Sleeping comes naturally to some while more challenging to others. The same is true of waking and getting on with the day. Most people will claim to be either an “early bird” or a “night owl,” though the majority of people seem to be in an in-between “third bird” category. Going to sleep is usually NOT easy for me. Staying asleep sometimes is also a challenge. A couple of years ago, my father-in-law gave me a FitBit for Christmas. When I discovered I could track my sleep, it confirmed what I already knew: I’m not very good at it. Different circumstances play into that. Times of higher stress, kids’ illnesses, the anticipation of upcoming events, or different points in our bodies’ cycles ALL change the quantity and quality of sleep. I enjoy learning new things and finding solutions to problems through research.
“I got rhythm”
We all have a “circadian rhythm” (a sleep/wake cycle) that influences our levels of alertness throughout the day. This can vary greatly for each individual, though some general conclusions seem to hold for most people.
When creating your “to do list” set short-term memory tasks first. Pay attention to your body, your level of focus, and your outcomes for several days. Match your higher priority tasks to the most productive time of day. Save tasks requiring more creative thinking for when you are more tired. At first, this seems counter-intuitive. But how many times have you solved a really difficult problem as you were falling into bed?
Sleep like a baby
Much like we create a sleep routine for our children, we should create one for ourselves to get the most rest out of our sleep. In simplest form, this means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. In more detail, sleep hygiene involves creating an environment conducive only to sleep. The darker, quieter, and cooler the room, the better the sleep environment. The bedroom, more specifically the bed, should only be used for sleeping and sex. Television, electronics, or even late night snacking are not recommended bedroom activities to get the most out of your sleep. (Don’t worry, I’m also guilty of playing on my phone and watching Netflix before going to sleep). Avoiding Caffeine after noon, finishing meals and snacks about three hours before going to bed, and exercising earlier in the day all may improve your overall health AND quality of sleep.
Quality vs Quantity
I like tracking my sleep with my FitBit, but that is not my only measure of sleep quality. Some days, I feel ragged and run down even if I had more hours of sleep. Other days, I have more focus and energy with less sleep. I identify as a night owl. Perhaps years of having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep contributed to my night owl behaviors. Sometimes the struggle is more challenging than others.
Myth: All adults need eight hours of sleep.
Fact: On “average,” adults need 7.5 hours of sleep. On the lesser end, some adults function at peak levels with only five hours, while others require up to 10!
Conclusion: Pay attention to your body and what you need. It may not be the same every day.
The Point: It doesn’t matter if you are the early bird or the night owl. Just don’t be the worm!