Not a morning person? Perfect your sleep cycle for better mood and more energy.
Confession: I suck at sleeping. My sleep cycle consists of lying down and praying I fall asleep quickly so I don’t have to resort to counting ceiling tiles… again. The jig is up universe – I already know there are 60. But even when I do get the recommended eight hours, I still wake up groggy and struggle to string syllables together. The fact of the matter is I have no clue how much sleep I really need – as it turns out, I’m not alone.
According to Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., author of The Secret of Vigor: How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Metabolic Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy, most of us only sleep six hours each night. This deficit means we wake up already behind by an average of two hours. “This means 50 percent more cortisol exposure (the stress hormone), and the detrimental health effects of cortisol overexposure,” says Talbott, which can lead to things like fatigue, depression, weight gain, and low sex drive. (I’m really good at the fatigue part.)
It’s tricky to figure out exactly how much sleep you need since there are so many factors involved: your current stress level, how much coffee you’ve had that day, and how much you’ve exercised, to name a few. “One night you might need six hours, and another night you might need eight to feel truly rested and functional the next day,” says Talbott.
When it comes to your ideal sleep cycle, focus on quality over quantity. It’s not about how long you’re in bed, but how much time you spend in REM (rapid eye movement) or “deep” sleep. If you’re getting a solid amount of REM sleep, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and energized, and you’ll have dreamed at least once. “Dreams are a signal you’re reaching those deeper stages of sleep where true rest/recovery occur,” says Talbott.
If you’re like me and a solid night’s sleep sounds like a fantasy (you know, like unicorns), here’s a step-by-step guide to perfect your sleep cycle:
1. Plan a mini stay-cation.
Take a long weekend or a chunk of your vacation time and put it toward defining your sleep cycle. Instead of setting an alarm, get up when your body wakes you up naturally. If your sleep cycle has been crazy, you’ll sleep longer because your body is trying to pay off its “sleep debt,” so try to dedicate as many days off as possible to this process. Eventually the amount of sleep you need every night will level off, and that will help you establish how much sleep is necessary.
If it’s difficult for you to string together enough days off to do this, try going to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night until you’re able to wake up for work naturally, sans alarm clock.
2. Keep track of your sleep cycle.
Also keep track of the external factors involved that could be impacting your sleep. When you get an amazing night’s sleep, take note of how you felt and what was going on in your life at that time. The same goes for when you toss and turn all night: what did you eat that day? How much coffee did you have? Did you have a fight with the boyfriend? Always remain aware of what’s causing your sleep deprivation so you can avoid those things during waking hours.
3. Replace your bad habits.
Cut back (or cut out) caffeine, cut back on your sugar intake, exercise more, and most importantly try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to keep your body’s rhythms in sync. You should probably be doing those things anyway, so just use your sleep cycle as an excuse.
4. Create an evening routine.
Compile an arsenal of activities you find relaxing and bust them out during the last hour before bed. These activities will help you decompress and you’ll be off to Dreamland in no time.
5. Plan ahead to recover from sleep cycle changes.
There will be times when circumstances disrupt your sleep cycle – trips, holidays, family get-togethers – and getting back into the swing of things can become a huge drag. Plan at least one full day to yourself to readjust so your body can get back to its regularly scheduled programming.
What strategies do you use to keep your sleep cycle in tact?
Related on EcoSalon: