To morning or not to morning….that is the question

Since I’ve been back working full-time I’ve been experimenting with various strategies for getting the most out of my, now reduced, free time. Those novels aren’t going to write themselves. Many self-improvement gurus promote the idea of waking up an hour earlier each day.  This gives you an extra hour of time to work on your own projects before everyone else is up and, on the face of it, sounds fairly sensible.

But of course you’re not actually getting an extra hour. You’re just losing an hour from the evening and, if you’re anything like me, this is not necessarily a good exchange. I’ve long found the hours between about 10pm and 1am a very productive and creative time for me. The concept of waking earlier seems to be built on an inherent belief that it’s more virtuous to get up early than stay up late. Probably something the Puritans brought in.

However, in the interests of scientific fairness, this morning I decided to try getting up 45 mins earlier (6.30am) so I could go for a run. I didn’t find it too difficult to get out of bed but once I was out running I was lethargic and unfocused. I kept thinking about stopping which I would never normally do on a run of that length. I was dehydrated (I didn’t want to have more than once glass of water sloshing around in my stomach), I got mild stomach cramp and had a peculiar taste in my mouth for hours afterwards. After the run I still felt tired, had leaden legs and ended up eating a bacon sandwich and two mini chocolate brownies for breakfast. I can safely say I will not be repeating this experiment any time soon and will stick to evening runs during the week.

Recently I’ve been reading a bit about sleep strategies, such as Steve Pavlina’s experiments with polyphasic sleep (sleeping for just 30 minutes, six times in each 24 hour period. Not very practical unless you’re self-employed but, bizarrely, it doesn’t actually send you stark raving mad.) Something else I’ve started looking into is napping, which has been shown to have physical and mental health benefits by several scientific studies.

Apparently human beings naturally have two dips during a 24 hour cycle. One is 2.00-4.00am (not going to be an issue) and the other is around 1.00pm (if you’re a morning person – or ‘lark’) or 2.30pm in you’re an ‘owl’.  I became well acquainted with this afternoon slump not long after I started working full-time in my early twenties. It didn’t take long to realise that, after a lunch high in refined carbohydrate (e.g. a ciabatta sandwich and bit of cake), I’d end up in a coma for two hours. These days I try to lay off the white flour and eat more protein and vegetables.

Trying to find a comfy bed somewhere at work for a midday nap is a bit impractical (although I am currently working in a hospital…) but I also find I’m very tired when I first get home from work, around 6pm.  What if a short nap then would leave me more awake for the rest of the evening (the main time I’m likely to be writing) and also give me time in the sleep bank, hence allowing me to access more of that creative late-evening period?

We sleep in cycles of 90-mins, and this cycle encompasses several different types of sleep. According to research, timing the length of your naps to certain points on that sleep cycle can give different effects on waking. Get it wrong and wake at the wrong point of the cycle and you can end up with the grogginess of ‘sleep inertia’. 45 mins seems to be a good length of time to improve alertness and creative thinking, so I got home from work, set my alarm and got into bed.

I’ve only had one crack at this so far and I didn’t actually manage to fall asleep properly – I’m going to have to work on that bit – but I did feel more alert on getting up. Unlike the early morning running experiment, I think there might be something to this one and I’ll try it again.

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