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Sleep Care Is the New Self Care

While at work a few weeks back, some of my co-workers and I talked about the pesky cold that seems to be going around as some of the COVID-19 restrictions have lifted. 

We all mutually didn’t feel so hot, and it started to become apparent that something was spreading. All of us could name at least two peers that had been sick, and now it was sneaking up on us, too.

In the last several years, I can hardly remember a time that I felt truly sick. I haven’t run a fever since I was a child, and my immune system has always been super solid – as long as I’m properly taking care of myself. 

Summer is the busy season at my workplace – an organic smoothie and juice bar in Boulder – and we’ve had greater business in June and July this year alone than any previous summer. With more people traveling and visiting Colorado than usual, I’ve worked some long workweeks in the past few months; most recently, I clocked 42 hours earlier this month. 

I noticed that I was feeling pretty off during that long work week. I was waking up each day with a headache, I felt extremely sluggish due to a lack of sleep, and all of the typical cold symptoms were gradually coming on.

Ah, yes… I’m definitely getting sick. And I knew exactly why!

Plain and simple, I was exhausted. Five hours of sleep a night with such a busy work schedule just wasn’t cutting it, and my body was visibly showing the side effects. 

I took five full days off of work to rest and recover, but I wanted to look further into the clear connection between sleep, stress, and immune health. I knew there were steps I could take to avoid this unpleasant cold in the future and improve my sleep schedule at the same time; this week’s column was the perfect place to share what I discovered to be helpful (after quite a bit or trial and error) and how some of these habits have become popular with the state of our world in the past year. Here are four things I looked into… 

1. Digital Sleep Trackers 

I came across a Youtube ad for a popular app right now called “Rise,” which is a science-backed sleep tracking app intended to help individuals resolve their “sleep debt.” According to the company’s website, sleep debt is “the single metric sleep researchers agree most contributes to how you feel and perform on any given day.” The app is free for your first seven days, so I gave it a go and found the results extremely helpful. Several others are available on the app store that will help you with personalized information such as sleep cycles, rest/peak periods, and circadian rhythms, meaning that there are various options to choose from if you’re looking to improve your sleeping habits. 

2. Circadian Rhythms and Waking Without an Alarm 

While this one was probably the most beneficial tool to come out of my sleep studies, it was also the hardest to stick to. Scientists say that it takes 66 days, on average, to establish a new habit, and my morning alarm has been the same for far longer than this. However, I’ve always had a bad habit of going to bed later than I should and snoozing my early alarm to get a little extra sleep when possible, making it that much harder for my body to find a sense of consistency and rhythm with my sleep patterns. So, what did I change?  To ensure that I was getting roughly the same amount of sleep each night and building a routine, I went to bed and got up at the same time every single day, even on the weekends. I’ve stuck to this for a little while now, and without fail, I wake up at 6:45 am every single morning, minus the annoying alarm. I’ve found peace in my morning routine, and I can tell that my body appreciates this. 

3. Putting The Phone Out of Sight At Night

For years, I have slept with my phone inches away from my head on the bedside table, checking it first thing in the morning and staying on it too late at night. After hearing in a podcast that the blue light from our mobile devices can majorly throw off our circadian rhythms and melatonin production, I wanted to limit my screen time during those two periods of the day. Now, my phone charges downstairs in the kitchen at night, and I’ve made a personal vow not to use it in the first hour after waking up or before to sleep. My anxiety levels have decreased, I fall asleep much quicker at night, and it’s helped me build more time for things such as reading and journaling. 

4. Adjusting Your Daily Routine As Needed 

Depending on school, work, family, and a variety of other factors, everyone has different daily commitments and schedules. Some start working at five in the morning and end their day in the early afternoon, whereas others don’t start the work day until evening. What’s most important is making time for the things that matter or that you want to prioritize based on your schedule. For me, I try to get a workout in at least five days a week, and since I work a lot of early mornings, I’ve recently started going to the gym after work so that I can still get it done without sacrificing sleep time. If you are someone who only has time to exercise in that short period before work, it’s helpful to start winding down earlier in the evening so that you can get your rest and still wake up early with enough time for that workout. It’s all about doing what’s best for you!

At the end of the day, sleep schedules are tricky to perfect and can quickly change just as life naturally does. With a little extra effort, however, you too can take control of your energy levels and improve your overall health with just a few small adjustments!

*Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The importance of creating habits and routine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142-144. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044

 

Meghan MacPherson Head Health & Fitness Blogger

Meghan MacPherson is a third-year journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder. Raised in Portland, OR, Meghan's interest in media journalism, news reporting, and print writing has been lifelong. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career in broadcast journalism as a news correspondent or television personality for a major media network. Sports have always played a major role in Meghan’s life; she played for Emerson College’s NCAA D3 women’s soccer team for one season and is now a part of CU Boulder’s club soccer program. Meghan is the founder of her own Instagram blog, Meg's Planted Kitchen, where she posts nutritious plant-based recipes, wellness tips, and fitness inspiration.

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