I’ve always been good at napping. I can fall into a sweet REM cycle anywhere, anytime, no matter the surroundings. Nobody likes to take me on a road trip because I spend most of the time napping in the passenger seat. On more than one occasion I’ve passed out so hard on the subway that someone has had to poke me awake at the very last stop, begging to know if I'm OK.
But when it comes to sleeping eight hours every night, I fail miserably. I have a terrible habit of going to bed very late (normal) and waking up extremely early, at, like, 5 a.m. (I realize, not so normal). This happens for a number of reasons. I’m at my best in the morning; I’m in a smashing mood, especially after I've been armed with a bulletproof coffee, and my creative juices are unstoppable. Plus, I love to do yoga in the morning and meditate. Rising bright and early has never been a problem for me.
But it does become a problem when I combine this habit with a late bedtime. I rarely get more than five or six hours of sleep a night, which means I take a lot of naps when it's light outside. On the days I work from home, I’m often wrapped up in a cozy blanket before lunchtime, and again when the late afternoon rolls around.
I've heard it a thousand times: getting eight hours of sleep is good for you! It will change your life! I've also heard the other side of the coin, though. Some studies show that we don't need that much sleep, and there is evidence out there showing that too much sleep can increase your risk for stroke and obesity. I decided to put all the statistics and big claims aside and find out for myself what the results of getting eight hours a night would be. I love sleeping anyway — why not incorporate more of it into my life for the sake of research?
I would get at least eight hours of sleep, no matter what. That was my mantra for the next seven nights. No matter what time my head hit the pillow, I wouldn't climb out of bed until my eight hours were up. Ideally, I wanted to be asleep at a decent time so I wouldn't have to sacrifice on morning productivity, but I decided not to mandate a specific bedtime.
There were a few different things I hoped would be positively affected from the extra shut-eye: the back and neck pain I experience because of my scoliosis; my habits of napping throughout the day; and my moods. There was plenty of evidence out there to predict that each of these would likely improve somehow, but I wasn't quite sure how the benefits would manifest.
I may be good at sleeping, but planning ahead of time is not my strong suit. I went to bed the night before around midnight, so according to the rules I set out for myself, I was forced to set my alarm clock for 8 a.m. But my internal clock had different plans. I woke up wide-eyed at 6 a.m. and spent the next two hours tossing and turning, drifting in and out of sleep.
When I finally got up, I was so grumpy that even a second coffee didn’t save me. Because I was up three hours later than usual, there wasn't enough time to do the morning things I love to do, like stretch and dawdle on social media. Everything felt out of whack. I felt (and looked) like a zombie.
When the afternoon arrived, I was still feeling weird; 4 p.m. felt like midday. I was hungry and cranky. As soon as I got home from teaching yoga I crawled into the fetal position and napped for a solid hour and a half. I woke up at six, ate dinner, and went straight back to bed, where I fell asleep around nine with the TV on.
OK, so far, not so good. The sudden change in sleep patterns had clearly disturbed pretty much everything, especially my siesta schedule; as a result, I stirred throughout the night again.
I woke up at 7:15 a.m. Knowing I wasn't going to be able to fit in my entire morning routine before I had to get to work, I consolidated. I sat for a 10-minute meditation and made myself a hearty omelette, figuring those were the two things that would give me the most energy.
Although I wasn't nearly as tired as the day before, I did notice by mid-morning that I was feeling a bit down. My normal motivation was non-existent. My brain was a bit hazy. I'm almost certain it was because of how many hours I had spent in bed the previous day. In the past, lounging around for too long under the covers has triggered binge eating and depression for me, and I could feel similar sensations stirring up.
I made it a point not to nap that day. I wanted to avoid a second day of oversleeping, since it definitely didn't do me any favors the first time. I kept myself busy and ate two solid meals, both of which helped me avoid bingeing on whatever snacks were within arms reach.
My boyfriend and I were visiting my parents for the holidays, so we went out to dinner that night. As you can see, I did my best to distract everyone from the tiredness on my face by slathering on a fabulous lipstick. And after a couple bottles of wine and a stroll downtown to Savannah's most famous ice cream shop, I knew we weren't going to be in bed at a decent time. It was 11:30 p.m. when we pulled up in the driveway, and midnight when I turned the lights out. So much for an early bedtime.
Not surprisingly, I rose at 8 a.m. feeling a little dusty from the previous boozy night — but the gloominess had lifted. There wasn't any time to dilly-dally though, because I was rushing to a weekend-long seminar with my favorite internationally renowned yoga teacher, Kathryn Budig. I threw back a coffee, grabbed my yoga mat, and zipped off.
Four hours of arm balances and hip openers later, I forgot how exhausted I had been the day before, even though the bags under my eyes told a different story. When I arrived home after my long day of yoga around five, I noticed that my lower back had yet to cause me any trouble. The late afternoon is precisely the time that usually ushers in aches and pains in my lumbar spine. I don't know if it was all the stretching, the eight hours of sleep, or both, but the lack of discomfort felt delicious.
Because the workshop was an all-day affair, I didn't have time to even think about a mini-snooze, which was probably a good thing. I cooked a Moroccan stew for the house upon arriving home, and we ate around seven. All the activity left me drained — in a good way. My head, heavy but satisfied, conked out before the clock hit 10.
I woke up feeling incredible, albeit slightly sore. There was one final workshop class to attend, and it was devoted to backbending, my favorite subsection of yoga. As I walked into the seminar room, I noticed how much energy I had. I was practically bouncing on my mat while we were waiting for Kathryn to arrive, and that liveliness stayed with me throughout the whole class.
Because I hadn't been nursing much pain in my spine, I felt free to explore some backbends that I would have otherwise been nervous to try out. I went deeper into stretches than I ever had before, leaving me excited and high from all the endorphins. It was one of my favorite yoga classes to date.
I snagged a pic with Kathryn (and fangirled out just a little) before I left, and I spent the next few hours shopping and lunching with a few friends. The day went by quickly and I was cheerful for nearly every second of it. At this point, napping wasn't even on my mind.
My mom's cat and I were getting along for the first time ever, and I attributed it to my newly chipper demeanor. I looked in the mirror as soon as I woke up, which was around 6:45, and was dumbfounded to see that my skin was dewy, a word I used to think was only reserved for models who had recently completed a juice cleanse. To boot, my face was radiant and the bags under my eyes were definitively smaller than before.
I'm not sure whether or how this is connected to getting eight hours of sleep for the fifth day, but I was hunger-free for the first few hours of the morning. I simply wasn't craving a huge meal the same way I do when I wake up groggy. When my stomach informed me a few hours later that it was time for breakfast, I felt like making something healthy rather than reaching for the frozen waffles my mom keeps hidden at the bottom of the freezer.
I whipped up scrambled eggs with fresh spinach and tomato, alongside sprouted toast topped with peanut butter and sliced banana. It tasted so good it nearly brought me to tears. The rest of the day, I noticed I also snacked less than usual.
Still visiting my parents for the holidays, I was starting to reach my family-time threshold. Usually, that would result in a bad mood swing, where I lock myself in my childhood bedroom and watch Netflix until my eyes feel like they're about to burn off. But thankfully that urge was no longer there, probably because I had gotten nine hours of glorious, uninterrupted sleep the night before. I was pretty much invincible at this point.
My partner and I went out for the day. We didn't do anything particularly special, other than raid the samples at Whole Foods, but we were getting along smashingly well. Somehow we were having the time of our lives just doing daily mundane tasks. On the car ride home he commented on how lighthearted I seemed. He wondered aloud if it was the iron supplement I had recently started taking? The aftermath of my weekend workshop?
"No, dummy! I'm a sleeping machine!" I said.
We brought home wine and cooked a roast chicken dinner for my parents. I think my good mood rubbed off on everyone, because all four of us were cheery.
Can you see? No bags under my eyes! Glowing skin!
I had finally wised up and put myself to bed at a reasonable time the night before, meaning I was able to get up at six and go through my favorite morning routine, complete with an at-home stretch sesh and a cleanse of my email inbox. Combine that with an extra-strong coffee and I swear I have never felt better.
I took a look at Kindara, the app I use to track my menstrual cycle, and noticed that my period was scheduled to arrive in four or five days. The PMS symptoms that usually hit me around this time hadn't shown up yet. I wasn't bloated; I wasn't fatigued. I felt pretty solid. Sure, I was still a bit cynical. Perhaps I just got lucky this month; maybe it's all in my head, I thought.
Either way, my day was smooth and enjoyable. And I went to bed at 9:30 that night, feeling pretty awesome.
Before this experiment, I thought the eight-hour rule was reserved for the middle-aged and older, that someone young and perky like me doesn't need that much sleep. Well, turns out I don't necessarily need that much sleep to function, but this experiment has taught me that I have the chance to be happier and healthier if I choose to rest a bit more each night.
Since the week ended, I've been keeping up my eight-hour habit, and I'm still raking in the positive results. I don't have the same crash at 4 p.m., some (not all, let's be real) of my junk food cravings have been crushed, and it's easier to be in a better mood.
It took some maneuvering to get the right routine down because I still value my early morning time. But I've finally nailed it down to where I can get to sleep at a reasonable hour, which has also helped me get a hold of my chronic napping. Every now and then I still like to curl up after lunch and sneak in some quick Z's, but it's happening a lot less now than before.
I love a solid snooze now more than ever. Whether I keep up my eight-hour habit remains to be seen, but for now, I'm happy sleeping like a senior citizen.
Images: Gina Florio; Giphy