11 February 2014

Healthy Mom, Happy Life: My Great Uncle Sleep

I have decided that sleep is like your weird Great Uncle who you only see once a year.  You KNOW you are supposed to love him and respect him and pay deference.  But at the end of the day, you really think you would be perfectly fine without him. 

Experts say sleep is critical to human beings' health and well being.  It makes us smarter, helps us lose weight, reduces our stress, gives us more energy...  And let's face it-- we are all just a bit nicer when we are well rested, and the world needs nicer.

My life has been a constant internal battle with my need for sleep versus other priorities.  I spent my most of my life convinced that sleep was for the weak.   I made no apologies for my all-nighters spent writing term papers or doing homework or staying up with the baby or working until 2am and returning to the office at 8am.  These were battle scars proving that I am living a full life, right?

In 2013, I began to recognize the truth of my need for sleep.  In October, I challenged myself to not just sleep more but to sleep differently.  Instead of staying up until all hours to write articles and emails, prep my classes, or make door decorations for my childrens' classes, I started going to bed earlier and getting up at 5:30am.  Until October, I only saw 5:30am if I had to catch a flight or had just not made it to bed the night before yet.  

And I fell in love.  With sleep.  With being rested.  With being sane and calm and clear.  I found out there is a reason we have that crazy uncle and that paying him his due deference would make my life so much better.

So this is what I have learned about me-- and maybe it's true for you too:

1.  I need at least 7 hours of sleep to function properly.  When I get less repeatedly, I believe that I am okay, but I am really not.  I become foggy, impatient, overwhelmed and fat.  Nothing good comes from less than 7 hours of sleep.

2.  I should not work at night.  I considered myself a night owl my whole life, and after 10pm, I still often get a sudden burst of energy.   I have learned that energy does not equate to competence or efficiency, though.  If you are like me, and you are constantly fighting against a too-long to do list, competence and efficiency are paramount to feeling good every day.

3.  I should not snooze my alarm.  This one took a while to figure out.  In my bleariness of early morning, I always am tempted to have 10 more minutes.  But what I have learned that it makes me MORE tired to snooze than to get up.  Getting out of bed takes about 2 minutes to get the groggy out.  Put in contacts and sneak out to my studio, turn on the lights and I am awake.  If I snooze the alarm, even after I wake up, my body is thinking it should still be sleeping.  It takes me a solid 10 or more minutes to get un-groggy and at least a half hour to stop being really angry at having to be awake at all.

4.  I need to play in the morning if at all possible.  This is also counter-intuitive.  I have always believed that you work before you play.  But in reality, playing in my art studio or doing some other fun, by myself activity, revs me up for my entire day.  Some people work out (and maybe that will be me someday!) or read or watch the morning news.  Making cards gets me in the mood to have an awesome day.  I am a better mom, a better wife and a smarter, more energized person if I begin my day with joyful activity.

So that's what I know. Are there any other rules that you abide by with sleep that help you live healthier and happier?

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