Well hello, my sleeping beauty!

I do hope you’re doing well and enjoying this fabulous relaxing Sunday!

I’ve been noticing lately that no matter what I do, or how much I sleep, I am beyond tired.  All.  The.  Time.

Ever felt that way?

I’m not gonna lie – I’ve had this chat with a few of you, and let’s just say that we’re all running on empty it seems.  Living for the next cup of coffee, trying desperately to find the energy to do everything we need to do, oh, and trying not to freak the eff out on our loved ones because we’re just so dang tired!

Can you relate?

I’ve really been struggling with this lately, but I honestly thought it was just due to a lack of sleep.  We got a new puppy a few weeks ago, and my sleep has been minimal to say the least.  She is up every 4 hours to go outside, and is often the first one up in the morning.  Her little belly is hungry and she is not afraid to let her momma know about it!

So I kind of thought, well, this is what it is.  I’m just not getting enough sleep.  That’s why I’m out of my mind exhausted all the time.

Until I looked at my sleep logs.

I use this awesome little alarm clock app (sleep cycle), which also doubles as an alarm clock.  I’ve been using it for almost a year now, and it tracks everything!  It’s so cool!  It logs how many hours you sleep and your quality of sleep.  Plus, the alarm feature wakes you up at the most optimal time (whatever that means, right?).

So I went back to look at my sleep logs and I noticed something interesting.

Since getting the puppy, my total time in bed has not really changed.

So why the heck am I so freaking tired all the time?

It has to do with sleep cycles.

Sleep cycles?  Yes.  When we sleep, it’s not like you just go to sleep and wake up 8 hours later, rested and ready to go.  Your body actually goes through a number of what’s called sleep cycles throughout the night.  Each cycle lasts between 90-110 minutes, and in each cycle, you go from light to deep to light sleep again, kind of like a wave.  Ideally, you would go through 5-6 sleep cycles per night, which is where that 8 hours of sleep rule comes from.  Your body was designed this way because back in the caveman days, if you just went to sleep for 8 hours and were in deep sleep the whole time, you’d probably never hear a predator coming for you and you’d get gobbled up in the middle of the night.  It’s a protection thing.  So our bodies are designed to go through these phases of light and deep sleep, because in the deep sleep, almost nothing can wake you.  But this design of cycling through the phases of light and deep sleep allowed our ancestors to have times throughout the night to be more alert to check on their safety and then go back to sleep.

This was amazing news to me when I first learned it, because I am someone who always wakes up a few times throughout the night.  Nothing major, but I’ll wake up, take a look at the clock, and go back to sleep.  But I always thought that was “interrupted” sleep because I wasn’t staying awake for 8 straight hours.

Thank heavens I was wrong!

I’m just someone who happens to wake up between sleep cycles, and that’s totally cool, because then I can get right back into another cycle.  No big deal.

The problem comes in when you are abruptly woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

This can happen because the kids wake you, your puppy wakes you, or something way worse.  But you’ll almost never wake up on your own in the middle of a sleep cycle.

Sadly, when you are woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle, it is tough to recover from.

Remember earlier when I said that ideally most people need 5-6 full sleep cycles per night?  Well that’s all well and good if you’re not getting woken up in the middle of them.  But once one is interrupted, then that one doesn’t count.

So let’s say you’re in bed for 8 hours (good for you!) and the kiddos wake you up once to go potty and then your alarm clock starts blaring right in the middle of another sleep cycle.  Well that’s essentially two 90-minute sleep cycles that you’re missing now.

Ugh.

If you need 5-6 and now 2 don’t count, you can see how quickly sleep deprivation can happen, huh?

In an ideal world, we would all sleep in completely dark rooms, with no interruptions, for 8 hours a night and all would be good.  But I know that’s not my reality, and I’m guessing it’s not yours.

So what’s a girl to do?

Here are a few tips that can help you feel more alert and less sleep deprived, even when you can’t get a full 8 hours.

  1. Get an alarm that wakes you up in between sleep cycles. I use an app called Sleep Cycle.  It’s available in the iTunes store for only a few bucks and it works great!  Here’s how it works:  you set the alarm for the time you need to wake up, then leave the phone by your bedside all night.  It tracks your sleep, and wakes you up in between sleep cycles.  You’ll see it has a range of times it will start to wake you up.  For example, my alarm is set for 4:45am.  My range then is 4:15-4:45. The alarm will assess where I am in my sleep cycle, and wake me up any time in that range when it realizes I’m in between cycles.  I know that might sound crazy to some of you because every minute is precious before that alarm goes off, and how dare it try to wake you up early!  Trust me, I felt exactly the same way before I started using it.  But it really does make a HUGE difference.  HUGE!
  2. If you don’t want to get an alarm like that, and even if you do, do not ever, ever, ever hit the snooze button! EVER!  Here’s the deal.  When you hit the snooze, no mater where you were in your previous sleep cycle, you’ve just told your body, “hey, it’s cool, go back to sleep.  Start another sleep cycle.” And it will do that faster than you can blink, especially if you’re tired!  Then, 10 minutes later when that alarm goes off, you are going to find yourself smack dab in the middle of another sleep cycle, and more tired than if you had just gotten up in the first place.  This snooze trick is tough, but if you can train yourself to do it, it is so much more effective than anything else I’ve ever done.
  3. If you do get woken up in the middle of the night, assess the situation. Is your alarm set to go off in 20 minutes anyway?  Stay up.  Do not go back to sleep.  As hard as it may seem at first, if you give yourself just five minutes, you’ll be awake and ready to go.  Use that extra time for something that you can’t seem to find the time for – exercise, yoga, meditation, or even just sitting down to savor your morning coffee instead of gulping it in the car in a desperate attempt to get enough caffeine to wake yourself up.

I promise you, if you can learn to recognize and respect your sleep cycles, it will help you so much.  Very few of us are ever going to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep every night.  That’s just not realistic.  But by acknowledging and respecting your sleep cycles, you may just be able to start the day more alert and have more energy than normal.  I found one study that showed that being woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle can make you feel groggy for up to four hours after you wake up.  Ugh.  So do your best to counter that by getting an alarm that wakes you at the optimal time, skipping the snooze, and encouraging yourself to get up and get moving, even if you’re woken up before your normal alarm time.

Just these few things should really help you not feel so exhausted throughout the day!

Until next time…

Sleep sweet,
Nikki