Sleep Schedule:  Yes, It's THAT Important

Once upon a time, I was a clueless college senior.  I was training for a cycling race, which was conveniently the weekend before finals, and finishing up, well, finals.  

The week came and went, and by the end of it I think I'd clocked about 15 hours of sleep in seven days.  Other than a VERY ANNOYING eye twitch (seriously), and feeling justified in complaining about my lack of sleep, I was really not the worse for the wear.  College, :::sigh:::, right?  (Insert canned crowd appreciation murmurs)

Fast forward to after birthing my first baby.  He was a MONSTER nurser.  The docs legitimately joked about my "atomic" milk, given his weight gain.  He nursed about every 45 minutes to two hours around the clock for MONTHS.  When he was six months old, I had an actual hallucination due to sleep deprivation.  I still want to go back to my college-aged self and slap me across the face while screaming, "YOU THINK YOU KNOW SLEEP DEPRIVATION?!  YOU CAN'T HANDLE SLEEP DEPRIVATION!!!" 

And then follow it with a hug and an adult beverage of some sort, preferably while wearing some sort of matching costume that makes those around me (us?) uncomfortable.

But, until my kiddos develop that lego time machine they've been working on, I'm stuck with the lessons I learned.

...That was a rather odd side track.  Anywho.

Rather than freak you out any more, I'll get to the meat of this.  Sleep is IMPORTANT.  There's a lot of research coming out that suggests that 10 PM to 6 AM is optimum for most people.  There's also research that suggests certain people actually function better to divide their (let's say) 8 hours of sleep into two four hour blocks.  Or 6 hours, and a monster nap. 

Again, here's the intuition thing.  Use what works for you, and if you're not sure, start with the 10PM-6AM and go from there.  This does NOT mean go to your room and play on your smart phone starting at 10.  It actually means you should be zonked out by 10, so if it takes you 20 minutes to fall asleep, keep that in mind.

Then there's the screen thing:  any sort of screen that uses certain wavelengths of light will actually impact your sleep.  It's best to STOP using any sort of screen (tv, computer, phone) at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 

Obviously, this isn't always possible, so there are options.  One is an application called flux, which automatically changes your screen (computer, phone, not tv that I'm aware of) as the sun rises and sets (pretty cool--it asks for your location and figures your time zone, then tracks your actual local sunset time and adjusts accordingly).

Another solution is to use yellow lensed sunglasses (like the old school blue blockers) to block the specific wavelengths as you use your devices. 

I tend to not eat or drink anything within a few hours of bedtime, but this isn't a hard and fast rule.  I'm pregnant now, so if I'm hungry, I'm going to eat.  I also don't work out within a few hours of bed either, other than maybe a family and/or dog walk, because I find it energizes me and makes it harder to fall asleep.

Your sleep environment is also extremely important.  Completely dark, with no electronics is ideal, but in many cases not totally possible.  Ideally, keep your alarm/phone as far away as possible, and your room as dark as possible.  Keep your bed for sleeping (okay, and other fun activities), but DON'T do things like work from your bed (again, ideally.  I'm writing this now sitting in my bed because MY HOUSE IS TORN APART FOR RENOVATIONS AND THERE'S NOWHERE TO HIDE). 

I'm still not sold on whether or not I can "make up" a sleep deficit by getting extra sleep, as some people suggest.  My personal experience is that, having dealt with major health problems and two babies in five years, I finally gave up and started going to sleep at the same time as my kids for the past two or so years.  And I've never felt better.  So I usually sleep from about 8 or 9 PM to about 7 AM right now.


A quick side note for the ladies:  during pregnancy in particular, getting up to pee happens often--in the first trimester because of hormones, and the third because baby is putting pressure on the bladder, and overall because the kidneys are functioning at a much higher level (you gain roughly a 50% increase in your blood volume, which in turn requires more water...as well as filtering out your amniotic fluid).  And many women say that this habit of getting up repeatedly at night lasts for EVER. 

This was my truth after my first two kids.  And if you think about it, getting up requires you to return to a level of consciousness and therefore dents your sleep schedule and cycles, right?  But drinking water is so important too.  So what to do?  When my second son was about one, I read an article that suggested that women get up to pee because we've TRAINED ourselves, and our bladders, to do just that.  And that, in truth, in most cases there isn't actually a need to do so.

So I experimented.  And within a few months, much to my thrilled amazement, I was sleeping through the night once again (unless my kids woke me).  I don't know that this works for everyone, but it did for me.  And Now, I'm 22 weeks pregnant with a baby whose favorite position is curled in a ball ON MY BLADDER (for real, proven by ultrasound), and I can STILL get through the night. 


Okay, moving on.  I can pretty much relate anything to Hawaii, so here's the connection with sleep schedule.  Currently, I'm on the East coast of the mainland United States.  So, there's a pretty hefty time difference between here and Hawaii...which means sleep disturbances and jet lag when traveling.  Or does it?? 

I make a point to ramp up my "health" before and during travel.  Supplements, the food I eat, my workouts, holding to a legit sleep schedule, and on and on.  I don't normally use sleep aids for myself to mitigate jet lag (although it has been useful these past 10 weeks for morning sickness prevention).  I've always just kind of muscled through it.  I try to split the difference in time and find a happy medium, depending on the length of my trips.  And I've never had a huge issue with dealing with jet lag when traveling, whether to Hawaii or, for example, the UK. 

So I've touched on the big four of diet, supplementation, exercise, and sleep schedule as far as physical health, but there are HUGE areas of stress management that are not included in those...

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