THE BLOG

The Great Wake Up Program: Building a Healthy Sleep Baseline

08/26/2011 03:20 pm ET | Updated Oct 26, 2011

Last week, we began a conversation about sleep struggles and epiphanies. We shared Arianna Huffington's personal story about the wake-up call that inspired her to become such a fervent spokeswoman for sleep. And we asked you to think about your most dangerously drowsy moments and whether or not they compelled you to change your relationship with sleep.

Today the LARK team would like to continue that dialogue, this time focusing on the topic of life transitions. From the exhausting joy of having a new baby to the draining heartache of caring for an ailing parent, it seems to be that our sleep suffers most during points of flux. Whether our routines around sleep are optimal or not, they tend to deteriorate if we experience drastic change -- which we will, time and time again.

This week's discussion is not about how to avoid those momentous changes in our lives but rather how to learn from them, live through them and prepare for them, so that we can maintain healthy, quality rest.

For some key insight, we talked to Dr. Jo Solet, a clinical instructor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School who sees many people struggling with their sleep during points of transition. Dr. Solet divides these life transitions that we all experience into two basic types: planned and unanticipated.

Planned transitions, as you can imagine, include conscious choices like starting a Ph.D., taking on a more intense job, moving in with your long term partner and so forth. Unplanned? Suddenly you discover you have to get surgery, your boss tells you its time to relocate from Seattle to Manhattan, or you have an unplanned child.

For those planned transitions, Dr. Solet says, the key is to allow time for a prep phase to avoid building up a major sleep debt before the anticipated change. That means reassessing your sleep patterns sooner rather than later and setting up a baseline of healthy sleep habits.

If you are not getting enough rest on a typical day, start taking actions to change that. Try working on resetting your body clock and getting just 30 more minutes of sleep each day. Get a better mattress, rethink the lighting in your room and figure out how you can rest more compatibly with your partner. These are just some of the steps you can take before you know a big change is coming your way.

But what to do about those unplanned transitions, those life-altering circumstances that we're suddenly waking up to before we even have time to mentally process them? Although we tend to push sleep to the bottom of our priority list when faced with these changes, Dr. Solet reminds us that we in fact need to be doubly aware of sleep during times of struggle.

When we experience a loss of control over certain aspects of our life, it is important that we try our best to maintain ownership of the small -- but critical -- choices that affect our rest. Whether we tell our social circles that they need to be sensitive to our sleep needs or scale back on some activities, we need to put sleep higher on our to-do list during times of stress. "We have to realize that we aren't going to be good to anybody if we don't take proper care of ourselves," Dr. Solet says.

So where do you find yourself right now? Maybe you are anticipating a big life adjustment, or finding yourself in the throes of one. Or perhaps your routines have yet to be affected by a sudden change of key. Regardless, Dr. Solet has a take-away message for us all. Because getting a good night's sleep is such a central part of taking care of ourselves, we should build that healthy baseline right now.

We all know that our lives are not static. Even those of us who plan and prepare know that so much of what comes our way is not scripted. So why don't we each try and create a strong sleep foundation now to help our bodies not only survive, but thrive, amidst that inevitable change?