Before I begin, I feel it's important I confess: I did not succeed at sleeping for eight hours a night for seven straight days. Turns out, the whole "eight hours a night" thing might be a myth. But regardless, I did try. I gave it an honest go. With eight uninterrupted hours ahead of me, I was ready for sleep on time every night.
But the actual falling asleep part is easier said than done. If you're someone who has ever struggled with anxiety, or just has a particularly hard time falling asleep at night, you know what I mean. Some nights, I would lay awake for hours waiting for sleep to just happen. And it wouldn't.
Maybe I should move to the Netherlands. Apparently people sleep more there.
But I gave it my best shot. I slept in on the weekends, went to bed early on weeknights. I tracked my levels of exhaustion, measured my productivity and, for all intents and purposes, made sleep more of a priority than I would normally. Things just got in my way.
Broadly, I know all the science and stuff. Like, your memory suffers, your hunger cues are thrown off, and other biological consequences happen every time you don't get enough sleep. But as for the effects of getting enough sleep and whether it impacts your day, I can't help you. My personal experience is more about what happened when I tried (really hard!) to get enough sleep and the small breakthroughs I made along the way. Here's how it all went down. istockphoto.com
The first night of this weeklong challenge was a Monday after a long weekend. On Monday, I both ate the best brunch of my life (if you're ever at Sweet Chick in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, order the Fried Tomato Benedict and thank me later) and visited a winery. So I felt ready to crawl into bed at an ambitiously early 9:30 p.m.
Fast-forward to 1 a.m. - I was still laying there, mind racing. Why couldn't I fall asleep? Was it something wrong with my bedtime routine, something I ate?
This night I got a whopping five hours of sleep, during which I woke up three times. Thanks, anxiety! istockphoto.com
Throughout Tuesday, I was (not surprisingly) exhausted. I made it to my gym class in the morning, hopped on the train to work, and proceeded to almost pass out at my desk. My after-work plans for Tuesday night trivia were quickly cancelled. I was spacy, groggy, and all-around unpleasant to be around.
So when the evening approached, I made a plan. I would try one of those meditation apps - you know, the ones that are supposed to guide you into relaxation with a soothing voice and gentle instrumentals. Before bed, I meditated (twice!) and tried to fall asleep.
Long story short: I did not succeed. My to-do list, that embarrassing thing I said in fifth grade, and what I might pack for lunch tomorrow all seemed more enticing to my brain than getting the rest it needed. I got a solid five hours. I suck at this. istockphoto.com
On Wednesday, I felt wired. Overtired, much? My productivity at work soared. I didn't want to eat much that day, either; my appetite was thrown off.
Though you're supposed to skip your workout if you're sleep-deprived, I didn't have that option. After work, I teach fitness classes. But I did so with a surprising amount of energy for someone running on empty.
When I finally got home, I passed out. Hard. Like, so hard that I slept through five consecutive alarms the next morning. I slept a total of 10 and a half glorious hours. At 8:15 am, I fluttered awake with alarms still blaring. My alarm clock had been set for 7. Yikes. istockphoto.com
After my body quite literally forced me to get the sleep I needed, I felt much better. Though I was mentally thrown off without my usual morning routine, my energy levels were through the roof. That night, though, sleep evaded me; I finally drifted off at 12 a.m., 6:15 alarm set and ready. I'll never learn. istockphoto.com
Friday arrived, and with it a glimmer of hope. Clearly my stress was preventing me from getting to sleep on the weekdays. Could I have more success on the weekend? The workday dragged and all I wanted was a nap. To sustain my productivity, I relied heavily on caffeine. Friday was one of those days I felt grateful that coffee is at least kind of good for you.
Friday evening, I intended to stay in. But after drinking a couple glasses of wine with my roommates, I found myself (too easily) convinced into going out. After hopping around my favorite neighborhood bars, I crawled into bed around 1 a.m. and then slept in until 10:30. You know - because I was clearly really dedicated to my health. istockphoto.com
I know alcohol messes with your sleep quality, but I could really feel the difference in my mood and energy the next day. It's a good thing I slept in - I had a 12:30 p.m. HIIT class to lead. Despite feeling a bit hungover, I was able to give the class the energy my clients deserved.
Afterwards, I worked at my gym's booth at a local block party. Despite being on my feet for over seven hours, the only fatigue I felt was physical.
That night, I bought myself a nutritious dinner and binge-watched rom coms. Hooray for self-care! PSA: The early 2000s classic "13 Going on 30" is on Netflix. I fell asleep during that movie around midnight. istockphoto.com
Happy Sunday! On the last day of my challenge, I slept in until 10. I know there are consequences to sleeping too much, but with all the hours I missed out on during the week, I figured I had a deficit to catch up on.
My Sunday was alarmingly productive. It's amazing what you can accomplish when your body isn't suffering the scary effects of feeling sleep-deprived!
So did prioritizing sleep make a difference? Maybe. It made me pay more attention to how I was feeling during the day. Keeping a bedtime during the week was pretty easy; it was just the falling asleep that I had trouble with. Maybe I need to take a look at my daily habits that might be making me more anxious.