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Love it or hate it, it’s that time of year: resolution time, or what I like to call REST-O-LUTION time. I like the spirit of renewal, reflection, and progress that comes with the new year and gets embodied in resolutions. I always make a few, and I encourage my patients to think about the turn of a calendar year as a time to renew and improve their commitment to healthy sleep.
Here are a few suggestions for how to make worthwhile REST-O-LUTIONS that will stick. These goals are manageable, realistic, and can deliver a big return for your sleep and your waking life.
Address the sleep issue you’ve been ignoring
Everyone has one. That part of your sleep routine that isn’t working, but hasn’t yet gotten the attention it deserves. (Even sleep doctors have them! Mine continues to be getting enough high-quality rest on a plane with my crazy travel schedule.) Maybe you haven’t dealt with your sleep issue because you’re busy and distracted, or maybe you think it’s not a serious enough problem to warrant your attention.
For millions of adults in the U.S. and around the world, those unaddressed sleep issues involve undiagnosed sleep disorders. Common sleep disorders, including chronic insomnia and restless leg syndrome, go undiagnosed, robbing people of the rest they need. As many as 80% of moderate and severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea don’t get diagnosed, leading to a whole range of health complications, reduced quality of life, and compromised performance.
Not every unaddressed sleep issue traces back to one of these major sleep disorders—but all sleep problems warrant attention. Neglected sleep environments—including ancient mattresses that lead to uncomfortable sleep, as well as light and other stimuli in the bedroom—are common ones. I just recently wrote about how eye problems can impact sleep, specifically about how surprisingly common it is for people to have trouble sleeping with their eyes closed. Excessive sweating at night is another issue that often gets overlooked, despite how disruptive it is for nightly rest. Dehydration, stress, and chronic pain are all root causes of sleep problems that tend to go unattended.
Make a commitment to follow up on the sleep problem that is stopping you from getting the rest you need and deserve. Here are some of the symptoms I see go un-addressed all the time:
- Restless sleeping with lots of awakenings throughout the night
- Snoring or other breathing troubles
- Disruptive dreams
- A wired brain at night
- Needing to get up to go the bathroom often
- Feeling fatigued throughout the day
- Waking in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep
Whatever your issue is—whether it’s on this list or not—talk with your doctor and seek out a sleep specialist to get it resolved. Your whole year will be changed for the better.
Don’t just know your chronotype. Do something with it.
It’s important to look closely at the timing of activities in your daily life and make some adjustments so that your life is more in sync with your biological clock, based on your individual chronobiology.
The knowledge of your chronotype itself is valuable. Your chronotype is your disposition toward the timing of daily periods of activity and rest. Some of us are clearly “larks”—early risers—while others are distinctly night owls. The rest of us fall somewhere between the two.
It’s when you put your self-knowledge into deliberate action that you’ll see the most powerful impact on your health, performance, and well-being. There’s almost nothing you undertake in your waking life that isn’t affected by your chronotype, from your sex life to your diet to your ability to be a top performer in your career. Living in better alignment with your chronotype can help you do everything better and enjoy everything more. The research keeps accumulating, delivering more scientific detail and insight about how biological time affects health, mood, and behavior.
Some of the recent research that’s particularly interesting?
A review of scientific studies found that athletic performance is strongly linked to chronotype—suggesting the time of day you choose to work out matters, in terms of how hard you can push yourself and how quickly and well you can recover. Another recent study found that different chronotypes prefer different sports, as evidenced by elite athletes. This makes complete sense, given how different chronotypes respond to physical challenges and training schedules, as well as to the social dynamics of team versus individual sports.
A brand-new research review confirms that chronotype exerts a significant influence on eating habits (both what we eat and when we eat), with a big link to weight loss.
And there’s more recent research showing how chronotype can affect psychological health and our vulnerability to mental health issues, including depression.
Pick one part of your life you want to improve, and look at how biological time can help you.
Want to liven up your sex life and deepen intimacy? Planning for sex at bedtime is the worst for every chronotype. The daily desire rhythm actually peaks in the morning, and each chronotype has optimal times for sex in the morning and evening that don’t involve waiting until bedtime.
Interested in bringing more creativity to your life? Start using the times of day when your chronotype is not at peak alertness. These are the “moments of groggy greatness” you can start to capture when you’re paying attention to bio time.
Thinking about adding strength training to your workout routine? There’s a best time to train for every chronotype (afternoons and evenings), based on rhythms of muscle strength, muscle growth, and tolerance for pain.
Happy new year! I hope yours is abundant with healthy sleep.