Powering down at the end of the day is a need. But for many, it can turn into an elusive want. Last month, we took you on a journey to better manage your stress. This month, we’re exploring sleep: why you need it for your long-term health, why it’s so hard to get, and ways to actually get those Zzz’s.
Here’s how this’ll work...Each week, we’ll send you an email about:
- Week 1: Figuring out your specific sleep needs (that’s this one)
- Week 2: Life circumstances that often undermine sleep — and how to manage them
Week 3: When you might need to speak to a clinician
- Week 4: Which tools and sleep habits may help (or hinder) your sleep efforts
We’ll talk to a sleep scientist about how to identify your sleep profile, including your chronotype (yes, that’s a real thing) and circadian rhythm (not as boring as it’s been made out to be) and how they impact your sleep.
Rebecca Robbins, PhD, author of “Sleep for Success,” is an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital where her research focuses on sleep and circadian rhythms.
This is the Rhythm (and so Much More)
Your circadian rhythm follows a 24-hour cycle (coming from the Latin phrase “circa diem, which means “about a day”). And regulates several body functions and processes throughout the day, including hormone production. For example, it’s tied to levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, which regulates your period and helps you get pregnant. And ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism.
But it’s most famously associated with your daily sleep-wake cycle. In part, because it responds to light — telling your body to wake up when it’s bright (by producing the stress hormone cortisol) and to sleep when it’s dark (by producing the hormone melatonin). Not getting enough good-quality sleep can throw off your circadian rhythm, which can then contribute to poor(er) sleep quality. And increase your risk for a range of health issues.
Thing to Know
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule/routine can help you get higher-quality, restful sleep. That means going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, including on weekends (and perhaps avoiding revenge bedtime procrastination).
“Keeping sleep times consistent gives critical feedback to the brain on when it should be tired and when it should be alert,” says Robbins. And that consistent pattern can help realign your circadian rhythm.
Keeping sleep times consistent gives critical feedback to the brain on when it should be tired and when it should be alert
What’s Your (Chrono)type?
Everyone needs quality sleep. But sleep patterns are not one-size-fits-all. Turns out, you have a type — a chronotype. It’s the term that refers to whether you’d call yourself an early bird or a night owl. And it’s a way to classify your individual circadian rhythm. To identify your chronotype, Robbins says to ask yourself, ‘When do I do my best work?’ If you feel awake and alert early on, you’re likely a morning person. But if you “come alive” at night, you’re likely an evening person, she says.
Illustration: Catalina Williams
“Ideally, we are able to align our sleep and work-life schedules around our chronotype. But unfortunately, this isn’t always possible,” says Robbins. “If you’re an evening person, protect your time after dinner for work, but try to keep the lights low, and get to bed at a time that will allow you to get seven to eight hours [of sleep]. Conversely, if you’re a morning person, protect an early bedtime and morning hours for your best work.”
You’re likely to have a certain chronotype depending on several factors including your age and genetics. And most people can’t purposely change it. However, environmental changes like controlling your exposure to light can help you adjust to the demands of daily life. Think: More light in the morning may help evening types go to bed earlier while more light in the afternoon could make morning types more likely to burn the midnight oil.
Not Too Little, Not Too Much. Justtt Right.
That's the Goldilocks standard of sleep for most adults. "All the data shows that optimal health and wellbeing come when people consistently sleep [for that long],” Robbins says. "And it's a range. Some people need slightly less and some people need slightly more."
If you’re getting that much sleep, then you should go through the four stages of sleep multiple times throughout the night. That's important, because each stage serves a unique function for your body and brain. Here’s what each stage looks like:
The transition into sleep. This is when you slow down your breathing and relax your muscles. Ommm.
The slow down. Your body temp and heart rate slow down for deep sleep.
The healing phase. Cue tissue repair, cell regeneration, and fighting sickness. This is the deepest sleep you get all night, and essential for feeling alert the next day.
The dream catcher. This is when your brain’s most active and the time for dreaming. It’s also the stage when you process emotions and store memories.
💤 Start a sleep diary.
From now until the next email in this journey, keep a journal near your bed and write down…
- The time you drift off
- The time you wake up
- The number and length of sleep interruptions during the night
- Your daily exercise and medications
How many cups of coffee or glasses of alcohol you drink
- Anything else you think might have affected your sleep (think: naps, food before bed, etc.)
Recording your habits can help you recognize your sleep profile. And help pinpoint unexpected causes for your sleep issues. Your sleep diary will also serve as a crucial log to show the doc if you visit for a potential sleep condition.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN WEEK TWO
We’re Spilling the (Sleepytime) Tea.
See: tips and tricks for alllll sorts of challenging sleep scenarios, from early parenthood to working nights, or just struggling to sleep well next to your partner.
Skimm’d by Avery Carpenter Forrey, Anthony Rivas, Margaret Wheeler Johnson, and Karell Roxas
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