Ahhhh, yes....sleep. What better way to keep hormonal balance in check, raise testosterone, improve insulin sensitivity, lower cortisol (stress hormone), keep body fat at bay, along with restoring and improving cognitive function? After all, in the hit series Dexter, when Lt. Maria LaGuerta asks Dexter how he's so smart and figures things out all the time, Dexter simply replies with (cue slow, monotonous Dexter voice.....): "Hmm...lots of sleep."
Sleep and I have an interesting relationship. She reels me in very quickly, but, when I want to leave, she doesn't let me go. In other words, for those of you who may not be getting it, I can fall asleep very quickly (and I mean VERY quickly), but have a terrible time getting out of bed in the morning.
For example, let me explain how easy it is for me to fall asleep, as it often leads to my own demise. Here's a truncated list of movies I've fallen asleep during, IN THEATERS mind you. And, keep in mind, I'm not just talking about a few minutes, but I literally missed the last three-fourths of all of each of the below:
The Bourne Ultimatum
Black Hawk Down. Twice. Yes, twice.
The Departed. Again, twice.
As you can see, I might as well have slept through an active mine field explosion during World War II. I've wasted over $150.00 by spending money on evening showings of top rated movies, only end up frustrated by having my sleep interrupted by constant gun fire, bomb detonations, and an uncomfortable theater seat. Not to mention, missing a good movie.
Not to mention the man-card I had to hand in by failing to see those movies (I still have yet to see the entirety of them...). There are many more I missed in the theaters, copious rental movies I conked out during, and don't even get me started on the fire alarms in college I slept completely through. Don't worry though, I'll spare you the prolixity.
Moving onward, getting out of bed is an entirely different bear. While sleep will take me within 3o seconds of hitting the pillow (not kidding), she is entirely recalcitrant when it comes to letting me put my feet on the floor in the mornings.
No, I am not a morning person, but it's beyond that. Call me weak-minded, unmotivated, whatever...but you know something is wrong with me when I'm pointing the TV remote at the toaster oven to make breakfast and wondering why it's not turning on.
In fact, things got so bad with my sleeping through fire alarms and alarm clocks that my mom actually ordered me a Sonic Boom alarm clock in college, when I was completing Clinical Exercise Physiology course that required me to be there at 5:00AM in the morning (we were working with cardiac rehab patients).
This alarm clock is the loudest, most obstreperous** thing you will ever experience in your life. It can actually be used for deaf people, as it comes with a vibrating "bed shaker" (you can see it in the picture) that you place under your pillow to literally convulse you into awakening. The noise also goes up to 113 decibels; the equivalent of someone walking into your room and revving up a freaking chainsaw!!
Needless to say, I couldn't use it for long as I'd wake up 5-6 times each night stressed out of my mind because I didn't want the actual sonic boom to wake me up. It was that bad...the first time it happened I fell out of my bed thinking that I was under attack by the entire cast of The Expendebles.
Okay, so I think I've proved the point that it's extremely easy for me to fall asleep (and stay asleep), but very difficult for me to wake up in the mornings, at least without feeling extremely groggy.
Never to fear! You can learn from my many mistakes and losses in my relationship with sleep. Here are four things I've found that have dramatically improved my sleep life, and subsequently, wakefulness during the day:
1. Using a Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock
You can find countless articles on tips for falling asleep, but very few on how to wake up. Given that waking up was one of my greatest pitfalls, I needed work in this department. Enter the dawn simulator alarm clock.
Getting one of the these things was the best thing that happened to me since discovering good coffee. Kelsey and I actually put it on our wedding registry, and, let me tell you, it has made my morning wake-ups SO MUCH BETTER. Here is a picture of mine below:
What does this little gem do? It slowly emits light throughout the thirty minute period leading up to your wake-up time. Then, when the clock strikes the hour you want to wake, an alarm goes off (with mine you can choose from various sounds from nature noises, the radio, soft beeping, etc.).
This way, it helps your body arise from sleep the way it was originally designed to: without the glaring jolt of a boisterous alarm clock.
I can't tell you how much easier I wake up now. I will often wake before the clock even goes off (even during the week when my clock is set for 530-6AM), and I feel incredibly more refreshed than I did in the past when using a traditional alarm clock.
I personally use the one by Philips, and I highly recommend it.
2. Avoiding TV and Computers Before Bed
Some of you may struggle with wasting time on both of these, for others of you it may be one or the other. For me personally, TV has never really been an issue. In fact, my wife and I don't even subscribe to basic cable, given that we feel it's an incredible waste of money and time. This being the case, we won't find anything more than black and white static even if we wanted to. Sarah recently alluded to the utter death valley of television, as well, in her 30 Things I Want to Share post last week.
However, what did used to be an issue for me was spending time on my computer upon getting home from work. I usually get home between 830-9PM, and, upon sitting down, I would frequently flip it open my laptop to read articles, check email, peruse Facebook, you know the drill....
To make matters worse, sometimes I would even take my laptop into bed with me to watch AnimeBand of Brothers episodes before going to sleep.
However, what this was doing was not only stimulating my brain (instead of causing it to slow down, which would the obvious winning option for sleeping well), but also altering my body's circadian rhythm and delaying/lowering melatonin production.
This is a clear no-no for experiencing sound, quality sleep.
To give credit where credit is due: I can primarily thank my wife for helping me break free of this habit, as, once we got married and moved in together, she wouldn't have been too happy with me watching war movies in bed as she's trying to fall asleep.
So, what to do instead of watching TV or using your laptop?
Take the TV and/or computer out of your room. In fact, I now leave my cellphone out of the room, as well. The bedroom should only be used for two things anyway, sleeping being one of them.
Try reading a non-fiction book. Some light reading that won't get your brain going too much. I used to do this all the time in high school (The Lord of the Rings and Ender's Game series being some of the most notable ones ), but kinda got out of the habit during college and beyond. Currently I'm reading The Hunger Games, and it is awesome.
That's it for today. I'll be back on Friday for the remaining two tips on improving one's sleep life. Enjoy.
(Update: Part 2 is Here)
**It's a cool word I learned over Thanksgiving and wanted to share it with you all. Can be used to mean "noisy and clamorous" or "unruly; stubbornly defiant." You're welcome.