Valuing sleep and making it a priority are the main goals of our 30 Day Sleep Challenge. As Dr. Michael Howell, an M Health Fairview sleep doctor, explained, “when you measure something you value, you inevitably accumulate more of it.”
That’s why for the first week of the challenge, we invited you to join us in keeping a sleep diary — by using a form from the National Sleep Foundation, a blank journal or, like one member of our Facebook group, creating a visual journal with lovely watercolor illustrations.
For some of us, the diary helped us give sleep the attention it deserves and make more time for it. For others, it revealed inconsistencies, negative patterns and problem areas — such as waking in the middle of the night and having difficulty going back to sleep.
As we continue the challenge, we’ll use information from our sleep diaries to help us pinpoint the adjustments we should try in the weeks ahead.
30-day Sleep challenge
Over the course of four weeks, make sleep a high priority, discover your natural sleep cycles and try small adjustments that local experts say can make a big difference in how well rested we are. Each week we’ll introduce a specific challenge, set snooze goals and provide information about the science of sleep.
Join the challenge
Snooze goal week 2: A sleep schedule
This week, our Snooze Goal is to keep a consistent sleep schedule, even (gasp!) on the days we don’t have to work. We will also try to optimize our sleep cycles.
Maintaining a sleep schedule is beneficial because our body has a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour intrinsic clock. Sleep is just one of our body’s rhythms, but it keeps everything else running properly, said Howell.
“By keeping consistent bed times and wake times, you are keeping the rest of your rhythms aligned so you can focus in class to better learn, consolidate your memory when practicing a musical instrument, master athletic skills ranging from hitting a baseball to mastering the short game in golf,” Howell said.
To set your schedule, Howell suggests looking through your diary to see when you most reported having trouble.
If it’s waking up in the morning, try to get up at the same time every day. (While sleeping in on weekends is tempting, he recommends trying to vary your wake-up time by less than two hours.)
If your diary showed that you have trouble falling asleep, try setting a later bedtime and gradually getting ready for bed by picking a quiet activity, keeping lights low and waiting until you actually feel sleepy.
“Try to match up the amount of time you are in bed to the amount of sleep your brain is going to give you,” Howell explained.
“The ultimate goal — very rarely achieved — is to naturally fall asleep without extra effort at the same time every night, then sleep until you are done, completely done, sleeping. Say someone offered you $1,000 to sleep 20 more minutes and you could not do it,” he said.
That may feel a little daunting, so here are two tips that can help:
Avoid the snooze button. Each night, we move through four stages of sleep — drifting off, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM or dream sleep — in repeating 90-minute cycles, explained Sleep Health Specialists founder Sarah Moe.
As the night goes on, the amount of time we spend in each stage shifts, and our REM sleep stage lengthens as we approach morning. This means that the longest stretch of REM often happens between 5 and 7 a.m., she said.
Sometimes we’ll set an alarm for, say 6 a.m., when we really need to be up by 6:30, building in time for us to hit the snooze button several times. When we do so, we may be interrupting that valuable REM sleep, which researchers say is key to processing and storing memories.
Instead, try setting it for when you actually have to get up — and then get up!
Try a sleep calculator. Minneapolis wellness coach Amy Mattila often suggests that her clients try the online bedtime calculator Sleepyti.me.
The calculator bases bedtimes or wake-up times on those 90-minute sleep cycles, so you can aim to wake up in between cycles instead of in a deep sleep. That should help you feel less groggy.
This week, keep this thought from Mattila in mind as you attempt your Snooze Goal:
“If you wrote out all of the benefits of sleep on one page, and said, ‘Here’s a pill that you can buy for this much money,’ people would definitely buy it. But it’s something that we have for free.” Sleep, she said, “is like the elixir of life.”