Of the four areas that typically comprise a healthy lifestyle: diet, exercise, stress management and sleep, sleep has historically been my greatest challenge. I usually get around seven hours of sleep, and I wake up once during the night. I wanted to improve my sleep quality and work toward getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
If I needed help with diet, I would consult with a dietitian; if I needed help with exercise, I would work with a trainer; or if I needed help managing stress, I would work with a counselor. I needed help improving the quality of my sleep, so I participated in a sleep study, and I consulted with a cognitive behavior therapist for insomnia. And it helped – a little.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia is a non-medication treatment of insomnia that is based on scientific knowledge about sleep. The goal of CBT-I is to help you fall, stay asleep, and improve your daytime functioning as a result of better sleep at night. The “cognitive” part of CBT-I focuses on thoughts, feelings, and expectations about sleep that stands in the way of good sleep, and the “behavioral” aspect helps people adopt personal habits to help them sleep better.
I also continue to make minor adaptations such as wearing a mask when I sleep to block the LED lights in my bedroom, running the ceiling fan to set a cooler temperature which is more conducive to sleep, shutting down my laptop an hour or two before I go to bed, refraining from alcohol and caffeine hours before I go to sleep, limiting the use of my bed to sleep and sex, taking non-medication supplements, and sometimes I listen to white noise.
I have also accepted the fact that I live in a Rio de Janeiro circadian rhythm, and I plan my life accordingly. By this I mean that I am usually awake by 4:00 a.m., two hours earlier than most people who live in my time zone, so I try to get to bed regularly by 9:00 p.m. There are occasions when I stay up later, such as when my wife and I watch the semi-annual Survivor finale that airs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., but as a rule, I am in bed by 9:00 p.m. each night, including weekends. This schedule might not work for you, but it works very well for me.
I also read the book “Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who has published more than 100 scientific studies on how sleep affects the brain. In his book, he documents the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on the individual as well as society. Did you know, for example, that the car accident rate goes up when we change our clocks to Daylight Savings Time and lose an hour of sleep? Also, standardized test scores are proportionally lower when top students’ loose hours of sleep.
Dr. Walker asserts that sleep quality has a more profound impact on our overall psychological and physical health than diet and exercise. An interview on the CBS This Morning show can give you good exposure to his thesis and research findings. I encourage you to read the book and check out his YouTube broadcasts for a more in-depth treatment of this critically important subject.
However, with all the effort I have put in to avoid sleeplessness, sleepless nights persist from time to time. I can easily manage stress during my waking hours and as I lay down to sleep at night. However, when I wake up during the night, my sub-conscience struggles sometimes surface and prevent me from returning to sleep right away. But is this bad, or is this part of being human?
According to psychologist Susan David in her TED talk, “Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get to have a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
If dealing with emotional pain at night is a symptom of being human, and that the grave is the only solution for getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, then I will stick with being human.
Michael is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). He also has NASM certifications in corrective exercise, sports performance and behavior change. He has senior fitness specialty and group fitness certifications through the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA), and a fitness nutrition certification through the International Sports Science Association (ISSA). Michael earned a master’s degree in human resources development from the University of St. Thomas, and works with people to integrate their fitness goals with their life goals. Michael lives in Eden Prairie Minnesota.