I have been doing a Thing™ lately where I let the morning light wake me up instead of an alarm. Currently I am on an approximately two week streak of waking up at sunrise, and because the bedroom faces east, this means I have been waking up around 5:30 am. (Voluntarily!)

I wish I were one of those people who could function on 5 or 6 hours of sleep, but alas, somewhat embarrassingly I need a full 8 to 9 in order to really feel rested. After having horrible sleep hygiene during my surgery training and to some degree during medical school, I have since prioritized sleep hygiene pretty highly and I guess this is the natural evolution to my final form: a 38 year old woman who starts winding down for the night at 8:30 pm.

The CDC website has a section on sleep and sleep disorders with a list of good sleep habits (this particular page has not been updated recently but I guess the Center has been busy Controlling other Diseases lately 🤷):

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

(Sleep during surgical training is essentially the opposite of this list and would include things like “Make sure you sleep on a chair in the ICU for 15 minutes at 3 am with your pager on your chest” and “Set your sleep times and durations to be as inconsistent and erratic as possible—the more random, the better.") Other than smart phones in the bedroom, I am mostly adherent to this list these days. And it’s the darnedest1 thing but it actually works. I can’t emphasize how enthusiastically I do these things after having not been able to for so many years. I think if my younger self were to read this, she would be annoyed and roll her eyes (Great!! You can feign death for a full 9 hours every night and come back to life rejuvenated!!! How nice for you!!!!!).

Most of what I do in the morning is enjoy coffee slowly, take long walks in the park, make breakfast or prep food for later slowly, read, avoid screens (except for this morning as I write this), pick up clutter around the house, etc—i.e., nothing particularly earth-shattering, but it does set me up for the rest of the day which may be less predictable. If I get to see a tree, I’m happy.

I wouldn’t say I am necessarily more productive because I wake up early and get a ton of sleep consistently (and am also trying to rewire my brain to not hang its hat2 on PRODUCTIVITY as the sole metric for SUCCESS), but I do think I am generally more EFFECTIVE, which is maybe more important.

(I also want to point out that I am talking about two distinct but related things here: one is GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP, where “enough” is different from person to person, and the other is WAKING UP EARLY because waking up early seems to be what my body likes. I’m not advocating for sleeping from 9:30-5:30 for everybody every night; moreso just sharing that this particular sleep schedule is what happens to make me feel closer to my best self these days. (Should I have one of those disclaimers somewhere on this website that nothing I say here constitutes medical advice? I’ll think about it. In the meantime, I need to work on repairing this fourth wall that I just broke.))

  1. I don’t know about you but I just stared at this word for a full five minutes and my brain cycled through reading it as “dar-nedest”, “darne-dest”, “dame-dest”, and would not land on “darned-est”, so maybe I haven’t gotten as much sleep as I thought. ↩︎

  2. Would a brain’s hat just be the skull? 🤔 ↩︎