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Sleep Challenge 2010: How Sleep Is Like Steroids...Without the 'Roid Rage'

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Good afternoon. I hope you're feeling as well rested as I am -- it's now day 8 of the Sleep Challenge I'm doing along with Glamour's Cindi Leive. So how is my "sleep-hab" -- that's sleep rehab! -- going?

In a word: progress! As of my last sleep challenge post at four days in, I'd yet to reach my goal of eight hours of sleep a night. Well, I am pleased to announce that for the last two nights I've gotten the full eight. That might not sound like a big deal, but it's a lot harder than it sounds (if you don't believe me -- jump in and take the challenge with us).

Not only that, I woke up without an alarm -- which was, in itself, a bit alarming. When I woke up, I looked around anxiously to see what was wrong, wondering what had woken me up, since there was no alarm buzzing. It actually took me a minute or two to realize that the reason why I was wide-awake was because... I didn't need to sleep anymore. Imagine that.

It's well known, of course, that regular exercise helps you sleep better, but what I was shocked to discover is that it's a two-way street: regular sleep also helps you exercise better.

As I hit the machines as part of my morning exercise routine, I couldn't believe it -- I was lifting heavier weights, punching the treadmill button to go faster and giving it a higher incline than normal. If someone who knows my usual approach saw me during these recent workouts, I'd probably be asked to submit to mandatory drug testing. But the only performance-enhancing stimulant I was on was a couple of eight-hour hits of sleep (aka, the new eight-ball).

Our sleep consultant, Dr. Michael Breus, has shown how getting more sleep can actually help you lose weight more effectively than exercise, but I've been finding the two are wonderfully compatible.

And my energy lasted throughout the day. I have a group of friends whom I hike with and it's our tradition that whoever is feeling the most energized that day has to talk on the way up the hill. Let's just say I'm pretty well-known as a consistent downhill talker. But on my last hike I was talking on the way up -- mostly haranguing my hiking partners to get more sleep, of course.

I also took a cue from my sleep challenge mate Cindi. In her last missive, Cindi wrote that it helps her to plan a set bedtime and treat it like an appointment -- with the same importance that we give all our other appointments (work, dinner, medical visits, etc). She calculates what time she needs to be up, counts back 7.5 hours (that's her goal) and whatever time that is becomes her appointment with sleep. If you have Type A tendencies (guilty!), it's a brilliant way to use your compulsion more productively.

And to help you keep your appointment, Cindi also mentioned Dr. Breus's fantastic suggestion to set an alarm to go off -- in your bedroom -- when it's time to go to bed. As she wrote, "you'll be forced to enter your bedroom to turn the damn thing off -- which at least gets you into the right room at the right time."

I also want to take a moment to welcome my wonderful compatriot and friend Nia Vardalos to the sleep challenge. In a post this weekend, Nia said she was inspired by the challenge and decided to join in. "I've always wanted to sleep with you both and figured this is my chance," she wrote. A sleep orgy! Let's do it.

But, as Nia shows, it's not easy. She made a classic rookie mistake -- and fell prey to one of my worst temptations: getting on the computer or Blackberry in bed, just to, you know, check what's going on. (In her case, it was Twitter.) An hour later, or two in Nia's case, you're not only still awake, but you're Really Awake. At least when she was going through the motions like a zombie the next morning, she was reading the Huffington Post. But Nia, while we welcome the clicks, we'd rather have well-rested readers -- and so, I'm sure, would our advertisers!

So make an appointment with sleep, and don't let yourself wiggle out of it. Or tell me when you need to be asleep and I'll tweet you to stop tweeting.

Over the last eight days, there have been hundreds of great comments to our sleep posts, -- and I'd love to respond to a few of them. It's clear from the response that our sleep challenge has touched a tired nerve.

flow555 writes:

Thanks for giving light to this very important issue.

I have spent time in both worlds -- the sleep deprived one-- and the one with good "sleep hygiene."

After my near-melt down as an overwrought, stressed-out, time-starved working mom -- I had no choice -- if I wanted to restore my health and balance -- I had to get more sleep. (And change jobs, relationship, eating habits, commuting time, and end negative self-talk -- but
that's another story).

Really this is about becoming a more conscious person. As I have been on my own healing journey, I can see how cheating myself out of proper sleep -- led to all sorts of problems-- clarity and peace being just a couple of the sacrifices I did not even know I was making."

That's a great point: sleep is at the core of the health-and-balance battle. If it's not going well, not much else will either.

texgal7 writes:

My husband can drink coffee all day long, have a cup before bed, and then immediately go to sleep and sleep soundly for as long as he wants. He thinks it runs in his family.

To that I'd say: I'm jealous! But even if it's true, as Cindi wrote last week: "Even those people who believe they can drink an espresso after dinner and be just fine aren't getting the quality sleep they would without the java." So if you're sleeping well with coffee, you could be sleeping great without it.

dragonfur writes:

I wish my lack of sleep was as simple (ha ha) as a lack of sleepiness. It is instead, a lack of time. I get through with my day's chores around 10:30 or 11:00 pm, and my day starts again at 4:00 am. If I take time to get on my computer, well, that cuts into those 5
hours.

I would like to get more sleep, but unfortunately, my bosses don't approve of sleeping at my computer! Seems like that's the only place I COULD fit in more sleep. (sigh)

Sorry to hear that, dragonfur. As you show, work demands are the primary cause of sleep deprivation for many. This is especially true during a recession, when people have fewer options. But even given these demands, there are ways to maximize the sleep that your schedule does allow. Here are recommendations from Dr. Breus, Dr. Lipman, and Dr. Hyman. And I hope your schedule can change for the better soon, dragonfur.

catcancook writes:

...I also build dream houses while I am trying to fall asleep. I just
start creating a dream house in my head and get so engrossed in the
planning and actual building of it that I never remember when I fell
asleep. I am extremely visual though and can see everything in detail
so, I get really into it.

That has worked for me for decades! I have built so many fantasy homes
and it's fun.

That's a great method, catcancook -- and it doesn't re-inflate the housing bubble! (And I hope you're not upside down on the mortgages of any of those houses in your dreams).

And finally, commenters aguas10 and organicthemepark, suggested that instead of coffee I try yerba mate and green tea respectively.

Will do! I'll report back next time.

Until then, make an appointment with sleep -- and our next installment.

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