How you put yourself to bed and what time you turn off the lights makes a huge impact on your mood, energy, health, and longevity. Yet, our culture stigmatizes sleep, glorifying those who can push through an all-nighter and dismissing those who prioritize sleep as lazy or unmotivated.
Are you getting less than seven hours of sleep most nights of the week? Are you a night owl who stays up into the wee hours of the night? Do you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep all night? Do you feel foggy and sluggish when you wake in the morning? Would you like to feel bright, clear, and energized when you wake each day?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to create the habit of Early to Bed.
Sleep is Essential
Humans are not like the owls, or cats, or bats that sleep in the day and are awake at night. We are physiologically programmed to do the opposite. This phenomenon has been understood for thousands of years and was recently validated by modern science.
- Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine are two ancient sciences that are based on the natural cycles of nature.
- Your great grandmother intuitively knew it too and may have taught you “early to bed and early to rise” as a rule for good living.
- In 2017, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to scientists who identified the molecular mechanisms that govern the circadian rhythm.
Also in 2017, neuroscientist Matthew Walker authored, “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” to explain the importance of sleep and convince us all to prioritize rest. “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough),” Walker writes.
The list of impairments caused by sleep deprivation (i.e. less than seven hours per night) is long and far-reaching. A few of them are illustrated in this infographic, and include: food cravings, lower immune function, increased cancer risk, high blood pressure, emotional instability, depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Whether you listen to the ancient sages, to your sweet grandma, or to the hard science, the truth about sleep is clear. Sleep is essential.
How to Go to Bed Early
Last month we talked about eating an Earlier Lighter Dinner. This is the habit of eating your last meal of the day by 6pm so you have time to completely digest your food before bedtime. The habit of an Earlier Lighter Dinner sets you up for the habit of Early to Bed because your body won’t be working on digesting food while you sleep and it can do what it supposed to be doing overnight: restoring, detoxifying, and resting.
If you live by your natural circadian rhythm, that means you go to bed – or at least start winding down – when the sun goes down. This is the time of day when your energy is naturally waning and getting you ready to rest. Knowing you need to get at least seven hours of sleep, count backwards from you waking time and you’ll find your bedtime. It’s probably around 10pm.
If you’ve had an Earlier, Lighter Dinner, you’ve already taken a step toward winding down for an early bedtime. Since you’re not eating late, you have time in the evening to:
- Relax, do some light activity, and allow yourself to feel tired.
- Finish your work and turn off your devices at least an hour before bedtime.
- Take a bath, read, or meditate.
All of these activities send the signal that it is time to get quiet and go to sleep. They will teach your body and mind how to go to bed early.
Knowing and Doing are Different Things
When we know the impact of sleep deprivation and we know that we are naturally wired to sleep at least seven hours a night, Early to Bed is a no-brainer. But the culture we live in, and the evening habits most of us have, don’t support good sleep.
- If your life is full, you may feel like sleeping less is the only way to get everything done. This may FEEL true, but is it? What is the cost of burning out or getting sick from lack of sleep? Are you able to be your best without proper rest? Consider what activities and tasks you could cut back on or quit so you have time to get the sleep you need.
- If you are a night owl, you may think it’s impossible to go to bed by 10pm. It will take some time to adjust to an earlier bedtime. Do this by going to bed 15 minutes earlier this week, then 15 minutes earlier next week, and so on. Make the change gradually and you’re more likely to stick with it.
- If your friends and family don’t go to bed early, you’ll have to make tough decisions and decline some invitations. Prioritize going to bed early MOST nights. Choose wisely and enjoy fully the occasions you do attend. As you begin to feel the effect of adequate sleep, it will be easier and easier to choose your well-being over a night out.
Adopting the habit of Early to Bed will have short and long-term impacts on your life. You’ll lower your risk for disease, and you’ll be less prone to accidents. Being well-rested means you’ll wake up with more energy and have better focus to do your work each day. You’ll be more emotionally stable, which can lead to gains in your work and personal relationships, confidence, and self-esteem.
What will be your simple step toward living in sync with nature and adopting the habit of Early to Bed?
About the Author
Kirstin Pinit teaches the art of self-care through creative, engaging, and practical habit-change programs. She is a certified coach and yoga teacher and consults with cities, communities, companies, and groups on behavior-change programs and strategies. Learn more about her work at www.kirstinpinit.com.