Because we both know just how important sleep is to having the energy to live one’s dreams, we’re excited for today’s guest post from Helena Pilih. A night owl turned sleep enthusiast, Helena is a contributor to Sleepio, an organisation co-founded by world sleep expert, Prof. Colin Espie, which offers the latest sleep improvement techniques grounded in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Struggling to get to sleep can make anyone want to throw in the towel…errr…pillow. Luckily, for me that was hardly ever a problem. My sleep pattern was ‘broken’ in a different sense - along with many other people I had labelled myself a ‘night owl’.
Even though scientists don’t yet agree on the core function of sleep, the effects of sleep deprivation have taught us to think of sleep as fuel. Extensive research has thrown it in our faces that sleep deprived people don’t function as well physically, emotionally  or mentally  as they would after a good night’s sleep.
And yet I held onto my self-’diagnosis’ and got by on 4 hours of sleep, all the while underestimating how it was affecting me. Getting out of bed was a struggle most days and the afternoon dip in alertness and concentration was more of a pit in my case.
In fact, my whole day I would swing between feeling energetic and ready to take on whatever, followed by a deep crash into the ‘I just want to sleeeeep’ state. I was always just ‘pushing through’ until the next 4 or 5-hour respite and that’s no way to live life.
I had to accept the truth: my sleep pattern was stopping me from living my life fully.
Coming to terms
If you ask random people in the street, it’s likely that most will identify as either a morning lark or a night owl. The real truth is that these two categories fall either side of the spectrum – they are extremes and it is suggested that only about 10% of the population really fall under either category.
I likely didn’t and so I took action. Be honest with yourself – do you? How many opportunities have you missed out on because you were craving sleep?
The greatest improvement
Like me, you might force yourself to stay up late, but still have to rise early. I used to make up for this lack of sleep by bingeing on the weekends and holidays. This is all-too-common despite research advising that the difference in your rising time during the workweek compared to the weekends shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.
On my night owl schedule I would always feel like I’d wasted half the day, waking up late and putting off work until the afternoon, leaving no time for fun.
In fact I noticed that on the days I woke up earlier I took up more activities, be it a trip to the gym or a trip to a neighbouring city I hadn’t visited before. Not only that, but also:
- I woke up energised;
- I got so much more done, in fact seeing how much I’d already done by 1 or 2pm would give me a much-needed afternoon energy boost.
- I could spend my evening downtime getting creative with my hobbies.
- Overall, I felt more accomplished and happier.
And so, rather than letting these awesome days happen only now and then, I strove to make them an every-day reality. I found the energy and inspiration to spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings out in the sunshine instead of sleeping in. Now that I’m no longer chained down by an underlying craving for sleep, I am also more open to whatever comes my way – be it extra responsibility at work, or an adventure on the weekend!
My sleep rules
Aside from having a general goal of being tucked up and asleep by 11pm and out of bed by 6am, there are a few more rules I implemented to abandon the night owl schedule:
1. Listening to the signal from my body clock.
Whether you’re catching up on your favourite television series, or you’ve got a book you can’t put down, it can be tempting to ignore your eyelids drooping and stay up into the night. I found myself doing this almost every night and, once I’d retreated to my bed, felt like I’d ‘missed’ my chance to get to sleep.
Your internal rhythm, the body clock, will send signals when it’s bedtime and this should, along with high sleep pressure, propel you to go to bed. All you have to do is not fight it!
For inspiration on how to give up evening distractions, see how Betsy and Warren gave up cable!
2. Resist the call of the snooze button.
I used to hit snooze 5-10 times before finally getting out of bed. Bad idea.
Your body clock initiates the release of alertness-promoting hormones into the bloodstream ahead of your wake-up time to better prepare you for getting up and out of bed. Trying to go back to sleep after snoozing can confuse this natural process, leaving me feeling worse than when I first woke up.
I find it easier to cut things out completely than do them in moderation, so I don’t let myself hit that snooze button at all anymore. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a lie in now and then, I just set my alarm later!
3. Embracing the morning light.
I no longer use heavy curtains in my bedroom, even though my window faces east. Instead, I allow the morning light to help me wake up and become alert. This has been shown to help synchronise the body clock for the day .
Think on this
We are said to spend a third of our lifetimes sleeping. Far more than an interruption to our lives, sleep is an investment in tomorrow’s self. Speaking from experience, life is better and brighter when you’re not living it half-asleep all the time.
 Lim, J., Dinges, D.F. Sleep deprivation and vigilant attention. Department of psychology, University of Pennsylvania.
 Durmer, J.S., Dinges, D.F. (2005). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. Seminars in Neurology 25(1), 117-129.
 Mishima, K., Okawa, M., Hishikawa, Y., Hozumi, S., Hori, H., Takahashi, K. (1994). Morning bright light therapy for sleep and behavior disorders in elderly patients with dementia. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 89(1), 1-7.