instead of while still at home, laying out your clothes the night before, making your lunch the night before, packing up your briefcase the night before etc.
6) Go to bed when the first yawn hits
You may recognize this scene: I'll be sitting there innocently watching Netflix when all of a sudden yawns or drowsiness start to hit. I will typically ignore this and stubbornly keep watching the movie. Have you ever ignored that feeling to the point that when you finally get to bed you can't even sleep anymore? Lately, I'm training myself to hit pause and slowly back away from the screen when I start feeling like that (I can always watch the rest the next night), and coax myself into the bathroom to start washing my face and preparing for bed. When I do go to bed when that drowsiness hits, I'm out like a light - go figure. Could it be that the body actually knows when we should go to bed? Yup.
7) Catch up when you can
I know for some people it can be really hard to get enough sleep during the week (and this article of course isn't for people with genuine sleep disorders). If you still lose the sleep battle more nights than you win, be aware of the sleep debt concept and try to pay off some hours whenever you can. Take naps, go to bed earlier on quiet nights, grab an extra half hour in the morning whenever possible. It's best for your body to keep your sleeping hours on a regular schedule, but half an hour or an hour on either side can be a big help if you're behind on z's.
For more tips on sleep, see this post I wrote about Drug-free Ways to Improve Sleep Naturally.
Dr. Susan Biali is a practicing medical doctor, wellness expert, international speaker, life coach and professional flamenco dancer. She is also the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You. (www.LiveALifeYouLoveBook.com)