When I decided to undertake a cleanse and make some changes in my diet, I also set out to change my sleeping habits.
My natural tendency has always been that of a night owl, even when, as now, I’ve been without caffeine. For the past several months, I had been in the habit of staying up until almost 2:00 a.m. to write, clean, cook, prepare for the next day. I loved how quiet the house was and hated to abandon my free time to head up to bed. This worked for a while because I was also spending part or most of my son’s naptime asleep and because my son would wake to nurse around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. So I essentially stayed up until he started to fuss, and then I would charge upstairs, nurse him and get the oxytocin boost to help me fall asleep. Going to bed any earlier seemed inefficient because my mind was whirring with all the things I could be doing, and I was just waiting for him to wake up before I could really go under. It didn’t seem reasonable to try to get to bed before 10:30 p.m. since I was tutoring many nights until 10:00 p.m. and needed considerable wind-down time once I got home.
All these rationalizations aside, I know that there are many health benefits to an earlier bedtime. The adrenals need to rest and repair themselves so that the body is not constantly in high-alert, fight-or-flight mode. Cortisol spikes at the wrong time of day can negatively impact the nervous system. The liver and gallbladder supposedly flush out toxins in the late evening, and they aren’t effective at doing so if the body is in an alert state.
There was also the matter of feeling robbed if I spent all of my son’s nap sleeping next to him instead of getting some time for myself or a head-start on dinner. Being in a super-dark room during the middle of the day was disorienting. I wanted my afternoons back, but getting through the day without a nap was tough if I’d only slept 2:30-6:30 a.m.!
I had hoped to start going to bed by 11:30 (some naturopathic doctors say 9:00 is a good target, others 10:30 at the latest, and I’ve also read that sleep before midnight is significantly more restorative than sleep after midnight). However, I did not approach this goal with the same commitment as I approached my diet changes. I merely thought to myself, “It would be nice to get my bike fixed up and try to go to the gym for their 6:00 a.m. yoga class twice a week.” A month later, the bike is finally out of the shed and in the trunk of the car, but I haven’t gotten it to the shop for a much-needed professional tune-up. I could be rising early to do yoga on my own, as I did when I was a teacher (getting up at 5:00 instead of 5:30 a.m.), but I’m not.
I can’t quite get myself to give up all my late-night solo time. I have, however, been more successful at staying awake when I put my son down or just dozing with him for part of his nap and then shooting for going to bed before midnight unless there’s a real pressing need to finish something. The one morning I woke surprisingly alert at 5:45 a.m.. The persistent rain of the previous few days had abated, and the fresh spring air and early morning glow through the window were sweet. Having run 10 miles the previous day, it was a delight to have some time on my yoga mat. When my son awoke about 6:10, I went upstairs to nurse him in bed in case he might be able to fall back asleep. But he was ready to be up for the day. Having already gotten centered, I was happy to enjoy reading books on the couch with him without rushing around in a flurry to get breakfast started. With such an early and gentle start, the day seemed much longer and less hurried, and I was ready to go to bed at 10:45, even though I tutored until 10 p.m.
I’m hopeful that if I take a gentle but consistent approach with my bedtime, I can scale it back to a more reasonable hour and eventually (depending on my son’s nursing habits) rise before anyone else is up and get in some yoga or some writing.