5 Ways I Stopped Depriving Myself of Sleep

I used to stay up really late knowing I had to get up early.

Sound familiar?

You know how it goes, that book just has to be read the same night, you just don’t feel like going to bed when there’s so much on TV or you just left it too late to catch up on work.

So I’d take a few hours from my sleep here and there, get up four or five hours later and curse my stupidity.

Blindly running to the bathroom, I’d promise myself that the next evening would be different, only to repeat the cycle again.

Then finally the weekend would come and I’d overindulge by sleeping for 10-12 hours before starting another cycle of getting insufficient sleep.

Aware of my bad habit, I felt trapped, powerless. What I didn’t realize was that I actually had all the power. I had, what Rory Sutherland calls ‘the power to reframe things’.

I labelled myself as a night owl and try to otherwise justify a habit that I knew was unhealthy and that made me unhappy.

 The truth of it is that I was tormenting myself, voluntarily inflicting a form of torture used in the military on myself.

That was, until I saw this sleep deprivation for what it was.

That hour or two taken from my sleep to be spent online wasn’t worth it the next day when I’d wake up groggy, in a bad mood and angry at myself. At some point I had to realize that I couldn’t continue indebting my sleep. (Look at how well that worked for the global economy!).

If your plan is to “sleep when I’m dead”, there’s a possibility you’re actually planning to die earlier [1].

I’m no medical professional but here’s how I shifted my perspective with the aim of becoming a better sleeper and a happier morning person.

1. I learned to appreciate the gift of sleep.

Not only did I have to come to terms with the fact that I do need sleep to function, I learned to become thankful for not having a sleep problem.

Put things into perspective: two billion people worldwide have trouble sleeping; appreciate that you’re not one of them.

If you are a poor sleeper, seek help. Sleep is the best gift you can give to yourself. (Unless this gift is received during a business meeting or on public transport.)

2. I set a reasonable bedtime and honored it.

This is the one piece of highly-prevalent advice that used to upset me the most. Out of laziness, I had dismissed it many times.

However, it wasn’t until I did set a permanent bedtime that I started to see a change in my behavior and that I actually started honoring my promise to go to bed earlier.  Ultimately, the key to hacking my bedtime was to set a reasonable time – I like to go out for drinks on the weekends, so I didn’t set my bedtime for 8.30 pm.

I switched to an earlier bedtime gradually because I knew I would slip up if I were overly ambitious, so I would turn the lights out and go to bed at around 2am (it had been a lot worse prior to that)!

I then wound my bedtime back every week by fifteen minutes, or half an hour if I was feeling impatient, until I got to my current bedtime, which is 00.30 am. Sometimes I’ll go to bed earlier if I’m tired or want to do more stuff in the morning, but not later.

Interestingly, research has shown that older adults following a routine found their sleep more satisfying, particularly those who were male [3], and I’d have to agree!

3. I realized that naps were not a substitute.

I had to unlearn taking naps to make up for the insufficient sleep I’d get the night before. Now I only use them if I find myself unable to concentrate or focus my thinking.

I find that a fifteen-minute nap refreshes my mind, increases alertness [4] and facilitates a switch back into the cross-things-off-your-to-do-list work mode that comes to us so easily in the morning.

When I am too stressed to fall asleep but desperately need a nap, 15-20 minutes of corpse-pose, total relaxation works just as well as a nap for me.

4. I worked on becoming more efficient during the day.

The need for sleep is often perceived as something that gets in the way of our daily life. A study found the perception of there not being enough time to sleep to be one of the most conspicuous causes of not getting sufficient sleep [2].

More often I find it’s the life that gets in the way of my sleep!

Instead of having to reduce my sleep duration to finish my daily tasks, I realised that the solution might be to improve my efficiency during the day.

Instead of racing against myself and time that was always running out, I’m teaching myself to go to bed after I’d underlined the day in my head. No more stressing over my to do list an hour before bedtime.

5. I practiced meditation.

Aside from running which I found helped me concentrate and focus my thinking, practicing yoga or meditation regularly helps me wind down and remove myself from the urgency of my job or other day-to-day tasks.

Interestingly, a study has shown that yoga can improve concentration and motivation in eight weeks [5]. It has even been shown to improve sleep among various groups of people, e.g. sedentary office employees [6] or cancer survivors [7].

Not having a television, I always used the Internet to veg out. Now my habits are more balanced and I reserve some vegging out time to tap into my mind and work on lateral thinking.

This checklist is what worked for me in improving sleep habits. They might not work for you or they might need tweaking.

Studies suggest Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might help with behaviourally-induced insufficient sleep [2]. In any case, please don’t take this as medical advice; consult a professional before usurping your routine.

References:

[1] Cappuccio, F.P., D’Elia, L., Strazzulio, P., Miller, M.A., (2010). Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Sleep, 33(5), 585-592.
[2] Hublin, C., Sallinen, M. (2012). Behaviorally induced insufficient sleep. Hypersomnia, 7(2), 313-323.
[3] Johnson, J.E. (1991). A comparative study of bedtime routines and sleep of older adults. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 8(3), 129-136.
[4] Hayashi M., Watanabe M., Hori T. (1999). The effects of a 20 min nap in the mid-afternoon on mood, performance and EEG activity. Clin Neurophysiol 110(2), 272-279.
[5] Statler T., Wheeler A. (2007). Yoga improves concentration and motivation. Presented at the 54th Annual Meeting, American College of Sports Medicine.
[6] Klatt, M., Buckworth, J., Malarkey, W. (2009). Effects of Low-Dose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR-ld) on Working Adults. Health Education & Behavior 36(3), 601-614.
[7] Mustian K., Palesh, O., Sprod, L., Peppone, L.J., Heckler, C. E., Yates, J. S., Reddy, P.S., Melnik, M., Giguere, J. K., Morrow, G. R. (2011). Yocas Yoga significantly improves sleep quality and circadian rhythm in 410 cancer survivors. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 41, pS5.

Written on 12/17/2012 by Helena Pilih. Helena is a contributor to a blog dedicated to the latest sleep research, published by Sleepio, a sleep improvement course grounded in CBT techniques which teaches you how to fall asleep. Photo Credit:
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