the science behind great day #2: am I awake?

INTRO: As a pastor and a therapist for many people who are dealing with crisis or living at max overload, I get how hard a day can be. Anxiety, exhaustion, demands, and worry can come more quickly than the sunrise. After twenty years of coaching spiritual and emotional health, can I offer some “plain sense” ideas that are backed by scientific research to help your day get going right? Starting yesterday, I’ve been adding one suggestion a day for you to review. Yesterday’s Great Day suggestion was this:

1. Start the morning the night before: mis-en-place.  More on that here.

photo from / cco

Great Day Suggestion 2: Get up (uggg!) the first time the alarm rings.

It turns out that the snooze alarm is not your friend. According to Dr. Rafael Pelayo, MD, at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center, that snooze alarms feels good but is actually confusing your sleep/wake cycle.  Pelayo says that your brain becomes unsure of what to do, resulting in a fuzzy-headed feeling called sleep inertia. The more you hit the snooze, the more confused your body and brain get. And research has found that although you spend more time in bed, you are less rested. Sadly, the effects of sleep inertia can last up to four hours.

Likewise, Dr. Edward Stepanski, Rush University Medical Center, notes that those seven to nine minute bursts of sleep you’re getting in between alarms isn’t restorative sleep. In fact, studies show it more often leaves people with greater exhaustion and less focus. The snooze alarm interrupts the body’s natural dozing and waking cycle, which causes a shift in your brain wave patterns. He writes, “Interrupting these patterns can impair your mental function all day long.”

But I need those minutes! you cry. Perhaps not. People crave a few more minutes because they’re not getting enough sleep in the first place. And lack of sleep causes a host of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain.

The Harvard Heart Letter has these recommendations for getting a good night’s sleep:

  • Be honest with yourself: How much sleep do you really need to be at full strength tomorrow?  Then work it out and go to bed. Is that TV program really going to change your life? If so, then record it.
  • Go to bed at a regular time to help set your internal clock. Patterns build over time.
  • Don’t exercise within three hours of bedtime.
  • Drink less coffee, tea, and soda during the day and avoid them entirely in the evening. A glass of alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it creates a blood sugar swing which will almost certainly wake you up at 3 AM.
  • Set your clock for the latest possible minute you can sleep – and when it goes off, get up.

Yes, it does takes some discipline and training. But it works. So put the alarm clock or cell phone in the bathroom and put your feet on the floor. A great day awaits!

Tomorrow: What science says about the checking the news, email, and FaceBook in the morning.

Photo from cco

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