When I was in college, my Arthurian Literature professor — a former military man — tried to convince my class that the body doesn't need much sleep. "Four, five hours and you're done," he told us. "Do you know who wants you to sleep? The government. Think of all the things you can do when you're awake!" When I'm tired and on deadline, I think of his words, and I think of all the things I could do if I just stayed awake.
Back in college, I got no sleep. I worked full time in a nightclub, I commuted the hour and a half from Hollis to the Upper East Side, and I was hard at work on my fantasy novel, which just so happened to be inspired by that Arthurian Lit class. Sleep was the last thing on my mind. But I was 20-years-old, and my body hadn't yet figured out how to betray me, as it has now.
Working from seven at night to five in the morning five days a week for eight years disrupts any semblance of normal routine. When I had a personal trainer, he always reminded me between power lunges that I needed sleep. Even after I'd quit the nightclub job, I kept similar hours. I did not resemble anything like a functioning person before noon, and I always stayed up into the late morning hours, fighting sleep until I was truly exhausted. This past year working from home, making my own hours, and living #DatFreelanceLife (no one calls it that), has changed the way I manage my time in all aspects of my life.
For a long time the answer to a good night's sleep was staying out late partying with friends, binge-watching something on Netflix until I was too tired to stay awake, or finally result to some sort of drowsy medication. But this month, I challenged myself to try something different. I gave myself a schedule and allocated reading time every night. I tried for a minimum of 30 minutes of reading fiction, but sometimes, the book was too good. Still, I didn't let myself go past midnight. I used the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band to keep track of my sleep, and used iPhone's Bedtime feature to set my sleep hours. I aimed for eight hours a night.
Here are the changes I've noticed since this new routine on Feb. 1:
Before: According to my Vivofit, my average hours asleep clocked in at 5.9 hours to 6.5 hours. One day, I slept for 11.4 hours, and it was because I'd only slept two hours the night before.
After: The first couple of days, I slept I didn't see much change. I fought sleep on day one, then woke up six hours later. I did get up to 7 hours and 24 minutes by day seven. Now, I've been waking up a few minute before my 8 A.M. alarm, which means I'm getting nearly eight hours of sleep per night.
Before: Waking up at noon meant I would eat whatever leftovers were in my fridge and be too tired to get out of bed.
After: I don't think I'll ever get to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson levels, but when I wake up, I drink a tall glass of water and then interval run on the beach for to start my day. On days when I can't run, I walk. I'm not trying to lose weight, but I have dropped five pounds.
Before: Scattered was a good way to describe my state of mind.
After: One of the rules I set for my bedtime reading was "no phone" and "no laptop." That way, social media isn't the last thing I see before bed or the first thing I see when I wake up.
On the days I did go running, I'd sit in the shade and watch the waves. I wouldn't think about anything; it was simply 15 to 20 minutes of free time to give my mind a blank slate. I wouldn't be able to do that without waking up early and getting enough sleep.
Before: I will admit that I handle my stress toxically.
After: I still have stress. I'm a writer on a deadline, let's be real.
Before: I didn't fully understand anxiety until I went through it. I will stress that I am not saying "sleep and read" is an answer for people diagnosed with anxiety.
After: I can say that my experience has been positive in dealing with overwhelming deadlines and balancing life. However, I'm in a very privileged situation because I work from home and I only have to take care of myself.
Before: Groggy, but nothing coffee couldn't fix.
After: Overall, having a good sleep schedule and routine has helped me become more alert while I'm working. I still drink gallons of coffee, but that's also because I enjoy it and it doesn't keep me up late.
However many days or ways you want to incorporate reading before you go to sleep, I fully support that. While my life didn't change completely, I did notice that making this small change benefited me in many ways. Ultimately, I feel better rested and ready to tackle my day in the morning — and that's a pretty amazing feeling.