You Snooze, You Lose

Sleep has become a hot topic. And for good reason. As the number of people with chronic sleep disorder grows, research identifies more and more health issues connected to sleep. Maria Konnikova, author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”, wrote a couple great articles for The New Yorker and The New York Times. The first was about the trouble with snoozing. More specifically it talked about sleep inertia and why most of us don’t function optimally upon waking. Hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep for another 9 minutes drops us back into the start of the sleep cycle, which is even harder to wake from. So the longer we snooze, the more difficult it is for our brain to wake up when the alarm goes off. Bodies are up and moving, but we’re not alert. And when we have a hard time waking up, we feel like we haven’t slept well.

Another interesting finding discussed in the New Yorker article, “The Trouble with Snooze Buttons (and with Modern Sleep)”, is how long it takes for sleep inertia to disappear.

While the participants said they felt awake after two-thirds of an hour, their cognitive faculties didn’t entirely catch up for several hours. Eating breakfast, showering, or turning on all the lights for maximum morning brightness didn’t mitigate the results. No matter what, our brains take far longer than we might expect to get up to speed.

What reversed sleep inertia and (I love this term…) social jetlag? I’m glad you asked. Nature! Yes. A week long camping trip appeared to reset the melatonin level cycles of a group of students. Their bodies naturally prepared for sleep as the sun set, and prepared to wake almost an hour before they were actually meant to rise. So when they got up, they were fully alert with no sleep inertia, no grogginess. I’m guessing they felt like they’d slept better, too.

No matter how long it takes our brain to wake up or what time we start preparing for sleep at night, here are a few things that will help.

Before sleep:

Clean your room. But seriously, making the bedroom an inviting, relaxing place for sleep is key. Create an environment that calms you. (This is an ongoing personal struggle, but I haven’t given up the fight.)

Cool down the room. Your body needs to cool down to fall asleep, so don’t take a hot bath or shower immediately before you want to fall asleep. And a cool room is ideal. But listen to your body. “Cool” is relative. And it needs to be comfortable for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Shut down the screens. I know, I know. It’s so tempting to play on your smartphone or tablet… or to work on your laptop, all while you’re supposedly getting ready to sleep. But you need a break from the light. This is perhaps why camping was such a great reset for people.

Write it out. If you have a long list of To-Dos for tomorrow, write them down, and know that the list will be there when you wake. You don’t have to hold onto the list in your head. Truly. Give your brain a break. It’ll be busy having fabulous dreams instead of trying to juggle lists of tasks for you.

Stretch. If nothing else, stretch your calves and hamstrings. Avoid leg cramps before they ever begin. There are also some great evening yoga routines to do before bed that work to calm the nervous system, relax the body, deepen your breathing and prepare you for a good sleep.

In the Morning:

Don’t hit snooze.

Don’t snooze. When the alarm goes off in the morning, Get Up Get Up Get Up! And if you feel super groggy and like you’re just not functioning well even though you did not hit snooze, try going to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight. Or take a 20 minute nap in the early afternoon if you can. But don’t hit snooze.

Drink water. I opt for warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice in it first thing when I wake up. This is good for you for many reasons like reducing inflammation, aiding digestion, and boosting your immune system. (There are plenty of articles on why you might want to drink warm water with lemon juice.)

Greet the day with gratitude. Sometimes I get a little gratitude-y. But the thing is, it’s never caused any harm, and it almost always makes me feel better. So I say “Thank you” to the day. I thank my body, my bed, my home, and various parts of my life that come to mind. You can do it too.

When you greet the day with gratitude, you position yourself to receive more goodness.

And if none of these tips help… just go camping!