1.15.2012

What sleep faux pas are you committing?

You might have read my confession yesterday to being an owl, a serious, serious, SERIOUS night owl.

You might also have read that I've got a sweet new gig that let's me work from home; but it's full-time which means I'm going to be getting my butt in gear a whole lot earlier than normal. Essentially, I need to become a lark (a fancy bird term for a morning person) in about two weeks.

But fear not friends (and any future employers that might be tuning in!), this Chubby Vegan Mom has got a plan in place. With the help of soothing scents, hot showers, blacked-out windows, a new schedule and an updated way of thinking, this transformation promises to be a success. It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be worth it and it's going to work. I might even train myself to work out next!

In order to start snoozing soundly, I got a few tips from the pros (of the medical variety). Before I started making a bunch of crazy changes to my body, they suggested I take a look at my current sleep cycle and nip those bad habits in the butt first.

So here it is faithful readers, a compilation of all the sleep faux pas I make on a daily (or nightly) basis.

1. Turn OFF the TV! You might think I'm crazy, heck, maybe I am, but since I was a small child I've almost always needed the busy noise and dull glow of the television to lull me to sleep. I've heard before that it wasn't good to try and catch Z's while the boob tube was running, but I always figured that since I successfully slept through the night despite the television being on that I was in the clear.

Turns out I was wrong - shocking, I know.

Even though my body might technically be snoozing through my beloved "Friends" reruns, my brain definitely is not. Did you know that while the rest of your body is shutting down for the night, your brain will still spend the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out what the hell all that racket is? Seriously. You might think you're sleeping soundly, but your brain is working overtime to transmit all that noise. So turn it off already!

Absolutely can't sleep without the television? Try setting a timer to go off in 30-60 minutes. While some sleep studies show falling asleep to the television can cause a delay in your REM cycle (you know, that super-deep, super-awesome sleep time), as long as you program the boob tube to shut down within 60 minutes your body and brain will be able to as well.

2. Set the mood (no, not like THAT). For at least two hours preceding bedtime, get yourself in the mood to unwind and relax. Take a hot shower, read a good book or watch a short (key word SHORT) television program. The point is to get your body (and your brain) mentally ready to sleep. But before you pick that E-reader up or sink into a two-hour Lifetime movie, think again. Devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets and cell phones emit a certain type of light that has been shown to reduce the amount of melatonin (a key chemical in the sleep-wake cycle) and should be avoided 30 minutes prior to your bedtime. And for the love of sleep, do NOT try to workout within two hours of going to bed. You don't even want to try to get a little shut eye with all those endorphins running through your body!

3. Make your bed a sleep sanctuary! If you have the opportunity to, spend a few extra bucks on making your bed your sanctuary. Buy that super cozy comforter, curl up with squishy, cool pillows and take in your gorgeous bedding. It sounds silly, but studies show that people (particularly women!) get more Z's in a bed they find "pretty." I know, it's funny right? So girl up your bed and slide into those dainty covers. But be warned! Avoid all those throw pillows - not only do they not have a place on the bed, some people will lose sleep over knowing those pillows are just carelessly tossed on the floor! Make sure your bedding has a place and purpose of its own!

Also, don't skimp on the candles! Scents like lavender, sandalwood, jasmine and chamomile have been shown to help the body unwind and can be a catalyst to the production of that oh-so-important melatonin. And do your air and the world a favor and buy soy candles! They're cleaner, burn longer and no animals have to be harmed in the making of them! That's what I call a win-win!

Buy blackout curtains! True night owls need to eliminate any outside stimuli, this includes traffic lights, neighbor happenings or any other things lighting up the sky outside your windows. Can't afford blackout curtains? Try this simple tip! Cover your windows with black poster board and pair with dark curtains, not only do you get a dark retreat on the cheap, it keeps pesky neighbors from peeking in!

4. Pick a time and stick to it. If you know you have to get up at 6 a.m., quit going to bed at 1 a.m. and expecting any kind of peaceful shut eye! Most adults need an average of seven-eight hours of rest each night to be a semi-decent human being the next day, so set your schedule according to your body's needs.

Not sure what your body needs? Try this fun test (but don't do it too much because you need to keep a schedule for goodness sake). Take advantage of a long weekend or a regular one by getting to know your sleep cycle. Go to bed at the same time for two-three nights in a row. Don't set an alarm and see when your body naturally wakes you up (not your bladder or the whining dog). By the second or third day, your body will be waking you after a certain amount of time (for me it's a little over seven hours). This week my goal is to get up between 7-7:40 a.m., so I've put myself on a strict midnight curfew. (I'll go over how to adjust your wake-up time tomorrow!) Next week my goal is between 5:30-6:30 a.m., so I'll up my curfew to 11 p.m. at the latest!

5. Last but definitely not least, keep a stress journal. Not one for words? No worries (literally)! A stress (or worry) journal doesn't have to be a recap of your day or a big block of text. Simply get a notebook and dedicate it solely to your stresses and worries. Before you go to bed at night just jot a few things down in your notebook that you're worried about (or heck, that keeps running through your mind). Whether it's "don't forget to take my vitamin in the morning" or "dentist appointment in three days I know I have 15 cavities," there are therapeutic benefits to writing your worries out. Not only do you feel better getting it out, seeing it on paper often makes us realize how silly or frivolous this worry is.

Still not doing the trick?

Delve a little further (but not a lot!). Instead of just writing a list of worries, get to the root of the issue. If you're worried about your dentist appointment because you think you have 15 cavities, branch out and solve what's stressing you so much about this.

For example: "I have a dentist appointment and I just know I'm going to have 15 cavities."
  • If I DO have 15 cavities, I MIGHT get lectured. Then, I'll schedule a time to get them filled and that will be it. I'll be more careful about brushing from then on.
  • In reality I only have three cavities and they'll take a few minutes to fix, it'll be OK.
  • I don't have any cavities and I've been worried for nothing.
It might sound silly, but sometimes working out a problem on paper so that all outcomes are right in front of us can help us get over whatever it is that's eating away at us. 

Have fun with your journal. Mine is filled with colorful swirls, magazine cutouts and anything else that I feel like including in there. It's my stress journal, the point of it is to get everything off my chest, so sometimes that means sketchy drawings, crappy cartoons and lots of color. I promise over the next week to upload a few shots of the work I do, just to give you a few ideas for your own. (I'd do it now but I'm nearing curfew!)

Most importantly though, don't be too hard on yourself. Resetting your sleep schedule is tough work, but someone has to do it. Stick with this new routine for at least two weeks before reevaluating it.If you miss your new night "curfew" don't mess with the rest of your schedule too much or you'll be doing more damage than good. You just might find yourself waking up on the right side of the bed a little bit earlier each morning! 


Now that you know how to cozy up to sleep, tune in tomorrow for the right way to greet the day (when it's actually daylight)!

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