This story is part of a series where VigorTip Health editors try out different health trends and report what they find. In this issue, editor Emma Brink tries to build healthier sleep habits.
- Research has linked a lack of consistent sleep with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, anxiety and depression.
- If you find that lack of sleep is affecting your daily functioning, try setting a regular sleep schedule and avoiding screen time before bed.
- You should begin to feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep in no time.
When I was young, I had the ability to stay physically and mentally healthy without constant rest. It was only as I got older that I learned the power and necessity of a good night’s sleep.
As a health editor, I am acutely aware of the importance of sleep to my health. Inadequate intake has been linked to many serious health conditions. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine officially recommends 7 hours or more of sleep per night to help prevent health risks.
Adults who consistently sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. They also have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Lack of sleep can also affect mental health, leading to symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
While my sleep schedule isn’t always steady, I never thought I’d sleep well—until recently. Since then, I’ve realized that some of my nighttime habits are affecting my sleep, including a lack of consistent bedtime, reliance on melatonin to help me fall asleep, and spending too much time watching TV in bed.
My sleep hygiene has also deteriorated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I definitely have “coronavirus insomnia,” a term used to describe a sleep disorder that has become more common during the pandemic.
At first, the stress of the pandemic affected my sleep. But as I settled into a new normal, which meant working from home (my “office” was in my bedroom), I started to deliberately delay my bedtime. I know I’m staying up later than usual now to win back some personal time during the day.
Reading is the culprit. I usually spend an hour or two reading each night, sometimes more depending on how good the book is. I often forget the time and don’t realize how late it is until I skip my bedtime.
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This “retaliatory bedtime procrastination” — or the practice of going to bed later in order to have more time in the day to do your favorite activities — comes at the expense of a good night’s sleep.
With all this in mind, I decided to try a week-long sleep experiment in the hopes of improving some of these habits. This includes:
- Maintain consistent bedtime and wake-up times
- Falling asleep without melatonin
- Avoid using your smartphone before bed
- I fell asleep without the TV on
I don’t have a sleep tracking device or app, so I use a Fitbit to log my sleep. It tracks when I fall asleep, when I wake up and how many hours I slept. Every morning, I log these stats, along with how I’m feeling and any sleep aids I’ve used the night before.My goal is to fall asleep at 11:00 pm and wake up at 7:00 am
I had to rely on my willpower to avoid taking melatonin and using my phone before bed. To avoid overreading before bed, I set an alarm for 10:30pm to let me know when I should finish and find a good stopping point in my book.
considering my bedmate
In this experiment, I also had to take into account my husband’s sleep habits, but he was kind enough to stick to the rules of the week I set myself, or at least address them in a way that wouldn’t disrupt my plans. He and our dog, Wally, are good sports.
The first night was challenging. Instead of giving up my current habit, I decided to dive right in and give it a try. But out of the excitement of the experiment, I was too eager to fall asleep. By overthinking the sleep process, I made myself so anxious that I couldn’t. I tossed and turned for a while, then turned on the TV again. When that didn’t work, I caved and took melatonin.
As the week went by, I weaned off melatonin. By the third night, I didn’t use it to fall asleep and could doze off very quickly once in bed.
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Typically, I transition from book to phone to bed, and finally surfing through social media, then settling in for the night. I find removing my phone from this process helps keep my bedtime consistent. The last phone check could easily turn into a half hour or more, further delaying my bedtime.
On the weekends, I’ll go to bed at the same time, wake up at a set time most of the time, sleep a full eight hours a night, and fall asleep without melatonin.
But I can’t give up TV. I try to sleep without it every night but I need the sound. My husband and I are obsessed with our cozy show “The Office” (we’ve comfortably watched it 25 times now). We usually fall asleep on that or another show that doesn’t keep us awake. White noise or podcasts don’t cut it.
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The immediate effect of getting eight hours of sleep in a row is how good I feel in the morning. When I wake up, I actually feel well rested. I also like to have extra time before starting work.
I don’t drink coffee, so my source of caffeine is a bottle of soda at lunchtime. In this experiment, I found that I needed to drink coffee earlier in the day. But I do feel energized throughout the day.
One thing I can’t recommend highly is wearing a sleep mask while going to bed. This is a game changer for me. Total darkness helps my eyes feel ready for sleep.
While I was able to kick the melatonin habit, I found that I couldn’t give up the comfort of the background noise from the TV. It does not matter! I got enough active sleep habits from this experiment that I felt like I could stick to a sleep routine that made me feel comfortable and relaxed.
This experiment showed me how beneficial a consistent bedtime routine can be. Feeling good rest makes me more alert and focused throughout the day. It also makes me more excited to start the day after waking up in the morning. I highly recommend having a regular sleep routine, especially if you have a family history of being affected by lack of rest.
The TV in the background can be a minor vice, but we all have it. It’s not necessary to get rid of all the comforts when developing new healthy habits. (Boundless thanks to the cast and crew of The Office for helping me fall asleep over the past few years and years to come.)