When my mum used to tell me about why it was important to sleep (even at a young age I didn’t want to waste the time when there was adventure to be found), she used the words “body clock.” I used to think that we literally had a Dali-esque squishy clock organ inside of our bodies that told us when things needed to be done. I don’t think I was really that far from the truth, though. Time is sort of a fallacy created by humans as an attempt to find order in the universe, but at the same time it is entirely authentic. We just all have our own perception of it through that mythical part of our body: the clock.
Some people like to stay up late, and find themselves most productive in the wee hours of the morning. Others get up with the sun and find that to be the best. Some need 9 hours of sleep every night, others only 5 or 6. I can’t sleep if I eat just before bed, but my brother can devour six pounds of curly fries and sleep like a baby. Everyone is different, however, everyone is adaptable.
At my worst, I stayed up until 2 or 3 each morning, downed about twelve cups of coffee at 630 each morning to get through the day (not exaggerating), and then caught up with 12-14 hours of sleep each night over the weekend. I was also sedentary and had terrible eating habits as a vegetarian who had never even met tofu. I was overweight and miserable.
Then university happened, and there was so much to be done! I trained myself to be a polyphasic sleeper: I took 4 hour-long naps during the day so I could be awake for 20 hours of the day. This was miserable for the first two weeks, and then it was awesome. It was like being high all the time, but with amazing productivity. I think I accomplished more in a day than some of the other kids on my floor did in a week. I got a lot thinner and happier. This pattern didn’t last though, because when you sleep so little you have to be incredibly precise, and having to take a nap every day at dinner time killed my social life.
Now, I’ve reached a happy medium. I sleep for a solid 6 hours just about every night. This works because I exercise every day and eat a lot better, so that little bit of sleep is high quality. In fact, this semester I’m only taking 21 credits and I only have two real jobs so I decided to try sleeping more- but I just can’t do it! I can get 7 hours if I really wipe myself out, but that’s about it. Apparently, my window of opportunity is between 3 and 7 hours- but that’s still a lot of flexibility! Now I’m in great shape and I barely need any coffee- usually just a bit before the gym in the morning.
The point is, everyone has some sort of flexibility with their body clocks. Anyone who says “I need eleven hours of sleep every night” simply does not know how to optimise his or her life. Here are some tips to get started:
- Be strict! At first, you won’t feel great when adjusting your habits but you have to stick to it. Research shows that new habits take up to three weeks to form.
- But be forgiving– if you fall off one day, don’t just give up. Nobody is judging you- just pick yourself back up and try again.
- Be careful when you eat– if you know you don’t sleep well after eating a lot, don’t down a bag of chips just before bed! It takes self control, but try a nice cup of tea instead. Or at least something light like soup if you’re seriously famished.
- Set alarms– plural! I have three alarms every morning set at 15-minute intervals. Now I wake up before they go off, but when you first start shifting your body clock you need lots of reminders. Sleeping an extra 15 minutes at one time is better than hitting the snooze button seven times!
- Exercise! It will boost your energy during the day and you will sleep so much better at night. Just know how it affects you personally- are you wired after your workout or do you need to pass out? Figure out which is best for you, and time your workouts accordingly.
- Make plans- You’re much more likely to get up if you know you have plans to grab breakfast with your friends.
- Be productive- You’ll sleep a lot better if you have crossed at least one thing off your to-do list for the day.
- Follow a circadian rhythm- Sure, some people are night owls. But I guarantee you that if you can shift yourself to spending more of your waking hours with the sun, your health will improve. Our bodies are optimised for natural light, not this electrical nonsense. If at all possible, try to get up earlier in the day!
- Honor your body- as always. Sometimes you might find it difficult to stick to schedule. Once in awhile, it’s totally fine to stay in your bed all day reading or watching trashy TV. Everyone needs a guilty-pleasure binge once in awhile. Just make sure you get up on time the next day and greet the world!