Lately, the topic is in vogue. And it should be.
There are about 2500 sleep study centers in the US alone. The Stanford Center for Sleep Science and Medicine has been driving a large growth in sleep research in recent years. They combine clinical, research, and educational programs.
Currently, there are a couple great new books on the topic.
- Sleep Smarter: 31 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success by Shawn Stephenson. (March, 2016)
- Sleep Revolution: A Formula for Enhanced Productivity, Performance, Success & Happiness by Arianna Huffington.
The importance of getting a good night’s sleep
Both books discuss how sleep deprivation has negative consequences for health, happiness, relationships, and productivity. A good night’s sleep is vital for creating your health and yet it is often an overlooked component which could yield many health benefits~ physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
People are just beginning to understand how truly important a good night’s sleep is. Last year, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), along with a multi-disciplinary expert panel, issued its new recommendations for appropriate sleep ranges for all age categories. It is recommended that adults get between 7 and 9. These results for the different age categories are published in Sleep Health: The Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. While some people claim that they don’t require that much sleep, studies have shown that only about 1% of the population can function healthfully on less than the recommended 7-9 hrs. per night. This 1% is said to have a different genetic makeup.
Despite this, students routinely pull “all-nighters” for studying and employees are often praised for working extra hours. It’s not uncommon for people to be working two jobs, which has to cut into sleep time. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) has limited the number of work-hours for residents to 80 hours weekly, overnight call frequency to no more than one in three, 30-hour maximum straight shifts, and at least 10 hours off between shifts. Wow! I wonder what they did before this change? I’m told that there are many ways to “work around” these rules. I never understood how making residents take on 30 hours straight shifts is supposed to make them good doctors? I know I don’t want someone who was awake that long to be operating on me. I’ll take the rested and alert surgeon, please.
Tips for a good night’s sleep
Last year, I wrote a blog post on ways you can get a better night’s sleep. Here’s a link to that post: How are you sleeping? 20 tips for better sleep hygiene
Night Owl or Early Bird?
Which category do you put yourself in? Night Owl? or Early Bird? Do you like to stay up late, feeling your most creative at night? Or are you and “early to bed, early to rise” type of person?
Sleep Researchers traditionally use these terms “morningness” or “diurnality” and “eveningness” or “nocturnality” to describe these two chronotypes. A chronotype refers to a person’s regular rising and bedtime. Although a lot about the physiology of chronotypes isn’t well understood, its typically agreed upon that there is a genetic component involved*.
I have been a night owl most of my life, and most of the time it served me well. (Although, early morning meetings were tough!) Usually, I relied on my morning coffee, to assist with pushing myself to make these sorts of meetings and commitments and arrive on time. Many times, though, my work day started late morning, so the night owl routine worked out for me. Often, we night owls are referred to as lazy. This is a myth.
Night owls get a bad rap. Our society praises early birds. And these attitudes about those who stay up late and wake up late are pretty deeply ingrained. However, there are both pros and cons to every type of person.
Night owls routinely score higher on intelligence tests and appear to be more creative. Researchers from a study at the University in Milan, found that night people are more likely to develop original and creative solutions to problems than morning people.
Early Birds’ performance peaks in the morning. According to recent studies, there are some health benefits to waking up early (Night owls may have more unhealthy eating habits, but not necessarily) Morning people are in a better position for work success They also are often more productive* (according to a study conducted by Christoph Randler, a professor of biology at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany.)
But, can you change your “Chronotype”?
Lately, I’ve wanted to slowly move toward turning in and waking up earlier. Do you think that a night owl can change into an early bird?
Research suggests that a particular “chronotype” is changeable. But it does take consistent effort. Frequently, as adults age, they begin to wake earlier. And while your behavior may change over time, it doesn’t mean that you actually prefer your new bedtime or wakeup time. One study I read suggests that rather than beginning to go to bed earlier, you set your alarm for no more than 30 minutes earlier per day. If you wake up at 10 am and want to start waking up at 8 am, start by setting the alarm for 9:30 for week 1, 9:00 for week 2, 8:30 for week three, and 8:00 am on week four. Doing this, theoretically, you should begin to tire earlier. (*So far, I’ve been able to wake 30 minutes earlier for the first week. The first couple days, I went to sleep at my usual (later) time, but I was able to move this back by the end of the week.) We’ll see how it goes!
One other important behavior to change when trying to change your chronotype is not to linger in bed but to get yourself into the light directly upon waking. According to Dr. J.M. Ellenbogen chief of sleep medicine at Mass. General Hospital, most sensory information is processed by the thalamus but light goes directly to the circadian system. He also wrote that even computer screens and televisions can also count as getting yourself the light you need to assist you with making this change.
Two other tips for making the change from night owl to early bird: 1. Wake up at the same time every day. Don’t sleep in during the weekend. 2. Turn off the TV and Computer at night at least 30 minutes or more prior to going to sleep.
Older adults tend to go to bed and rise earlier as they age. Seniors were tested in the morning and they not only performed better on demanding cognitive tasks but also activated the same brain networks responsible for paying attention and suppressing distraction as younger adults, according to a study in Psychology and Aging. As a result of this study, it was suggested that Older adults schedule their most mentally challenging tasks for early morning.
Now, I have a few questions for you to consider:
I’d love to know if you consider yourself a night owl or early bird?
How much sleep do you typically get per night?
Does your chronotype and sleep preference work for you?
Have you successfully made a change in your sleeping and/or waking time?
Leave a comment below, or feel free to email me with any thoughts on the topic.
Stay tuned for the next post on healthy morning routines
Cheers to a good night’s sleep,
Christine Matteson, BC-DMT, LCAT, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice with over 20 years of experience. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and issues related to grief/loss and managing stress. Looking to schedule a session?