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I Tried Following a Regular Sleep Routine. It Changed My Mornings

A Verywell Health editor tried sticking to a consistent sleep routine to reap the health benefits of a good night's sleep. This story is part of a series where Verywell Health editors try different health trends and report what they find. For this edition, editor Emma Brink tried establishing a healthier sleep routine.Key TakeawaysResearch shows that a lack of

  • Posted on 26th Jan, 2022 03:30 AM
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This story is part of a series where Verywell Health editors try different health trends and report what they find. For this edition, editor Emma Brink tried establishing a healthier sleep routine.

Key Takeaways

  • Research shows that a lack of consistent sleep is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, anxiety, and depression.
  • If you find that your lack of sleep is affecting your daily functioning, try setting a regular sleep schedule and avoiding screen time before bed.
  • You should quickly feel the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

When I was younger, I had the capacity to mentally and physically function well without consistent rest. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I learned the power and necessity of a good night’s sleep.

As a health editor, I'm acutely aware of the importance of sleep for my well-being. Not getting enough of it is linked to a number of serious health conditions. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine officially recommends seven or more hours of sleep per night to help protect against health risks.

Adults who consistently sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. They are also at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Lack of sleep can also affect mental health, causing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Though I don’t always get a consistent amount of sleep, I never thought I was a bad sleeper—until recently. I've since realized a few of my nighttime habits were impacting my sleep, including the lack of a consistent bedtime, relying on melatonin to help me fall asleep, and too much screen time in bed.

My sleep hygiene has also deteriorated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I’ve definitely suffered from “coronasomnia,” a term coined to describe the sleep disturbances that have become more common during the pandemic.

At first, pandemic stress was affecting my sleep. But as I adjusted to a new normal, which meant working from home (with my “office” in my bedroom), I started pushing my bedtime back on purpose. I know I’m staying up later now than I normally would in order to win back some personal time in my day.

Reading is the main culprit. I generally spend an hour or two reading every night, sometimes more depending on how good the book is. I often lose track of time, not realizing how late it is until I've skipped past my bedtime.

This “revenge bedtime procrastination,”—or the practice of going to bed later in order to get more time in your day for activities you enjoy—comes at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

Emma's current bedside book stack.

Courtesy of Emma Brink

The Process

With all this in mind, I decided to try a week-long sleep experiment in the hopes of improving some of these habits. This included:

  • Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
  • Falling asleep without taking melatonin
  • Avoiding smartphone use before bed
  • Falling asleep without the TV on

I don’t have a sleep-specific tracking device or app, so I used my Fitbit to capture my sleep. It tracked when I fell asleep, when I woke up, and how many hours I slept. Each morning, I recorded these stats, plus how I felt and any sleep aids I used the night before. My goal was to fall asleep by 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 7:00 a.m.

I had to rely on my own willpower to avoid taking melatonin and using my phone before bed. To avoid over-reading past my bedtime, I set an alarm for 10:30 p.m. to let me know that I should wrap up and come to a good stopping point in my book.

Factoring in My Bed Buddies

I also had to account for my husband’s sleep habits during this experiment, but he was kind enough to follow my self-imposed rules for the week, or at least work around them in a way that didn’t disrupt my plans. He and our dog, Wally, were good sports.

The first night was challenging. Instead of easing out of my current habits, I decided to dive in and try them all at once. But out of excitement for the experiment, I was too eager to fall asleep. By overthinking the process of sleep, I made myself so anxious that I couldn’t. I tossed and turned for a little while, then turned the TV back on. When that didn’t work, I caved and took melatonin.

As the week went on, I weaned off the melatonin. By the third night, I wasn’t using it to fall asleep and was able to doze off fairly quickly once I went to bed.

Typically, I transition from book to phone to bed, taking one last scroll through social media before settling in for the night. I found that cutting out my phone from the process helped keep my bedtime consistent. That one last phone check can so easily turn into half an hour or more, pushing back my bedtime even further.

By the end of the week, I was going to bed at the same time, mostly waking up at a consistent time, getting the full eight hours every night, and falling asleep without the use of melatonin.

But I couldn’t give up the TV. I tried every night to fall asleep without it, but I needed the sound. My husband and I are obsessed with our comfort show, “The Office” (we’ve watched it through easily 25 times now). We usually fall asleep to that or another show that won’t keep us up. White noise or podcasts just didn't cut it.

The Outcome

An immediate effect of getting a consistent eight hours of sleep is how good I felt in the morning. I actually felt well-rested when I woke up. I also enjoyed having that extra time before starting work.

I don’t drink coffee, so my caffeine source is one soda at lunchtime. I found that I needed my caffeine a little earlier in the day during this experiment. But I did feel more energized throughout the day overall.

Sleep Tip

One thing I can’t recommend highly enough is wearing a sleep mask to bed. This was a game-changer for me. The total darkness helped my eyes feel ready for sleep.

While I was able to kick my melatonin habit, I found that I can't give up the comfort of my TV background noise. And that’s OK! I picked up enough positive sleep habits from this experiment that I feel I can hold onto one that makes me feel comfortable and relaxed.

The Final Verdict

This experiment showed me how beneficial a consistent bedtime routine can be. Feeling well-rested made me more alert and focused throughout the day. It also made me more excited to start the day once I woke up in the morning. I highly recommend setting a regular sleep routine, particularly if you have a family history of conditions that are impacted by a lack of rest.

TV in the background may be a small vice, but we all have them. There's no need to rid yourself of all comforts when adopting new healthy habits. (Extending my endless thanks to the cast and crew of “The Office” for helping me fall asleep for the last several years and many years to come.)

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