The Importance of Stable Sleep
The best indicator of how well your day is going to go is how well you slept last night. Sleep is the biggest contributor to your overall health, your happiness, your energy to make it through the day, and your emotional health. For such a big deal, we don't spend enough time working to improve our sleep.
I've written on sleep a number of times, including on sleep hygiene and bedtime routines. I know that good sleep is important in my life because it's the best way for me to manage my chronic migraines. Deviating from my sleep schedule, taking too many naps, or getting poor quality sleep is a recipe for a migraine that will knock me out for days.
The single biggest challenge facing anyone who's attempting to improve their quality of sleep is bringing stability into the equation. The best thing that you can do for your body is to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time, every day. This will not only help your body adjust it's processes to produce enough melatonin at the right time in the evening so that you'll fall asleep fast, but it will help wake you up at the right time in the morning without the need for an alarm clock.
Getting into this habit of stable sleep is a challenge for two reasons. First, we love to sleep in on the weekends. Second, our schedule precludes us from having a convenient schedule.
Let's look at the weekends. We know that going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time is an important factor in good sleep, but we've come to see the weekends as cheat days. There usually isn't anything prompting you to get out of bed as early as you'd need to in order to get ready for work. In fact, during the week you may have "lost" some sleep and are trying to make some of it up. The problem is that when you disrupt your sleep pattern, it's hard to get back into it. This just ends up making Monday morning absolutely dreadful.
Instead of pushing back your wake-up time on Saturday and Sunday, look at that time as bonus "you time." If you're getting up at 5 and your family doesn't start stirring until 8, that's three hours for you to do whatever you want. You could read the paper, watch a movie, get ahead on chores, or play a game. You can literally do anything you want without the guilt of stealing time from your family.
The other big challenge is when life keeps you from having an ideal schedule. In a perfect world, your day would have nice boundaries that would allow you to go to bed around 10 or 11 and wake up between 6 or 7. In reality, your job demands might have you starting at various times and your evenings are full of shuttling kids around, meetings, activities, projects, and even shows that you want to watch. If you’re in some career fields, you might even work in the evenings.
My best advice is to look at the past couple of months and find times that have consistently been safe. For Alison and I, we've found that 9pm to 5am is generally "safe." A 5am wakeup for her will get her anywhere she needs to be on time. A 9pm bedtime is guaranteed, except for when she has night call. Is going to bed at 9pm convenient? No. I'd rather stay up a bit later, especially when Benedict goes to bed around 7:30pm. However, I want stability in my sleep, and I want to go to sleep with her, so that's what we've done.
Stable sleep can be challenging to achieve and it certainly requires no small effort. However, achieving and continuing to achieve stable sleep pays off day after day.