Let’s Not Underestimate the Importance of Sleep – When and for How Long

Oh! What a beautiful morning!  Oh!  What a beautiful day!  

Yeah right!  The alarm went off, and I begrudgingly woke up, feeling like I did not sleep at all.  Then I headed to the gym only to find the streets covered with slush because last night’s snow turned to rain.  Mr. Salt Truck jolted me awake as the salt pellets catapulted off the buildings and onto me.  I made breakfast, brought the bowl to my desk, and sat at my computer only to notice two spoons in my bowl of oatmeal.  What!?  Clearly I am off my sleep schedule.

We have heard the importance of getting eight hours a day, but I recently learned the importance of also being on a sleep schedule.  At this point, you may be tempted to close this blog and read no further. Who the heck wants to or can be on a sleep schedule?  I thought the same when my doctor ordered me to do so, but I tried it.  So please read on!

First, my doctor spoke with a yoga master about various topics, including the topic of sleep and how it impacts mood.  During this conversation, he educated her on the fact that yoga masters are on a sleep schedule.  Not the kind where they go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, but the kind where they go to be at 9 PM and wake up at 4:30.  She asked, “What about 10 PM?”  He said, “That is too late.”  Well, we settled for 9:30 to bed and 6 to rise.

Before we settled this, my arguments with myself and my doctor were…..

  • Issue #1:  My husband is a night owl, if he is able to sleep at all.  How can I spend time with him?  He is sleeping in the morning when I would be awake.
  • Issue #2:  There is too much to do in a day.  How am I to get on this schedule and stick to it?
  • Issue #3:  We live in New York.  People don’t even leave their apartments till at least 8 PM to go out.  I will never see my friends.
  • Issue #4:  Sleep schedule????  How about just 8 hours?  I promise to get in 8 hours.

Doctors’ response:  “Most people’s stress, anxiety, and health issues would be resolved if they got on a sleep schedule.  Why do you think yoga masters are so calm and centered?  If you want more balance in your life, you need to get on this schedule.”

Was she right?  First let’s look at the data.  In 2006, Harvard published an article listing the six reasons to get enough sleep which include:

  1. Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  2. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  3. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  4. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  5. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  6. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
What sat most close to home was “mood,” because I noticed its impact the most.  In fact, in another article, Dr. Lawrence Epstein reinforces the impact sleep can have on depression, anxiety, stress, and general mood disorders.  Personally,  I was tired of feeling down, anxious, or angry and noticed how it impacted others.  While there had always been external factors to contribute to a “negative” mood, once those dissipated, I had no excuse.  I knew I needed to make a major change.

Finally, I went on this prescribed sleep schedule.  On the weekdays, I went to bed at 9:30 and got up at 6, give or take 30 minutes.  I would hit the gym, and then start my day.  On weekends, I slept in a bit, but still went to be at 9:30.  When I did this consistently over time, I did notice a difference.  However, what I noticed more was the consequence of not being on a sleep schedule.  When I did not follow the schedule, I was off!

Did this impact my social life or simply hanging out with friends?  In some cases it did.  I’m human so I was not about to never see friends who could not get together on the early side, but I did adjust the times I could see them, when possible.

As evidenced by the story above, over the past four days, I completely ignored my sleep schedule and decided to “live it up!”  Now, I see the consequences.  Time to get back into a routine!

Am I suggesting you all go on a sleep schedule?  I am certainly no doctor, so I will leave that decision up to you.  My hope is that when you are feeling down, stressed, anxious, or anything like that, assess your sleep.  Are you sleeping 8 hours?  Is your schedule out of whack?  Perhaps you can commit to making minor changes, and if you have roommates, spouses, and family around, see if they can support you.

Good luck, and sleep well!

About georgiegirlconfections

I've always dreamed of starting my own business one day. My struggle wasn't about how to do it, but instead, what I wanted to do. I realized how much I love baking - it is what I turn to when I am bored or stressed. There are so many things to create and so many ways in which to create them. I look forward to sharing my favorite treats with you.
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