I haven’t slept properly in what feels like years. Let me explain.
I am by no means an insomniac, in fact, I fall asleep rather easily and sleep quite well. I just choose to put everything else ahead of a good night’s sleep. Hours of sleep lost can be made up for by three shots of espresso and longer lie-ins the next morning..right? Scientists would probably beg to differ and call that bad-quality sleep. In all honesty, I knew my sleeping habits weren’t great but to hear scientists stress the negative toll sleep deprivation takes on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being – I’m starting to finally pay attention.
The need to reevaluate my sleeping habits was inspired by this episode of ‘Feel Better, Live More’ with Professor Matthew Walker. The consequences of sleep deprivation being laid down so matter-of-factly was the wake-up call I much needed. Since then I’ve started reading Walker’s Why We Sleep – a great eye-opener. Perhaps I could link my lack of sleep to medical school, where it all started. As the years went by and the pressure of exams grew even more overwhelming, I found that my sleep schedule would pay the price of mismanaged daytime. This is something I learned to better deal with, as reality hits you in medical school – it doesn’t get easier. Hence, you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re making a priority of and at what cost.
I haven’t become more successful as I ventured deep into the nights planning and creating. I’ve barely found the energy within myself to follow through with anything; a result of being constantly tired and fatigued. I’d always had a fairly good memory, but after pulling in a few all-nighters, I realised how I’d be left with a foggy brain the next day. Nothing takes a hit from sleep deprivation like your productivity. And so I’ve had enough. Yes Mama, I actually have (I know she’ll believe me when she sees me actually asleep).
Here are three things I’m planning to build into my night routine:
Cutting the coffee
I’m no caffeine addict but I do like to occasionally indulge in coffee. Okay, maybe a little too much at times. Since I hadn’t noticed any impact of coffee on my sleep quality, I’d continued to drink at questionable times. I’ve now become aware that the half-life of caffeine is five to seven hours, resulting in fifty percent of caffeine still circulating through my brain tissue by midnight after an evening drink. Although no information is yet enough to make me boycott my coffee anytime soon, I’ll certainly be more mindful of my timing.
Most people do not realize how long it takes to overcome a single dose of caffeine and therefore fail to make the link between the bad night of sleep we wake from in the morning and the cup of coffee we had ten hours earlier with dinner.
– Matthew Walker
No gadgets before bed
As someone who tends to use their phone less during the day, I often reply to messages and check anything I might have missed at night, right before I sleep. This at times turns into a little bit of mindless scrolling that keeps me up for quite some time, resulting in a morning spent in sleep recovery mode – a vicious cycle that repeats itself.
At times, I’d use my phone till I got sleepy, but I heard an interesting statement recently, “We don’t wait at the dinner table to get hungry, so why wait in bed to get sleepy?”. I’ve learned that we should only get in bed once we feel sleepy, for our brains associate it with ‘sleep time’.
No pre-bedtime snacking
Staying awake through the night naturally makes you hungrier and a visit to the fridge is almost inevitable. Our bodies need a drop in temperature to help initiate sleep, a process coordinated by our circadian rhythm. Snacking and eating thermogenic foods could interfere with falling asleep, another thing on my list to avoid.
My internal clock definitely needs a reset, so my goal is to get in bed before midnight and get 8-9 hours of sleep. I know there are days to come when at times sleep will take a backseat in my life, so there’s no logical reason to willingly deprive myself now. I’ve also got to keep in mind that one night of bad sleep is not a routine to be continued. It’s still possible to salvage my sleep schedule by sleeping on time the following night. I’m putting an end to that all-or-none approach. Here’s to also changing the way I think of sleep, reluctant to admit I previously associated it with laziness and lost time.
As my mother never fails to remind me:
“Sahra, Allah says: ‘And We made the night as a cover and made the day for livelihood.‘”
I hear you, mama.
I’ll start by leaving the editing of this post for the morning. I’ve got some sleep to catch up on tonight.