How many people do you know who wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? If you're like most, chances are it takes time (and coffee) to get going. This may be the average start to the day, but it isn't normal. We've become so accustomed to ignoring our body's needs that we accept sleep deprived and fuzzy-eyed as standard.
What if you could wake up and feel… awake?
The good news is the thing impacting your quality of life the most is also the easiest to fix. It just requires a little of the C-word. Commitment. I'm talking about your sleep cycle, or Circadian Rhythm.
You Snooze, You Lose:
Proper sleep begins with waking up. If you are one of the lucky bastards that have the luxury of waking up whenever you want, don't set an alarm. Your body will know when you've had enough. If not, try using an app like Sleep Cycle, which will rouse you in your lightest sleep stage while keeping you on time for work. Snoozing may feel great at the time, but since the average sleep cycle lasts 90-110 minutes, you'll start a cycle you won't be able to finish- leaving you groggy for the rest of the day.
Let The Sunshine In:
Try to get at least forty-five minutes of ambient morning light, between 7:00-11:00 am (location dependent, of course). You can rock a hat, but glasses, contacts, and windows of every type block out the 450-500mm wavelength sunlight you're looking for. Yes, this sounds like a hard habit to integrate into your regimen, but feel free to multitask. I knock out emails, listen to a podcast, or go for a run.
Okay, I get it. But I live in Fargo...
You should move. But, while nothing's quite as good as the real stuff, you can use a Truelumen Pro Aquarium Lightstrip. (Most SAD Lights don't really put out the right wavelength) Just make sure it's not placed across the room: a foot or two away is best.
Why It Works:
Think of morning light as an espresso for your brain. Sunlight inhibits the secretion of melatonin, (the sleep hormone) while darkness stimulates it. Hence why getting into bed, turning off your light, and then staring at viral cat videos on your cell phone is a major no-no. If you're going to use your computer at night, download f.lux, which will knock down the level of blue light. (Also available for iPhone/iPad outside the app store here).
What about sleep?
Prime sleep should occur between 10:00pm-2:00am. I saw that eye-roll. While yours truly has adopted an early bedtime, I'll assume that 99% of you busy overachievers are going to ignore that advice. Here's why you shouldn't:
Deep, restorative sleep occurs between 10:00 pm and midnight. In fact, some scientists go as far to say that sleep before midnight counts double, every hour is worth two hours. This is when muscles rebuild, memories are pruned and preserved, the immune system is boosted, and cells restore themselves. What's more, we get rid of the stress hormone cortisol during this time. If you miss this window, it keeps accumulating. Increased cortisol levels are linked to high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and depression.
Most of us aren't getting the recommended seven to eight hours. If you think you get away with just a few hours because you're young, prepare yourself:
"If healthy 30-year-olds are sleep deprived for six days (averaging, in this study, about four hours of sleep per night), parts of their body chemistry soon revert to that of a 60-year-old. And if they are allowed to recover, it will take them almost a week to get back to their 30-year-old systems."
Even the NFL is taking note. At least a dozen teams are now seeking to improve their players' sleep to aid their performance by way of nap rooms, daily questionnaires, and light boxes like the ones mentioned above.
But I can't get to sleep early...
You'll be able to, eventually. Try ramping up your sleep hygiene; a fluffy term for slow down the cocktails, shut down Netflix, and nix the afternoon coffee.
If you need an extra kick to get into the routine, you can take sublingual melatonin,* which melts under your tongue allowing for faster absorption. But don't take it for too long. Remember, if you're feeding it to your brain, your brain doesn't need to make it. (Sleeping pills are addictive for a reason.)
Don't Ignore Bob.
You know when you're sitting in front of the TV and your head starts to bob? That's your natural melatonin telling you it's time to go to bed. In the western world, most of us push past this point and are up for another couple of episodes until we finally crash. The lesson of the day? Your body wants to sleep. You just have to listen to it. Now, go get some rest.
Poor sleep results in poor serotonin activity (Your body's own Zoloft)
Strive for 45 minutes of ambient light in the morning
Get to bed by 10:00 pm for the most rejuvenating sleep
Don't ignore the head bob.
*If you take melatonin and it works like a dream, this might mean your body isn't producing enough on its own. It's extra important for you to get sunlight to teach your body to secrete melatonin in the evenings.
Quote source: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work and School, John Medina, 2014.
Questions? Comments? Want to say hi? Email me: Cat@CatCastellanos.com