night owl

Are you a night owl?

With the days getting longer, I thought this was a good time to talk about setting and sticking to a bedtime routine.  The idea of a “bedtime” may sound foreign to you and you might think that it’s strictly for children.   But before you toss the idea aside, read on.

I was a self-proclaimed night owl for as long as I can remember.  I would very often stay up past midnight doing I-don’t-know-what – reading, doing laundry, catching up on the latest episode of my favorite TV show, surfing the net, checking email…who knows, any or all of the above.   I felt like I really started to get productive around 10 or 11pm.

I would go to bed exhausted after midnight and then would lie awake not being able to fall asleep.  My internal chatter didn’t help the matter.  It would go something like this…

‘Great, if I don’t fall asleep now, I’m not going to get any sleep.’  Then I’d count with my fingers… 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 5:30…Shoot!…That‘s only FOUR and a half hours of sleep! Ok, fall asleep.  Fall Asleep.  C’mon Fall ASLEEP!  Fall asleep….please.’

Meanwhile, thoughts of what I needed to do the next day, how I could solve that nagging problem, what I should wear, or a conversation I had, where I wish I had or had not said something, buzzed through my head.

Sound familiar?

I felt like I had no control over it.  I had so much to do and I needed to get things done.  What I didn’t realize was that I was creating a self-perpetuating cycle that left me feeling more and more tired and less productive and leaving hormones more and more out of whack.

We need 8-9 hours a sleep every day.  I know you’ve heard that before.  But you may think it’s a luxury for other people.  Truth be told, sleep is the #1 thing we can do for our health and when you really need it – well, it’s just delicious.  Unfortunately, this is sometimes easier said than done.

A good night’s sleep is dependent on two hormones: cortisol and melatonin.

Generally, the release of hormones that regulate our sleep patterns mirror the day and night patterns of nature. Cortisol rises in the morning and declines throughout the day with small spikes around meal times and exercise.  At night, cortisol should be at its lowest levels.  And this, along with melatonin, is what makes us sleepy.

There are many factors that affect your cortisol levels.  Right now we are going to focus on getting our body use to following the day and night pattern.  Here are a few steps you can take to get you more in sync.

#1: Schedule a bedtime for yourself and stick to it.  Ask yourself…

  • What time do I catch my second wind and start to feel more productive?
  • What time do you need to go to bed to get your 8 hours of sleep?
  • What do I need to say ‘no’ to in order to get to bed earlier?

Once you decide a time, put it in your calendar & block out that time.  Ideally, you want to schedule it be before you catch your second wind and before 10:30pm.  You get a deeper nurturing sleep the earlier you go to bed before midnight.

#2: Create an environment that supports it.  Follow a nightly routine and include something that you look forward to do.  Here are a few ideas.

  • Make your room a sanctuary for sleep.   If possible, remove electronics like TVs, computers, laptops, etc.  Make sure the room is dark and no lights are left on. Sometimes even the smallest bit of light can affect your sleep.  If so, cover it up if you can.  This would be light from things like an alarm clock, a computer light, or safety switch in the bathroom.
  • Set two lights out times.  One for all electronics and one for full lights out.   Give yourself at least ½ hour to an hour in between the two to relax. Use this time to unwind.  It could be as easy as having a conversation or getting intimate with your spouse or partner; meditating; doing breathing exercises; doing gentle yoga; or taking a relaxing bath (an Epsom salt bath will do wonders).
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, keep to the unwinding activities that will help you fall asleep.  Don’t do anything stimulating like surfing the net, checking email/facebook, or playing a game on an App.  If you are new to meditation or yoga, you can find videos/audios on YouTube to help you.  Google ‘guided sleep meditations’ or ‘yoga for sleep’.

Try it for at least a month and see if you notice a difference.  The important thing here is to be consistent and let your body adjust to a schedule.  Don’t give up.  It takes time to adjust to changes but the payoff will be huge!

As I said, there are other factors that affect your cortisol levels and your sleep and I’ll cover more of these in the weeks ahead. But this is a good start.

Sleep tight,