After posting my rant on sleep earlier this afternoon, I remembered what I’ve learned over the years about proper sleep patterns. We here at the Indiana Jones School of Management take sleep very seriously, teaching Circadian Rhythm Disorders 171 as an elective for freshmen in their second semester. I’m applying lessons learned in teaching the class, so I’m going to teach it again today and then see if I will follow my own advice again…
Seriously: if you find your sleep out of whack, try the following. It will require you to be off of work and school–or having understanding bosses/teachers–as well as help from your friends and family. But really, it’s worth it.
Reset the clock.
To reset your sleep clock, you’ve got to get out of your sleep debt and then find out how many hours of sleep your body needs on a regular basis. So first, you gotta spend a couple days [I personally suggest the weekend, even if it means missing religious services] sleeping as much as you possibly can in a completely dark and quiet room. This will allow your body to get over its sleep debt, which usually requires two hours of repayment for every hour of debt [your mileage may vary].
Once you’ve gotten over the debt, continue sleeping in the dark and quiet room. By the third night, you should be back to some normality of sleep. Do your best to time this period, from the last time you remember at night until the first time the next morning your eyes flutter at the clock. [If you’re like me and rarely sleep through the night, mark the first time you look at the clock and don’t immediately groan.] That’s what you should aim for as a sleep time, give or take 30 minutes. [For most folks, I recommend adding the 30 minutes.]
Set the clock.
Now that you’ve decided how much sleep you need, you need to set the clock. Figure out when you have to be at work or school in the morning. Time your normal wakeup routine [best ones involve hygeine as well as breakfast, but YMMV], add in your commute time, and add 30 more minutes. If, like me, you can be showered, shaved, clothed, and fed in 45 minutes, and you live just five minutes from work, you want to wake up eighty minutes before you have to be somewhere. [Why add 30 minutes? Why not enjoy waking up rested? Why not enjoy a little morning nookie with your mate–assuming your schedules mesh–or a little mental/spiritual preparation for the day?]
So get a good alarm clock–one that will wake you from a dead sleep–and put it on the other side of the room. No nightstand-topping, snoozebar-slapping for you, bucko. Make yourself walk at least three steps, if possible. That requires coordination, and coordination requires wakefulness. Yes, your family/roommates will be somewhat angry with your alarm clock going for 20 seconds, but you know, if you’re a nicer person to live with, they’ll be okay. =) Set it for your wakeup|commute|mind-prep time, then start waking up at that time.
Obviously, since you figured out in Step 1 how much sleep your body needs, try to go to bed that many hours before the time you just set. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it sucks. You’ll live. [This part is always the hardest for me.] Something that I’ve found to help is to have a go-to-bed routine. Do something, anything, but just make it repetitve. [I like prayer or meditation, but that’s just me.]
Even if you fail to set the sleep time right, get up when your alarm goes off! Since your body likes N hours of sleep, it will eventually adjust you to that time.
Stick to the schedule.
Yes, even weekends. Sleeping in is the worst thing you can do. It’s always better to go to bed on time. If you stay out late, get up at your normal time, putter around for half an hour, and go back to sleep. Why? Your body secretes hormones when it’s time for you to wake up each morning. If you keep to that time, the hormones [heh] will wake you up. [Yep, you’ll get to the point that the alarm clock is superfluous.] If you try to sleep directly through them, your body thinks it’s time to reset the sleep clock. [This is why your first few days overseas suck–your body secretes hormones at the wrong time, and it doesn’t reset quickly. Most of the guys at work note that they change their sleep clock about four hours a night. When you’re in Japan, that sucks for about four days.]
The weekend bit is hard. I try to go to bed early on the weekends, but I’m a 22-year-old male. Seriously, I’ll go out and hang with my friends until past my normal bedtime. If I get up on time, putter, and crash again, I’m okay. If I sleep through…ohhhhh, the headaches!
In the future, we’ll explain how to “condition” your body to need less sleep. Takes time, patience, discipline, and experimentation. I don’t really recommend it, but I do it when needed.