Hint: It might not be the same as your friends’, family members’ or coworkers’.
Posted in , Jul 25, 2019
If I were left to follow my body’s natural rhythms, with no regard or concern for any obligation to be at any places at any particular times, I would fall asleep around 1 a.m., and wake up between 9 and 10 a.m.
But of course, life is an alarm clock. I have an 8-year-old at home, an early-to-bed-early-to-rise husband and a job. What my body is asking for, I can’t always give.
At many points in my life, I have tried to reprogram myself, trying to go to bed at 10 p.m. or get up at 6 a.m. I can do it, but it’s a lot of work—and a 6 a.m. wake-up means a 3 p.m. slump, no matter how much I may have attempted to habituate to the new pattern.
Recent sleep science research is showing that I might not be to blame for my inability to pivot into a new cycle. There are actually measurable differences in the brains of early risers, night owls and those—like me—who fall somewhere in between. Meeting myself where I am might be a healthier choice than trying to fit into any universal definition of what a healthy sleep schedule should look like.
Understanding the differences in what scientists call “chronotypes” (when your body functions best) also can help us better care for our emotional and physical health. For example, “night owls” who stay up late every night and sleep late into the morning may be more prone to depression than those who sleep on a more typical schedule. A sleep pattern that works for my life is crucial to both health and happiness.
In light of this research, it’s been freeing to let go of the pressure to become someone who greets the sunrise with a smile. But I also am trying to meet myself in the middle—practicing healthy sleep hygiene habits like no screens at bedtime, no eating or drinking just before bed and keeping the bedroom cool and dark, so I can feel as refreshed as possible when I have an early work call or it’s time to take my son to school or camp.
Recognizing my body’s preferred rhythm and working with my brain's natural desires helps me walk in a healthy direction, unencumbered by the pressure to turn my rhythm upside down. Instead, I'm inspired to help my preferences work for the life I have.
What’s your body’s sleep-wake preference? Do you ever try to adjust it to meet the needs of your schedule?