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Sleep is for the weak? Count me in!

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01/28/2010

Sleep is for the weak photo

I take all my cues from my guy Gus

For some reason I am convinced that the whole world needs constant updates on my sleep schedule. No matter what time you run into me, I am likely to report on how much I did or didn’t sleep the night before. Sleep or lack thereof can make me groggy, cheerful, snappy or just plain off-the-wall. Six hours is about my floor for minimum functionality: anything less and you’re really gambling with which Esther shows up in the morning.

In college, of course, this used to be okay. (At my school, “Sleep is for the weak” is an unofficial motto.) You could rehearse a play until 10 pm, host a get-together with friends until 2 am and be mostly functional for an opening shift at the coffee shop (or fake lucidity for a 9 am class) before stealing a nap during the two-hour break before your next rehearsal. Somehow it would add up to eight hours, more or less. But—and part of me still can’t believe I’m saying this—I’m 25 now and holding down a real job, with a real work week. The piggy bank method of catching up on your sleep debt isn’t cutting it anymore.

I’m not the only one obsessed with sleep: the Huffington Post has been running a sleep challenge, using the new year as an opportunity to raise awareness about the benefits of better sleep, but also to share stories about the outcomes, hilarious or otherwise, of not stocking up on Zs. It’s also less intimidating than the reams of stories you see about the dire effects of sustained sleep loss: heart trouble, fatigue, high blood pressure, premature aging, reduced immunity, you name it. Get the full story from HuffPo here.

The arguments for sleep are easy –waking up fully rested speaks for itself. Making it happen, on the other hand, sometimes seems like a monumental task, especially during the week. I hear that. I’m taking improv comedy classes, which means I’m supposed to go see shows at night. Sometimes that means I get home for the first time after midnight, and my alarm goes off at 6:46. (Sleep deprivation does not, by the way, make you funnier.)

I like my sleep, though. I’m very fond of it. This year I’m actively trying to minimize the amount of sleep I lose. The system isn’t perfect, but so far it’s been a good start.

1. Separate your space. Last year I moved from a studio apartment to a one-bedroom, which was a huge deal for me. Sleeping in the same room in which you eat, entertain friends and keep your computer makes it easy to justify checking your email or cleaning up when it’s right there. Being able to put a wall or a door between myself and all that makes me focus on slowing down. If you don’t have that option, no worries: just commit yourself to getting in bed and staying there.

2. Get offline! I have a very unhealthy relationship with the Internet. My laptop generally wakes up when I do. At the end of the day, though, I try to walk away from it about an hour and a half before I turn out the lights. I know I’d be using that time to endlessly refresh sites that never update at that hour, and reading books is much less aggravating. (My own mantra is that the Internet will, in fact, still be there in the morning. The same thing applies to TV.)

3. Caffeine ends in the afternoon. Chicago is cold in the winter. Behind the clouds, the sky is also blue. I love a hot chocolate when I get out of work. But stimulants like sugar or caffeine keep me buzzing for hours afterward. If you want to get a good night’s rest, the general recommendation is to have your last coffee around 2 pm. Herbal teas are just as hot and delicious, though!

4. Move around. Some weekends I am a lump. I hang out and putter around and at the end of the day, even though I’m tired, it takes forever to actually seal the deal and fall asleep. Physical activity, even just walking through a neighborhood, makes a big difference in your sleep schedule.

5. Have a routine. Do the same thing every night. At the same time is ideal, but not always practical. Give yourself all the right signals that it’s time for the day to be over. If my lights are out and I still can’t turn my brain off, I like to count backward from a hundred.

During sleep, your body calls time-out to process what’s happened to it, physically, emotionally and mentally. How much you need varies from person to person, but if lifestyle and not other issues is preventing you from getting enough, small changes can help recalibrate your time and make room for more rest. (As always, if you’re concerned about your sleep cycles, see a doctor.)

By the way, if you’re curious: six hours last night (I was caught up in a good book), but otherwise not too shabby.

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