I need some sleep.

Sleep is an area I have historically struggled with. From a very young age, I seemed to “need” less sleep than my peers. I wasn’t really interested in napping, I liked to stay up late, and I liked to wake up early. In high school, I’d get to bed around midnight, and I’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning. When I went to college, there were nights I wouldn’t sleep at all, and I began carrying an average of about four hours of sleep a night, attempting (unsuccessfully) to catch up on all of my sleep every weekend.

The combination of a corporate job and a family life has not improved my late-to-bed and early-to-rise tendencies; if anything, it’s actually made them worse. I like to wake up early in the morning so that I have a little “alone” time — time when I can read, write, and get myself grounded and in focus. I go to work, I work hard, I come home, I spend time with the family; sometimes I cook, clean, do basic chores, and sometimes I write a little more. Often, I do both of those things. Then, I like to try to have some “down time” with my husband — where we can relax, cuddle, watch television together, and I can give my hyperactive brain a break for a while. By the time we’re ready to go to sleep, it’s often close to midnight.

Most recently, this trend has become much worse. I changed my work schedule so that I arrive at work by 6am and leave the office at 3pm — this is so I can pick up my daughter from school in the afternoons. I am so very grateful that the company I work for and my direct supervisor are mindful enough of the importance of family to allow this schedule change, and it has definitely made life a lot easier for all of us — not to mention I get to spend a little more quality time with my daughter, which I absolutely treasure. However, the schedule change definitely took a toll on my sleeping habits. In order to get everything accomplished that I want to tackle in the mornings, I have to wake up at 4am. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have to wake up until 6am. There’s a two hour difference that becomes painfully present in the evening hours. I want to stay up and spend time with my husband, but he’s generally not even sleepy until around 11pm, and sometimes we stay up even later than that. Occasionally, I also have work or creative activities that I want to catch up on, so it’s often midnight before I get to bed. For nearly two months, I was averaging about four hours of sleep a night.

This was what a typical night looked like for me.

I started getting concerned when I was consistently having trouble staying awake behind the wheel. It’s not an uncommon problem for me — I’m assuming this is because I’m so consistently sleep-deprived. However, it was an issue that was becoming much more problematic, and I was concerned I might actually fall dead-asleep on the way home from work and wreck into someone.

So, I started making sleep a priority. This meant sacrificing some of my much beloved down-time with my husband, but he did have Modern Warfare 3 to keep him company most evenings. I started settling into a nighttime routine of a bath and a book — sometimes with a glass of wine or a cup of hot chocolate — and then curling up under the covers and easing myself into sleep the same way I ease myself awake each morning. It gave me a little more “me” time, and it definitely relaxed me. The first night I went to bed at 8:30pm, I was convinced there was no way I was going to be able to fall asleep easily — but I didn’t have a problem at all. I’ve also started using the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock iPhone app to attempt to track the rhythm of my sleep — which is where all of the screenshots in the post come from. The best thing about the app is that it keeps a running average of how many hours of sleep I get each night, which helps me aim for a higher goal. I do think it also registers whenever my husband tosses and turns, however, which makes it difficult to know if my depth of sleep is actually accurate or not.

This was a really, really good night of sleep for me.

Overall, I’m doing much better. I still have my four-hours-of-sleep nights, and I’m still only averaging 5 hours and 54 minutes per night, but it’s a significant improvement from where I started out. I’ve noticed a difference in my mood, my energy levels, and my appetite — I tend to do a lot less “mindless eating” and “sugar fueling” when I’m well-rested. I’ve also noticed that my alertness level in the mornings seems to correspond with even versus odd hours — if I get four or six hours, I feel very well-rested when I first wake up, while if I get five or seven hours, I feel very groggy. Most importantly, I’m no longer nodding off behind the wheel, which was the main focus of the goal in the first place.

This is my current typical sleep pattern on a weeknight.

As with all things, I definitely have a lot of room for improvement here, but it’s good to have finally made the decision that sleep is something I actually need. It feels good to have finally made sleep a high priority in my life.

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