How Can I Get More Sleep?


A couple of years ago, Arianna Huffington gave a TED talk in which she exhorted women to get more sleep. I’ve been thinking about that talk a lot lately, because I’m tired.  All the time.

I recently bumped my alarm forward from 5 a.m. to 5:15, and that has made a tiny difference.  But I still find myself unable to be productive after I finish teaching at 10.  I can’t talk myself into grading anything, and end up wasting any time not spent in the classroom.  (My ability to teach doesn’t seem to be much affected; it’s my self-regulated activities like planning and marking that suffer.)  Therefore, grading is relegated to Wednesdays and weekends, when I can linger in bed until I’m truly ready to get up (usually around 8 or so).  My sleeping patterns throughout the week end up being wonky, and I know this is bad for me.

There are a few things I could do.  I resist them all.

  1. I could request a later schedule, so I could begin teaching at 10 instead of 8.  The problem is, I’d likely also end up teaching during the dreaded 4-6 p.m. slot.  Teaching at the beginning of the day is great: most students are alert, and those who aren’t alert are asleep or absent.  Teaching at the end of the day is not great: students are wound up and unable to concentrate, and weaker students with few self-management skills tend to take later classes.
  2. I could get to sleep earlier.  I do try to be in bed by nine, but even when I succeed, I often lie awake.  More often, I put off bedtime because I feel like I haven’t had any fun all day, and knitting a few more rows of this sock, or watching Top Chef Masters, is a happy indulgence.
  3. I could streamline my morning routine and get up a bit later.  I know there are people who can roll out of bed, splash water on their faces, grab a granola bar and go.  I wish I were one of these people, but if I don’t have at least an hour and a half to ease into myself before leaving the house, I feel resentful for the rest of the day.  I even hate getting straight into the shower out of bed, although there’s really no way around it.
  4. I could learn to nap.  I’ve been trying to nap my whole life, and I almost never succeed.  There must be tricks I don’t know.

Does anyone have any advice?  I’m not battling true insomnia or other sleep disorders; I simply seem unable to regularly get a good, solid night’s sleep when I have to be up early.  Do you have a routine that ensures that you get enough rest?  I’d love to hear about it.

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25 responses

  1. Keeping a consistent sleep routine is key. If you wake up at 5:15 on certain days, wake up at 5:15 every other day as well, even on weekends. It’s not the nicest solution, but it does work. Naps can be beneficial, but only if you keep them to a maximum of 20 minutes. Good luck.

    • I agree with this after recent articles I read (not that I can bring them up right now). There is no such thing as catching up on sleep – that just ruins your cycle. I understand that the best thing to do is to wake up at the same time or nearly the same time each day Of course, I have moderate insomnia, so this is not a tactic that works for me. Good luck!

  2. Do you have a spot in your office where you can unroll a yoga mat, for a ten-minute lights-off lie-down soon after your classes finish? Or go for a short walk that takes you off campus, do a ten- or fifteen-minute freewrite about what you see and hear and observe around you, not related to your teaching day at all (that is, shift your teaching voice for a bit), have a relaxed lunch, then go back to your office and put in a few hours of schoolwork? Then when you go home, you’ll have diminished the to-do list, your walk to and from metro stations will be a refreshment, and if you do a bit of yoga before bed you’ll probably sleep fine. Oh, and drink a lot of water during the day, and laugh
    .

    • good suggestions! a friend of mine who shares my own need to find ways to effectively get enough rest in order to be productive (but who has done more research into the way the brain functions than I have) says that our minds need time to be idle.

      It’s so true! So I try to recognize my rhythms of idleness and plan for them–for example, I can’t switch immediately from teaching to productive office work (neither grading nor lesson planning!), so I don’t try to. I do what my mom calls “puttering”–putting away odds and ends and just letting myself move from little task to little task. Or, I do something altogether different (like the suggestions above). Sometimes it’s ok to just let your mind idle a bit. And getting in some outdoors is often a good idea to go with the idling =)

  3. I can relate to so much of this. I, too, have to get up much earlier than my body wants to in order to teach my classes, and I also struggle (mightily) do get anything done after classes. I do tend to sleep OK at night, though — yet I’m still always tired. I think it’s hard to live with a schedule that opposes your body’s natural clock, but we have to do it!

    I’ve done 2 things recently that have helped me: 1) I’ve stopped trying to force myself to work in the afternoon if I”m spent — instead I come home, rest for awhile, and then do what I need to do in late afternoon or early evening. 2) I’m doing less grading on the weekends. My body needs that time to rest. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but I try to squeeze the grading in to other parts of the week as much as possible.

    I think it’s a matter of figuring out your own energy levels and finding what works for you. (But I, too, will never stick to the same sleep schedule on weekends as during the week. I just don’t think that’s realistic when you’re forced to get up SO early for work). I wish you good luck.

    • “1) I’ve stopped trying to force myself to work in the afternoon if I”m spent — instead I come home, rest for awhile, and then do what I need to do in late afternoon or early evening.”

      good one =)

      sometimes if I find that I’m having trouble facing any task, it helps to sit back and relax a bit until I get the “ready” light–it’s a subtle feeling of being able to get up and face the task that was looking overwhelming or impossible to begin. And it often takes only about 15-20 minutes to arrive at that “ready” state. unless I am really really tired.

      if depression isn’t an emotional factor, then your body is a pretty good indicator of when you need rest times.

  4. Sorry to hog the comments, but I forgot 2 things. I’ve found that, in order to fall asleep, I can’t do any grading or ANYTHING on the computer at least an hour before bed (and preferably two). I also find that, if I’ve given myself a little downtime earlier in the day, I’m less likely to put off going to sleep because I want my relaxing “me time.”

    • “I’ve found that, in order to fall asleep, I can’t do any grading or ANYTHING on the computer at least an hour before bed (and preferably two).”

      ditto that!

      the more tired you are, the more a computer sabotages your sleep . . . and, strangely enough, the easier it is to get lost in computer work :/

  5. Experts say you shouldn’t do anything in bed other than sleep if you want to sleep soundly. (I’m a horrible offender of this rule. I blog on my laptop in bed, and when I taught, I graded papers in bed.) They also say you should avoid being on the computer 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. I have tried this suggestion a couple of times, and it has worked well. Hope you get a good night’s sleep soon!

  6. Oh, yeah, I sympathize. Ever the insomniac (or often with such tendencies), my sleeping only got worse once I had twins. At least I was prepared for little sleep then. And I can’t nap. But what does help includes: wearing socks (even in summer), the right amount of alcohol, powerful sleepy tea, adequate exercise (but not always), reading the New Yorker before bed (Talk of the Town, a the full-length articles can suck me in), yoga, massage, lavender oil on pillow. Osteopaths can help. Succumbing by thinking of all the great things I could do if I got up, in a non-resentful, non-stressed way. Making lists. No computer or TV for some time before bed. Even no music. Good luck, lack of sleep sucks.

  7. Take a yoga or tai chi class to learn how to relax before bed time. Most of the time we can’t sleep because we are just thinking of the 1,000 things we need to do the next day or things that happened during the day. I’ve found that the breathing and relaxation exercises I learned in Tai Chi class put me out like a night light no matter how awake or stressed I am!

  8. Wow, my own sleep habits (and pitfalls) sound a lot like yours! I’ve found that the only thing that really works for me is accountability. I’m often so tired that I find it easy for me to justify spending ‘just a little more time’ indulging in “me time” and putting off my responsibilities. I’ve found though, that if I clearly outline my Must Do activities for someone else (or a handful of someone else’s) I am far more likely to be able to turn off the tv, step away from the computer, and get my work done. If I know that other people are counting on me or expecting things to happen in a specifc time frame I feel the pressure to get it done. Maybe find someone who can call or text you an hour before you need to get to sleep? A friend of mine installed an app on her phone: she inputs the time she needs to wake up in the morning and the app will send her alerts the night before to tell her what time she needs to get to sleep.

    Everyone is different, I know that for myself I feel best when I get 8 hours or 6 hours of sleep. Anything more, or less, and I feel awful. It’s all about finding what works for you and sticking to it. For me, an hour of watching the news in the morning is what I need and if I can’t stick with that I feel thrown off all day.

    • “I’m often so tired that I find it easy for me to justify spending ‘just a little more time’ indulging in “me time” and putting off my responsibilities. ”

      the more tired I am, the harder it is to ride herd on myself–there’s always the “a little more” mentality =)

  9. “Teaching at the beginning of the day is great: most students are alert, and those who aren’t alert are asleep or absent,” haha!

    How do you always find so much interesting material to write about? I know I’ve said this already at the risk of sounding overly admiring, but you are a truly unique blogger and I value your blog a lot. I guess it’s all that organization and reaching for higher heights and fine tuning that comes from writing and teaching.

    Thanks for sharing.
    http://wearyourvitamins.com

  10. I listen to audio books when I’m ready to settle down to sleep. They can’t be too interesting, something soporific. Maybe Proust;) For me it can be a detective mystery. Something a bit shallow works, but not too badly written (because that annoys me and keeps me awake). It’s like having someone read you to sleep. It really works, except for on the absolute worst nights.

  11. When I worked at the university, I negotiated for a 9 a.m. time slot instead of the standard 8 a.m. It made all the difference. Now, I have to be at school by 8 a.m. and I’m perpetually exhausted.

  12. You’ve got tons of good advice here. I think learning to de-stress before trying to sleep is an absolute must. I used to never be able to read before bed, but I’ve found a series I can safely read one chapter in bed 15 minutes before I’m ready to turn the light off and it relaxes me so I don’t start thinking about other stuff and keep myself awake.
    In my experience, the harder I try to relax and sleep the more awake I get. Find a bedtime routine and then keep it. I wash my face, put on night cream, put on PJs, read, go to the bathroom, put on hand cream and then turn out the light. Most nights I’m asleep within 15 minutes.
    Good sleeping:)

  13. I hear your pain. I, too, have been getting worse sleep, waking up throughout the night, tossing and turning.
    I have been thinking about taking a TaiChi course as I tried it some years ago but haven’t used it for ages.
    That and getting healthier would help me. I know that. Just have to do it.
    Keep plugging!

  14. As I lifelong morning person, I REALLY suffered when I became a tutor, since I had to work evenings 4-11 pm (sometimes finishing 10 pm). I have to spend daytime preparing, reading, and studying all the subjects I’m tutoring in. After four years, I’ve found the only thing that works is I CAN’T go go bed directly after my last student leaves (just too wound up, and need some time to relax–watch series on line, do more paperwork, check email, etc.) I found I often feel ready to go to bed only by about 1:30 am. The only solution when you can’t nap is to SLEEP LATE. Last night I was up until 3 (longer than I planned) and I got up at 11. I was ready to start work in my home office by about 1:00 (yes, everyone needs a bit of time for themselves before going to work). In your case, I would highly suggest requesting a later class at 10, 11, or even 12, if you can. You mentioned you are teaching until 10 pm and getting up at 5 am–this is never going to work long term, you will burn out and your health will go. It will be hard not to gain weight. The key is to work backward from where you finish work at night. Leave yourself about three hours after finishing work to be in bed. I would allow yourself 8 hours sleep and try to fit in the two hours for yourself (leaving three hours after arising before taking your first class. Imagine if you got up at 9 every day, taught courses anywhere between ll am and finishing at 10 pm, then it would be doable, and in bed by 1 am each night. Now the problem is ajdusting your body to this schedule. If you haven’t been able to sleep for a few nights, and it’s the weekend, I occasionally take a dose of cough syrup early in the weekend evening, which helps me to sleep for about 12 hours–otherwise I would never be able to do that–but it really does help bring your energy back in subsequent days. It might take several MONTHS for your body to adjust to that schedule. But the thing is, once it DOES, make sure you KEEP to that schedule, and then you won’t have any problem. It’s taken me four years to get my sleeping (and working) schedule adjusted so that it works for me.

  15. As Anna mentioned above, I think you have to start thinking about what you can do to RECHARGE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS, rather than about how you can fit more work in efficiently. You should think of your energy levels as finite, and be careful how you spend them, always with an eye to recharging them. This is what I’ve been working on myself this year.

  16. Sleep and I have never been friends. I’ve tried it all too, and rarely anything works. Have you heard of or tried biofeedback? It’s basically the practice of tightening and releasing all of the muscles in your body, starting from your head down to your toes. The actual actions release a feeling of being calm, which can help put someone to sleep. Also, as far as the mornings go – I try to incorporate ANYTHING that will reduce the get-ready time in the morning. For example, instead of washing my hair in the morning, I wash it at night and style it the way I need for the morning. That way, I cut the hair washing time out of my morning shower, and it takes just a few minutes to re-adjust my hair for the day.

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