I was always bad at sleeping. My mom still talks of nightmarish times trying to get me to sleep as a baby and toddler. As a child, I kept a flashlight and a book on my nightstand so I could stay up after lights-out to read. As I grew, this trend continued.
I’m never tired at a “normal” bedtime. In fact, late nights are when I do some of my best writing. I am, however, exhausted in the morning.
I spent years trying to fit the mold, and always just figured I was a night owl until I finally heard about circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
We’re all well aware of insomnia, but many don’t fit into that category. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders include a variety of sleep patterns. For example, people with delayed sleep phase syndrome fall asleep very late and have difficulty waking up for daytime engagements. On the opposite spectrum, those who suffer from advanced sleep phase syndrome fall asleep early in the evening and awake very early in the morning. Both can be problematic for social, work and school engagements.
When you miss out on much needed hours of sleep each night, you’re not just giving up your beauty rest, you’re also putting yourself at risk for developing serious health issues. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, people who miss out on sleep perform worse on daily tasks, are moody and irritable, and have a higher risk of getting into an accident than those who get their full eight hours of rest. In the long term, lack of sleep can lead to obesity, hypertension, stress and even cancer.
If you struggle with your sleep, what can you do? First things first, you should see a sleep specialist, and maybe participate in a sleep study. Once you receive a diagnosis, you have two options: conform to society’s standards or create your own.
If you choose to conform, you can shift your sleep cycle in small increments. This type of treatment is called chronotherapy. For about one week, you delay your bedtime by three hours. For example, if you normally go to bed at 1 a.m., you would go to bed at 4 a.m. the first night. Allow yourself a full night’s rest, and continue this pattern until you have reached the bedtime you prefer.
It’s extremely easy to slip back into old habits, so the most important aspect of this treatment is continuing your new schedule. You need to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
Set yourself up for success by making your bedroom a place you can’t wait to retreat to each night. Remove all artificial light sources, such as televisions and computers, and declutter your room. Consider purchasing a white noise machine, and practicing meditation for a short while before bed. This can help to clear your mind of all those extraneous thoughts and worries that can keep you lying awake at night.
If you routinely fall back into bad sleep habits, you may want to consider a lifestyle overhaul that will help you to get all the sleep you need each night. This could very well include a career change. Freelancing or shift work are great options for those who don’t mind being on the opposite schedule as the rest of society. When you work as a freelancer, you can begin your work at whatever time you choose each day. Shift work will not only allow you to sleep at a time that is normal to you, but night shifts often pay more than daytime shifts.
Even if you change jobs, you will run into times where you must wake up to attend a social event. Talk to your sleep doctor about taking a small amount of melatonin in the evening, which will help to remind your brain and body that it’s time to rest. It can help you to get a good night’s sleep at a more regular time period.
Sleep is one of the most important facets of life, yet it is often overlooked. People are too busy and too concerned with taking care of others, leaving them much too tired. When you arrange your life to allow for sleep, you will find that all those tasks are easier to complete and you are better able to care for those who need you to be at your best each day.