Sleep Challenge 2010: How Late Did You Sleep In This Weekend?

2010-01-07-Cindi250.jpgGood morning, folks, and welcome to the start of Week 2 of the Sleep Challenge 2010--Arianna Huffington's and my crusade to encourage women to give themselves a break and actually get enough sleep for once. And major high fives to all of us doing it (thanks for joining, Nia Vardalos and Tory Burch), because as of this morning, we've emerged victorious from what some experts consider the biggest test of American women's sleep habits: that 48-hour health menace known as the weekend.

The fact that the weekend is bad for sleep made no sense to me at first, because in my life, the workweek is the time when I'm powering through on five hours rest a night and coffeecoffeemorecoffee, and the weekend is the time when I get to sleep in and put the pillow over my head whenever anyone tries to talk to me.

But it turns out that when you're trying to put your sleep life in order, the weekend is the time when women's best-laid plans get derailed. I started getting the message when our sleepmeister Michael Breus, Ph.D. emailed me last Friday to warn me. "Watch out for the weekend," he typed menacingly. "This is usually the time that many people stay up late, drink alcohol (I call this the double whammy), and sleep in. Try to keep within 30-60 minutes of your bedtime and wake time; the more regular your schedule the better your sleep."

What? Who are those diabolical people, with their staying up late, their drinking of alcohol and their dawdling in bed weekend mornings? I had a moment of wanting to lie down on the floor and throw a little tantrum when I got Dr. Breus's message. I had signed up to get a good night's sleep every night for a month; it seemed like a pretty easy gig. Now I'm supposed to go out for a 5:30pm dinner on Saturday night? Swear off wine? And then get up at my weekday rise-time (5:30am!) the next morning? How boring am I going to be by the end of this godforsaken month, anyway?

But, at the same time, I figure this stuff's gotta work, so I'll try at least some of it. Dr. Breus's key weekend suggestions, from a health perspective:

* Try to keep close to your weekday sleep schedule on weekends--don't vary by more than an hour.

The idea behind maintaining a similar bedtime/wake-up time on weekends isn't just that you don't want to suffer Sunday night insomnia--it's that a regular sleep schedule actually helps your body reap more health benefits from the sleep it gets. Plus, if you're doing the Sleep Challenge, you're trying to find out how many hours you actually need, and being somewhat consistent helps during that initial figure-it-out stage.

I have to admit, going to bed at 11pm this Saturday night and then getting up at 6:30am the next morning made me feel a little like a third-grader. Plus, I felt irrationally annoyed at my husband, who got to loll in bed until all hours (well, OK, 9:00). But guess what? All day long, I felt awesome. And on Sunday afternoon, when he was falling asleep in front of the Patriots game, I felt so energetic I willingly went for a run. Did this pan out for any of you, too? I'm dying to hear.

* Keep up your regular dinner schedule...meaning, no eating at 10pm.

This is a hard one for me; I've always believed that most food tastes better after nine at night. (My favorite family Thanksgiving tradition is the microwaved plate of leftover sweet potatoes at midnight.) But since sleep experts say your body rests better when it's not still digesting, this weekend I planned early dinners both nights: 7pm instead of the far-later I'd have chosen otherwise.

Nice bonus of living this way: It'll apparently make you slimmer. According to Dr. Breus, "most food after 10pm goes straight to fat." (I'm pretty sure midnight sweet potatoes are an exception to this rule; if they're not, I don't want to hear it.)

* Try to stick to your usual caffeine-and-alcohol rules on the weekend.

Meaning no more than a glass or two of alcohol (even though it makes you
sleepy, it keeps your body from fully resting, and you'll feel blech-ier the next day), and no caffeine after 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I did OK here, even though friends brought over some really yummy Italian red it was painful to turn down seconds of.

I'm under no illusions that I could keep up this usual virtuous routine year-in and year-out, but I have to admit: One weekend in, I feel good. This week will be a bear, sleepwise: I have back-to-back work commitments/evening events/kids' school stuff, plus late nights reading stories for the issue we're closing...oh, and I told friends I'd go to a play Wednesday night...oh, and my trainer's back from vacation, so there's that...but nevermind. I'm determined to do the seven-and-a-half hour thing regardless.

What about all of you? How late do you sleep in on weekends? And when you hear someone suggesting that you forgo sleeping in even on mornings when you can, do you think, "good idea" or "go away, you humorless health nut!"?

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