I saw my doctor last week. Nothing major. We mostly talked about whatever came up. One of our topics was sleep. We talked about sleep cycles, REM sleep, brain waves, pavlov’s dog, biorhythms… and as usual with my doc, this involved a quickly scribbled diagram:
(my over-complicated recreation)
This technical and scientifically-accurate diagram shows what your brain does while you sleep. Certain brain waves go up and down in a cycle. There’s a bunch of stages to this cycle. Near the top is REM sleep, where there’s lots of brain squiggles buzzing around and you dream. Near the bottom, your brain chills out. This cycle is supposed to happen three times while you sleep. You want to wake up when your brain is buzzing at the end of the last cycle. You will snap right out of it and should feel nice and refreshed. Bonus – you are more likely to remember your dreams in vivid detail. If you wake up in the trench, you can’t recover easily. You’ll be groggy and off all day.
So how do you hit the sweet spot? I have three bullet points:
Wake up at the exact same time every day no matter what. (Ugh I know, right?)
Mammalian brains (humans are mammals, last I checked) have built-in magic clocks. You know how you get hungry at lunchtime, even if you ate a late breakfast? That’s your magic brain clock. (My dog knows exactly when it’s dinner time, yet he doesn’t wear a watch.) If you wake up at the same time every day, your magic brain clock will make sure you are in the right spot in your sleep cycle when it’s time to wake up. If you do this consistently your brain will accommodate staying up late by speeding up your sleep cycles to fit them in. It doesn’t matter when you go to bed – you may not be as well rested on less sleep, but you will wake up in the sweet spot.
Avoid booze and drugs (including sleep-aids) near bedtime.
Even if you conk out from a shot of whiskey, that glass of wine, or you pop your Ambien, you are not going to get as restful of a sleep as you would sober. Sleep-aids can mess you up – if you think you need it to sleep, you’ll need it even if you don’t. No good.
Beds are for sleeping (and sex).
No books in bed. No TV in bed. No electronic devices in bed (unless they are for the sexy times.) Seriously. Just sleep. If you are lying in bed stressing out about not being able to sleep, get up. Go read a book on the couch. Drink some chamomile tea. Chill out, but don’t over-stimulate. No video games, no bright lights, no screens. It also helps to take a half hour or so for chill-out time before bed – grab a book and relax, listen to mellow music with your eyes closed, whatever works. Don’t shower right before you wanna hit the sack, either. It always wakes me up, regardless of how sleepy I was before I hit the water.
DISCLAIMER – I’m not going to bother to site sources or do any due-diligence research with this post. This is my experience and opinion, based on what I took away from a chat with my doctor, with some skimming on the topic mixed in. I may be way off. Whatever.
Sleep hygiene is awesome. Do some research and/or see what works for you if you are interested.