A strange thing has been happening in my life lately: I have not felt tired throughout the day. This is odd because I average fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. And while it is true that if I sit down and read a book to my kids, I will begin to nod off and may decide to let them play on my iPad for 30 minutes while I take a catnap, it is also true that when I am up and moving around I feel as though I have plenty of energy. I am able to wake up and get going right when I need to every morning, and my body does a pretty good job of telling me when it is done being awake at night.
I’ve been fairly puzzled by this development. By all rights I should be exhausted all the time, and for several years I have felt like I have been exhausted all the time. So why the change now? I still have kids waking me up at crazy hours of the morning. I still have a lot of activities and commitments that I have to fulfill each day. I still don’t get the sleep that all the experts tell me I should be getting. How is it that I am able to function with some degree of competency?
I think I may have a clue: it has to do with consistency. You see, since my oldest son started school last fall, I have been waking up and getting to bed at roughly the same time every morning and night. Before that, I would sometimes set an alarm, sometimes wake up with the sun, sometimes be forced out of bed by a crying baby or children demanding their breakfast. My bedtime was equally scattered: I could be in bed at 12:30 one night, 10:15 the next, and then be up until 2:00 on a weekend. (I don’t recommend that to any parent, by the way.)
But school has forced a degree of regularity into my sleeping habits. If I’m not up before 7:00, we’ll be late. And if I’m not in bed at midnight, I’m pretty much useless. Such consistency, it seems, may have been useful in helping me feel energetic and alert during the day, even if I’m not getting anywhere close to the recommended amount of sleep.
That’s because of the biochemical reactions that take place in our bodies as we come in and out of sleep: an increased production of melatonin helps us fall asleep, while more cortisol help us wake up. If we are always waking up and falling asleep at different times, our body doesn’t know when to release those hormones, and we end up feeling tired and languid.
To be honest, I’ve heard for years that sleep schedules are important for helping our bodies function optimally. And I had casually tried to impose some sort of order to my sleep off and on for years, but my efforts were generally squashed by my attempts to bring some sort of regularity to the sleep schedules of the rug rats in my life. Having a sleep schedule “forced” upon me has made all the difference, however, and I now understand what the “experts” mean when they say that consistency in sleep is so important. Your body really does benefit from knowing when to secrete those special hormones.
It’s a small thing, a quick trick, but if it lets me get through my day feeling energized and alert, well, I’m sold — and willing to spread the news to whoever may not yet understand that it’s as important for parents to be on a sleep schedule as it is for babies.