Sleeping beauty, Part II: Three more tips for getting decent shut-eye

For years, I've been a night owl.  I've always felt straight up more efficient, productive, and energetic in the evening hours. The problem is that my night owl ways can lead to early morning ways. My household has always been a  busy one (four stairstep children with the accompanying sports teams and ballet classes, field trips and homework assignments). Most days, I couldn't get any of my own work done till the kids were tucked away in bed and the kitchen was clean. dishes

From my perspective, I simply had to burn the midnight oil. Oh, I might get sleepy all right around 11 p.m. or so, but I'd push through, start working on something, and get a second wind, followed by a compulsion to finish what I started (which means I'd hit the hay at 1, 2, or even 3 a.m.). I'd often tell myself that I could make up any sleep I'd missed by napping the next day.  I'm Hispanic, I'd rationalize. We were made to "siesta." But somehow I'd never quite catch up on the sleep I was missing. I was an ACE-certified fitness professional, but for all of my "fitness chops", I was short-changing myself and my health in ways I did not understand.

A recent Time magazine article, "The Power of Sleep" highlights how a good night's rest isn't a luxury, it's critical for our brains and our health.  "Sleep deprivation comes with consequences that are 'scary, really scary,'" says Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychology and human behavior at Brown University.

You may be a new mom, or a student with reading lists longer than the length of your arm. You may be a binge-watcher of t.v. series on netflix. All of us tend to cut corners on sleep. This is why I've decide to expand upon my first three sleeping tips.  (See original post on how to catch some Zzzzzz.)

1. Pull a Cinderella. Get to bed before midnight. Maybe the fairy godmother had a clue that getting home (and in bed) would do the potential princess a favor. Apparently it's not just getting the 7-8 hours of recommended sleep but when you get those hours that can make a difference. Getting the best sleep means getting under the covers and closing our eyes before midnight. We actually need the non-REM sleep (which occurs earliest in the sleep cycle) as much as the REM sleep.  Who knew!? We cut the cycle short (and its benefits) when we go to bed after the clock strikes 12. Check out this post from Medical Daily, for more details on this phenomenon. Seven health consequences of going to bed past midnight.

2. Lights out! In my last post, I touched on the need to limit our exposure to blue light (from computers and phones) before bed, but I failed to mention that actually ALL artificial light inhibits the release of melatonin.

sleep mask cat

Melatonin is a hormone produced by our pineal gland that is necessary for deep sleep. It is released into the bloodstream, as natural light fades, making us less alert and making sleep inviting. It also shortens the time it takes to fall asleep and lessens awakenings during the night. But artificial light messes with this system.  Uh-oh. I live in the city, and I've got a bright street lamp right outside my bedroom window. Enter the sleep mask. (Let me know if you use one and if you've noticed its benefits, in the comments below!)

If you're not ready to go Hepburn, look for ways to reduce light exposure in your room. Get black-out curtains. Move your digital clock some distance from your bed. Turn off your hall light. Do what it takes to make your room as dark as possible.

3. Move the mobile devices. There's a reason they're called "mobile."  Studies (conducted by major mobile phone makers themselves) indicate that  the radiation emitted by our cell phones interferes with our sleep. People who slept with their phones nearby took longer to fall asleep and spent less time in deep sleep. Most of us sleep with our phones within reach because we use them to set alarms to wake us in the morning. The problem is that they may be keeping us awake more than we realize. I recommend keeping your phone as far from you as possible---even in another room. If you're in a dorm and this isn't possible, just put it on airplane mode and turn it off altogether. Once you get into a regular sleep pattern, you may not even need an alarm to wake you!

phone on bed

I'm still trying to live up to all of these tips. Old habits die hard.  Last night, though, I did get to bed before midnight and it felt great! Let me know which tip makes the biggest difference for you! Good night, sleep tight and don't forget to turn out the light!