7/15/11 5:00 AM
Sleep is incredibly important to maintaining your overall health. In fact, it’s probably one of the most significant factors towards being a healthy human, that doesn’t take any real effort to achieve. Getting a good nights sleep largely depends on you doing less of certain things, rather than being proactive or actively doing something, like with building muscle.
Not surprisingly though, with all of the stress, distractions, and technological impediments that the modern world presents, most of us don’t get enough sleep.
To help you out, I’m giving you a 24 hour plan which you can use as a checklist to ensure that you’re primed for getting some awesome sleep each night. It’s structured chronologically so you can see how different things you do, or don’t do throughout the day affect your ability to sleep soundly at night.
For people who do shift work and typically sleep during the day, or folks who are the parents of young children, a lot of these concepts will still apply, except for the precise time periods and method of daylight entrainment. Make what sleep you can get, quality sleep.
So with that out of the way, let’s get started at the absolute beginning of each day, midnight!
12:00 AM – It’s the middle of the night and you’re not asleep. You lay awake in bed wondering why you woke up – was there a noise outside? Maybe a raccoon is in the trashcans again. Either way, you’re awake and you can’t help but get more strung out because falling back asleep seems impossible now.
Relax. Most people who suffer from insomnia get very stressed out when they can’t fall back asleep in the middle of the night, but it may not actually be indicative of a problem. Back before the industrial revolution and the invention of light bulbs, most people were forced to wake and sleep according to the patterns of night and day.
This meant that they often went to bed much earlier than most people do now. Because of this, it was common to wake in the middle of the night for a short period before falling back asleep maybe an hour later. These separated sleep sessions (called biphasic or segmented sleep) were referred to as first and second sleep respectively.
If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, and there is no apparent indication of danger, allow yourself to relax and believe that you will fall asleep again soon.
6:00 AM – After relaxing, you managed to fall back asleep (like I said you would) and ended up sleeping soundly for the rest of the night. That is, until your alarm clock woke you up loudly at 6:00 AM. You don’t actually need to get up until 7:00 AM to have enough time to get ready for the day, but you’ve made a habit of giving yourself an hour to “wake up” by habitually setting your snooze alarm.
Instead of just allowing yourself to sleep a full extra hour, you suffer through a sort of half sleep and the repeated jarring noise of your alarm. Stop this behavior. From now on, we’ll try to rely less on the alarm clock and more on your own internal rhythms to signal wakefulness in your body. The need for an alarm is a sure sign that you simply aren’t getting enough sleep.
Incorporate some of the concepts which we’ll be discussing, and I’m sure you’ll be able to start your day without an alarm in a very short period of time.
7:00 AM – You finally got out of bed and have begun your morning routine. You’ve laid out your clothes for the day, handled your grooming activities in the bathroom, and are starting down to the kitchen for your breakfast. You aren’t particularly hungry, but you figure that you should force yourself to eat because you’ve always been told that “it’s the most important meal of the day”.
Consider delaying breakfast or fasting till later. The time which you eat your first meal helps entrain the body to your normal waking period. As part of a meal anticipatory system hardwired into your brain and your internal circadian rhythms, your body will naturally become more wakeful up to two hours before your normal meal times.
The earlier you eat, the earlier you will start to rouse and wake up. This may or may not be a good thing depending on how late you’d like to stay in bed.
8:00AM – The morning light should be fairly bright and strong by now. Go outside and have a good long look at the sky. Don’t stare into the sun, but really try to take in that morning light. Photoreceptors in your retina respond to the morning daylight and help to entrain your body to the daily cycle of light and darkness.
Lack of exposure of the eyes to blue short-wavelength morning light delays the onset of melatonin, the hormone that indicates to the body when it’s nighttime and helps to regulate the 24 hour circadian rhythm. If you have a chance, maybe just park a little farther away from where you work so you have a chance to walk a little bit longer outside, and take in some sunlight.
10:00 AM – You’ve been at work for only a few hours and yet the problems and stress is already piling up. It’s not like its all your fault, Joe Schmoe called in sick today, the Johnson Proposal is due in four hours, and the boss is breathing down your neck. It’s only natural that you start to feel strung out and stressed.
Unfortunately, this stress is going to have serious repercussions. If you don’t get a handle on the daily stress you’re going to have issues with sleep, since stress causes disruption in your daily cortisol levels. Cortisol naturally rises in the morning and steadily falls until you go to bed – unless you’re stressed out. In that case fight or flight hormones like catecholamines will stimulate cortisol production and leave your feeling wired well pasted the time you normally fall asleep.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to collect yourself and put things into perspective. Practice some deep breathing exercises and try to return to a place of calm.
12:00 PM – It’s lunch time and you’ve just realized that you haven’t moved in over two hours. Sure, you feel like your body is steadily turning into a statue, but at least the Johnson Proposal was completed before your boss had a meltdown. Here’s the thing, the human body wasn’t engineered to sit motionless all day with only your fingers furiously typing away on a keyboard . Our bodies were built for action, and to move around.
Not coincidentally, people seem to be able to sleep better when they are active for a decent amount of time during the day.
One way to help incorporate physical activity in your busy work day is to go for a walk outside while you eat your lunch. You get some exposure to beneficial sunlight, providing signals to your eyes and brain to guide your daily rhythms, you’ll get some much needed vitamin D production, and you’ll move those unused muscles of yours.
2:00 PM – Lunch is hours behind you and the steady droning of the printer near your cubicle officer is starting to make you feel drowsy. At this stage in the day, usually the only thing that will perk you back up is a nice big strong cup of coffee. The caffeine is just what you need to get focused and keep from falling asleep at your desk.
That cup of coffee in the afternoon comes with its own set of problems however. One of the ways that coffee helps wake you up is by stimulating the same hormonal pathways that stress does, via catecholamines and cortisol. The resulting enhancement to your alertness can be useful, but if triggered too late in the day it might disrupt your normal daily cortisol patterns. Coffee in the morning should be alright, but drinking coffee well into the afternoon and later in the evening is just asking for trouble.
If you really need to wake up, go for a short walk outside or take a quick sprint up and down a flight of stairs.
6:00 PM – Your work at the office is over, and amazingly you managed to stay awake for the rest of the day. After getting home your first thought is to sit in front of the television and relax for a few minutes or hours.
You’d like to get in a workout and then have some dinner, but your favorite TV program is on and you can always just do a quick run just before bed, right?
Well actually, it might be better to let yourself wind down for a few hours before trying to sleep. For most people, body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6:00 PM. Exercising three hours before or after the peak will give you your best workout for both endurance and building muscle. Though your body temperature will naturally start to drop slightly in preparation for sleep, throwing in a fierce run will cause it to shoot right back up.
Instead of just lounging around for hours after work, why not get that workout right away. The intense physical activity might help you forget about the worries of the office, and you’ll be primed for a nice hearty meal afterward.
7:00 PM – Since you just had a good workout, now is the best time to eat your last big meal of the day. While your appetite might be suppressed somewhat after your workout, it is important to make sure that you eat till full. The consequences of not eating enough for dinner will be an increased likelihood of snacking later on in the night. While eating right before bed doesn’t necessarily correlate with a bad night of sleep, eating high glycemic or sugary foods late at night can potentially have a negative effect on human growth hormone (HGH) secretion.
The HGH is known to improve the quality of sleep, and this has a direct implication on the quality of life, levels of energy, cognition, sharpness of memory, recall capacity, and the ability to cope with emotional problems and stress. So perking up HGH levels in the body, can help improve irregular sleep patterns appreciably, and vice versa. HGH secretion and sleep quality are tightly connected.
8:00 PM – The day is pretty much over. It’s dark outside and the world is winding down. Well, the whole world except for you that is. Your other favorite television show is about to come on and you want to get in another two hours of Internet surfing in before you stumble off to bed sometime tomorrow.
If you want to get a good nights sleep you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. The fact that the world outside has become dark should be a cue for you to prepare for sleep. While you might not be going to bed for another few hours still, everything you do from now until then will have a measurable effect on your ability to fall asleep.
For instance, having all the lights on in your house will trigger the light sensing cells in your skin and eyes, causing your body to keep from producing melatonin. Exposure to blue wavelength light, like that in the daytime sky or your computer screen will have this same effect.
In animals, circulating levels of the hormone melatonin vary in a daily cycle, thereby allowing the entrainment of the circadian rhythm according to the seasons and the length of day. Known as the “hormone of darkness” it is secreted in darkness and helps induce drowsiness and the ability to fall asleep.
If you want to keep from disrupting your melatonin production, then you’ll need to make your home feel like a cave as soon as the sun goes down. Dropping the temperature inside will also be helpful, as it will allow your body temperature to decrease to the level necessary for sleep.
If there is a lot of ambient light outdoors you might consider getting some really thick curtains to cover up your windows. As well, put some tape over the blinking lights on all of the electronic devices in your room. And night lights? Come on, you’re not five years old anymore.
10:00 PM – You should be in bed already dummy. If sleep is important to you, well then you need to give yourself adequate time to make it happen. For most people eight or nine hours of sleep are going to be incredibly beneficial. You might be able to get by on seven, and of course everybody is different, but going much lower than that will probably leave you feeling tired.
If you aren’t use to going to bed so early, you might be lying there for a little bit before you fall asleep. It’s OK, just relax and try not to think about too much. If you did all of the things I recommended for you throughout the day, I’m quite sure that you’ll be falling asleep very soon.
- Sleep Deprived? Consider Fasting or Low Carb Meals
- Why It’s So Important to Get Outside and Experience Natural Sunlight
- Four Things Your Body Wants To Do