Friday, April 16, 2010

My Anti-Cancer Sleep Plan (I'm yawning already...!)

As I sit here at 11.37 p.m., writing, nibbling on a square of dark chocolate and enjoying the peace and quiet of my hushed home, I know that getting regular, restorative sleep will be a formidable challenge for me - harder than exercising daily or eating healthily. Yet, only this morning, when I awoke grumpy and bleary-eyed after yet another late-night work session, I swore that something had to change, and fast.

Having spent the last few posts discussing the importance of sleep for cancer-prevention, it’s about time I stopped talking and started acting! So here’s my Sleep Plan for the remainder of the Anti-Cancer Challenge (330 days to go):  

  • I will sleep for seven hours each night. That seems realistic, and is “only” two more hours than I usually accord myself – I should be able to squeeze those out of my busy schedule!  If I still feel groggy on seven hours’ sleep, I will try to extend my sleep duration.
  • To make sure that I actually get these seven hours, I will count backwards from my planned wake-up time; thus, if the alarm is set for 6.25 a.m. (my usual weekday wake-up time), I have to switch off my light at 11.30 p.m. (Actually, that doesn’t sound quite as draconian as I had feared!)
  • I will give myself 60 minutes’ winding-down time before lights-out. This may include reading in bed for half an hour – nothing work-related, but instead, relaxing fiction or poetry to help me “get out of my head”.
  • Some of that winding-down time may also be spent jotting down any items on my small stuff” list so they don’t keep me up during the night.
  • I keep a Sleep Journal for the first few weeks to help me keep track of my sleep hygiene until my new betimes become a habit.
  • I will not check emails after dinner (last week an annoying email that arrived at 11 pm kept me up most of the night!); I can read or shop on-line when the kids are in bed, but I commit to switching off my computer at 10.30 p.m. at the latest.  
  • I will go straight to bed when I feel tired. Often, when I start to yawn of feel heavy-lidded, I override my body’s cues and push through the fatigue (frequently with the help of chocolate and bread…), making it doubly hard to get to sleep later. 
  • I will spend 30-60 minutes daily under open skies and exposed to unfiltered daylight to stimulate adequate melatonin secretion at night (see this post). Outdoors activities such as gardening, exercising, playing with my kids or sitting on the terrace doing nothing (gasp!!) will feature more often in my otherwise house- and car-bound life.  
  • I will exercise daily. I don't know whether these is scientific proof that exercise promotes sleep, but I have noticed that it helps reduce my stress levels and shouldern tension, which may make me feel more relaxed when it’s time to go to bed.
  • I will avoid heavy meals in the evening, and when I drink wine, I will limit it to one glass (alcohol consumed before bedtime can distrupt sleep). 
  • I keep potentially sleep-disrupting stimulants and sugar to a minimum (no coffee after lunch).
  • If I am about to “fall off the wagon”, I remind myself that regular sleep allows me to be a happier, healthier woman with fewer wrinkles and stable weight, a more patient, energetic and resourceful mother and a congruent health practitioner who practices what she preaches.
  • And if I do stray occasionally, I won't lose sleep over it. Slips happen.
There – that should get me started! I'd love to hear how some of you make sure that you get the sleep you need - any suggestions?

Next week I will unveil my anti-cancer eating plan, the third cornerstone of the Anti-Cancer Challenge. Meanwhile, have a restful weekend!

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