So we talked about the Circadian rhythm and how it’s your beat through the day. We also talked about sleep drive and how the arousal system might get in the way of that.
Let’s tap this knowledge now and use it in practice. We’re going to focus on an exercise based on methods applied by Martin Reed, as recommended by him on insomniacoach.com. It orbits around the idea of your rhythm and uses regularity to give your sleep drive a friendly push in the right direction.
The very idea of how many hours of sleep you need, might stress you out. But some need more and some need less. Don’t think for a minute that we all need to sleep for eight hours to get quality rest. This is true for some, but certainly not for all. To find out what you need, you should search for your beat and discover your chronotype, to find out if you’re a lark, a night owl or something in between. That is your key to quality rest.
No matter if we’re nocturnal or early risers, we benefit from regular bedtimes and wakeup times. When those align with your rhythm, you got a sweet spot that brings you closer to your best possible sleep. In this context, regularity means that you should find a bedtime that works for you and stick to it.
Bedtime in this case means literally that – go to bed. Not go to bed and watch a movie, read a book or solve a crossword. You must associate your bed with sleep, or your body will think that anything goes when in bed. To make this even clearer, if you’re not sleepy – then wait until you are. You can go past your set bedtime if you’re not feeling sleepy, only for the purpose to avoid those tosses and turns while you wait for sleep to come. We’ll get back to this, but for now, know that the bed is for sleep. So your bedtime and you feeling sleepy, should ideally be a match. But if not, wait until you’re sleepy.
We all benefit from regular bedtimes and wakeup times.
Regularity applies to when you get up as well. Find a place in time where you feel it’s right for you to rise, and follow it. Don’t stray in bed, don’t snooze, don’t toss and turn, half awake. If you decide to get up at 0600AM, then get up. Every day, including weekends. Even if you’ve had a tough night. Get up. If regularity is a struggle for you and you have to pick your fights, pick this one. Get up at the same time. Every day.
When you’re irregular, you stray from your rhythm. The effect is the same as travelling over time zones. Your brain doesn’t know the difference. Juggling with bedtimes and wakeup times means you’re juggling with your brain. As a result, your recovery won’t be as efficient. It’s like jetlag, but without the benefit of the actual trip.
Go to bed at your earliest possible bedtime every night, including weekends. Not before, even if you’re tired. Wait until your earliest possible bedtime.
Get up at the same time every morning, including weekends.
If you’re a morning chronotype, you want your earliest possible bedtime to be early and you want to get up early.
If you’re an evening chronotype, you want your earliest possible bedtime to be late and you want to get up late.
If you’re not sure about your rhythm (and we kind of think you’re not, and that’s totally fine, you know), if you don’t know how to define your earliest possible bedtime and wakeup time, then there’s a way to find out. Let’s restrict your sleep to a more compressed but efficient rest, and work from there. It goes a little something like this:
Think about how many hours of sleep you get each night, right now.
Not how many hours you’d like to have. Only how many hours you’re getting, right now.
Don’t apply value or judgement to this. Just accept it.
Don’t consider general recommendations or even your own perception of this. If someone goes “You need eight hours or else”, walk away from that person.
Only look at the hours you’re getting, right now.
Now, decide when you want to get up.
Say you’re a lark. Well, lark-ish. You want to get up at 06:00AM. Larks don’t necessarily need to get up at precisely 06:00AM, but for the sake of argument, we’ll use 06:00AM. And don’t listen to people that go “Winners rise early” or “Success sleeps late”. Forget about them. This is your beat. Your rhythm.
So don’t mind them. Set your time. Not some silly Winner Time.
Now, count back the hours of sleep you’re currently getting.
If you sleep six hours per night now, and want to get up at 06:00AM, then count back to 12:00AM (that’d be midnight, for those of you who don’t swear by AM / PM).
Finally, slap on an extra half hour. You need to give yourself a chance to fall asleep, after all.
In this example, this would put your earliest possible bedtime at 11:30PM. Not sooner. Not later.
There’s one exception.
Even if you sleep less than five hours right now, set your frame to be at least five hours and that extra half hour added for falling asleep. So time in bed, no less than five and a half hours, no matter the circumstances. We need to draw the line somewhere, after all.
If you want to set your earliest possible bedtime to 10:00PM but your body’s not sending signals that it’s time to rest and your sleep drive isn’t there yet, don’t set that time. Define an earliest possible bedtime where you’ll give sleep a chance. You don’t want to spend hours in bed, waiting for sleep. That’s not what the bed is for. Bed is for sleep. Don’t associate it with anything else.
Oh, all right. There’s the occasional cuddle as well. But that aside, bed is for sleep.
Now, write down your place in time for sleep, on a piece of paper.
When to go to bed. This is your earliest possible bedtime.
When to get up. This is your wakeup time.
Look at the numbers.
And commit to them.
Sincerely, Sleep Cycle with Martin Reed from Insomnia Coach®
Regularity is key to good sleep. You want to maintain a regular earliest possible bedtime and latest possible out of bed time over the week and weekend. Define your window for sleep and stick to it, because out of all the things you can do to get better sleep, this is one of the most beneficial ones. If you can’t adhere to both, then go for the wakeup window. Get up at the same time. Every day. Your body will thank you for it. Perhaps not tomorrow. But in time, it will. Training pays off. Always.