What I learned by tracking my sleep schedule for a week

For the first time in three years, I actually had a consistent bedtime

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Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

At some point in between high school and college, my sleep schedule evolved from religiously going to bed by 11:15 p.m. to falling asleep at whatever hour I finished my work — even if it meant I was up until the early hours of the morning. My bedtime falls irregularly between midnight and 3 a.m., so my sleep schedule is a bit of a joke among my roommates and a frequently-voiced concern of my mother’s. I can operate fine with little sleep, but I wanted to see if I could tell a difference if I consistently got the ideal amount of sleep recommended by health professionals.

Last week, I decided to perform an experiment and challenge myself to get eight or more hours of sleep a night. I tried to note any differences in my mood, feelings of fatigue and productivity levels. To keep myself accountable, I tracked myself with my Fitbit’s sleep tracker.

Other than a slight setback Wednesday and having to round up by a few minutes Tuesday and Friday, I think I managed to do fairly well. My average amount of sleep for the week still amounted to eight hours, so I’m considering this experiment a success. Old habits die hard, so I think it would have been unrealistic for me to hit eight hours of sleep per night perfectly on my first try.

I didn’t notice a difference in how I felt until Tuesday. I volunteer in the mornings, and usually I feel lethargic from waking up earlier than normal. However, I woke up naturally and felt alert even before reaching for my coffee — gone were the days of drowsily starting the Keurig before realizing I forgot to put the mug under the spout.

Unfortunately, I completely demolished what progress I had with my Wednesday night paper-writing marathon. Although I had promised myself at the beginning of the week that I would go to bed on time regardless of the work I had left, I couldn’t bring myself to turn my paper in late. I know that 6 ½ hours of sleep isn’t a terrible amount, but I definitely felt the effects Thursday morning after sleeping so much more the previous few nights. But once my schedule was back on track, I felt fine for the rest of the week.

One of my main takeaways from the experiment is that sleep isn’t necessarily my most important factor for feeling energized throughout the day. Even when I was well-rested, I still experienced fatigue when I exercised too hard that day, was dehydrated or maybe didn’t eat enough protein or healthy food groups. Getting eight hours of sleep wasn’t the magic ticket for more energy, but it definitely helped.

With the exception of Wednesday night, I realized that giving myself a set bedtime forced me to be more productive throughout the evening. I couldn’t rely on working late into the night to finish my assignments, so I focused harder in order to fall asleep on time. I needed to start giving myself hard deadlines for going to bed and wrapping up my work instead of thinking, “Oh, I have the rest of the night to finish this essay.”

However, it was a bit of a nuisance to consistently be centering my afternoon and evenings around getting a set amount of sleep. For example, on days when I went to bed early despite not finishing a reading, it took me longer to fall asleep because of the nagging urge to get up and just finish the incomplete chapter. If I had stayed up an extra hour to finish my work, I wouldn’t have been worrying about it, and I likely would have still felt well-rested the next day.

This experiment reminded me that sleep is only one part of feeling well-rested and maintaining a healthy lifestyle — it plays an important role, but it has to work in conjunction with other good habits. To be honest, I think it’s perfectly fine to get fewer than eight hours of sleep a couple nights a week if it’s necessary, especially when work is piling up and completing it will help relieve stress. It’s more important to listen to yourself and to pull back on responsibilities when you recognize the signs of feeling burnt out, but this point looks different for everyone and isn’t exclusively dependent on how much sleep you get.

I haven’t broken all my bad sleeping habits, but I’m learning how to prioritize my sleep and health even during busy weeks. I’m gradually shifting my bedtime back to a normal hour and trying to keep it consistent. At some point, it’s more productive to shut your laptop and sleep — if you’re reading this late at night as a break from your homework, take this as a sign to go to bed and get some rest.

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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