When I moved to Hawaii at the beginning of January, I was utterly and completely exhausted from months of surgery recovery, emotional ups and downs, and, of course, the holidays. I felt sick constantly, and my migraines swept in with such ferocity that even making my way to the beach required superhuman strength. Obviously this is no way for anyone to live, let alone on island time.
While I have always been the early-to-bed, early-to-rise type (I've made a name for myself with my "grandma" lifestyle), sleep seemed to be the first thing out the window when the struggle to balance my job, relationships, fitness classes, side hustles, and near-weekly concerts or nights out becomes all too real. But when I step back and slow down, I see just how much my mental and physical health relied on a solid eight to nine hours of deep, uninterrupted slumber.
After re-establishing my sleep schedule, I started feeling better in just days. Here are just four surprising benefits of catching a healthy amount of zzz's I hadn't noticed before.
Goodbye, Morning Headache
Most mornings I found myself waking up with a headache hovering just behind my eyes, even if I hadn't imbibed in red wine with dinner or had one too many margaritas. On some days, these tension headaches progressed into full-on migraines, sending me back to bed with the blinds closed.
According to the American Migraine Association, too much sleep (more than nine hours) and too little sleep (under six hours) are both associated with increased headache severity. About a week after returning to my consistent eight and a half hours of sleep, my headaches and brain fog virtually disappeared.
Sayonara, Sweet Cravings
I have never been the type who is too full after my meals. In fact, I believe a separate dessert stomach exists, and its sugary-sweet cravings call to me nearly every afternoon and postdinner. But something interesting started happening when I got my eight and a half hours: I found myself reaching for the box of Girl Scout cookies in my freezer less and less. A sleeve of Thin Mints lasted me nearly two weeks instead of two hours.
There are two main hormones in control of our appetite: ghrelin increases our appetite, while leptin suppresses it, stimulating our energy. According to Health, sleep deprivation alters this delicate balance, often causing us to overeat and crave the not-so-nutritious options in our pantries. Once I slept more, my cravings diminished, and I even lost a couple of pounds overstaying themselves from the holidays.
3 P.M. Crash Is a Thing of the Past
I think it is safe to say we are all familiar with that three o'clock feeling — it's the time of day when we reach for an afternoon cup of coffee, fight to keep our eyes open during the strategy meeting, snack out of habit or boredom, and just wish we could hunker down on the break-room couch for a nap.
Well, it should come as no surprise that after a string of solid-sleep nights, this urge went away too. It certainly was not an instant benefit, as my body was taking its time to bounce back from the ordeal that was the end of my 2017. But after a few days, I barely gave the coffee maker a second glance when 2:30 p.m. rolled around.
Waking Up Naturally IS a Thing
It seems we have all split ourselves into two camps: larks and night owls. But even as a self-proclaimed lark (it's a joke watching me stay up after 11 p.m.!), I am a firm believer that a good sleep schedule isn't mutually exclusive. Whether you're setting your alarm to catch the sunrise or catch a few more zzz's after working on your side projects past 2 a.m., as long as you consistently practice the sleep cycle best for your body, you'll return to your body's natural circadian rhythm. Think falling asleep naturally and not fighting with the snooze button or stumbling toward the coffee pot in a bleary-eyed haze.
A Note About Establishing a New Sleep Schedule . . .
OK, I have a confession: after nearly three weeks of sticking to my sleep schedule almost every night, when I finally decided to chronicle how good I felt and the new benefits I experienced, I endured one of the most restless weeks ever. Suddenly I was overthinking the time, doing math in my head to calculate my alarms, stressing if I was still out and had to be up less than eight hours later, and waking up from fitful dreams in the middle of the night.
Getting ample sleep is one of the healthiest habits we can develop for our minds and bodies, but remember to give yourself grace when establishing a new routine. Of course there may be nights when tearing up the dance floor keeps you up past your bedtime or you find yourself lost in the pasture searching for sheep to count. Figure out how many hours are ideal for your body and mind, set a routine, stick to it, and reap the rewards. Sweet dreams!