A week ago I got sick. The more I think about it, the more I think it was my body telling me I wasn’t getting enough rest, nor was I getting very good rest. I’ve known for over a decade now what constitutes a “good night’s rest” for me, but it was based on anecdotal evidence which I have more or less ignored all these years, but which now I’m committed to carrying out for the rest of my life.
Back in 1998 I was starting my second year of college. I was fresh off a two-year stint as a missionary for the LDS Church in Brazil, and had been following a strict schedule of waking up at 6:30 am and getting into bed at 10:30 pm. I probably couldn’t point to more than five occasions on which I violated this schedule, and during those two years I felt great. I carried this lifestyle into my post-mission life at college where it served me quite well, although I adjusted my schedule so that I went to bed at 8 pm and got up at 4 am. I couldn’t have done this without the cooperation of my roommate, who had a custodial job and had to be up at 3 am in order to go mop hallways. I have never felt more healthy in my life than those 8-9 months I was able to keep this up. Then I discovered girls, and it all went downhill from there.
I started dating a girl and instead of going to bed at 8 pm, I was online chatting until 4 am, and then I would sleep until 9 am. I stopped working out consistently. I stopped eating consistently. And when that girl dumped me three weeks later I felt like I had been run over by a semi-truck, not only emotionally but physically as well. I shaped up some after that, but never fully regained my sleeping regimen, despite repeated attempts.
Last weekend, I was listening to a show on NPR (which I have searched high and low for in vain) profiling a filmmaker with a sleeping disorder. The guy is unable to go to sleep until he crashes, which means he goes days at a time without sleep until he finally passes out, sleeps for two hours, and then wakes up, still wanting to sleep, but unable to because his mind is racing. That was interesting in and of itself, but what was really interesting to me was when he spoke about all the different treatments he had tried.
He mentioned that the #1 rule of good sleep is to get up at the same time every day, regardless of when you went to bed. The #2 rule of good sleep is to go to sleep at the same time every day. Finally, I had a “scientific” source for what I learned over ten years ago on my own. Coming on the heels of my breakdown due to a lack of sleep, I decided to get on a strict schedule of sleeping from 9 pm to 5 am, and I have noticed an immediate improvement. Not only do I feel better rested throughout the day, but I find it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. I’m already at the point where I instinctively wake up at 5 am even if my alarm clock doesn’t go off, and I’m not tired. I feel ready to take on the day. They say it takes three weeks for your body/brain to adjust to a new sleep schedule, but for me it took three days.
It is a challenge to get to bed by 9 pm every night. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve pulled it off more than once or twice since I started. But I have gotten to sleep before 10 pm almost every night, which is a great improvement over my previous schedule wherein I got to sleep between 11 and midnight, but was still getting up at 5 am. I’m still shooting for 9 pm every night, which means I have to start getting ready at about 8 pm right after we put my daughter down to bed, but it’s certainly worth it, and if I’m going to make it to Ironman I don’t see how I’ll be able to succeed without doing it.