Those Things I Do to Be Healthy and Productive (Part I)
My hairdresser suggested I write this for you. Really.
Every time I see her–which isn’t nearly enough–she wants to know how my bio-hacking and health experimentation is going in my never-ending search for the right things to do to be at my optimum health–and no, I’m not there yet. I’m still trying. Still searching. Still gathering data and testing different foods and products and exercise to find what works best for me. And since my body is always changing, I’m never fully “there” in my destination. It is, after all, all about the journey.
And that’s something I understand better at 52 than I ever have in my life.
So let’s start with a typical day in my life and what’s working for me at the moment. I say at the moment because everything is subject to change. My thyroid goes wonky or my hormones shift to less estrogen or my cortisol is higher than usual and then what? More tweaking, more self-quantification, more collecting data that some people might consider narcissistic in nature but for those of us who are looking at the real possibility of hereditary diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and a host of other illnesses that could shorten our lives or lengthen misery? No.
My body didn’t come with a warranty or with a manual–I’m writing the latter as I discover what makes me gain 2 pounds of unexpected bloat overnight or feel clear-headed or leaves me too tired to move or levels out my blood sugar. The answer has never been with my physicians who would prefer to give me a pill at the end of a 2-minute appointment. Self-quantification is about taking my health into my own hands and figuring out what can make this rental unit that houses my soul last longer and in better condition.
Hacking my sleep
Hacking my sleep has been one of my biggest challenges this year, so I’ll devote several posts to what I’ve discovered and tested.
As of the last few months, I’m getting up at 5 AM, something that makes my mom wonder when aliens kidnapped her daughter and left this stranger behind. She used to have to threaten me to get me out of bed on school mornings. Though I usually identify with night owls who have a hard time of just stopping doing what I’m doing before 1 AM, I’ve done the early riser thing before, even without kids to suck up my early hours. In a previous job, I could get up at 5 AM, get to work at 6 AM, and get an entire 8 hours’ of work done before the masses arrived at 8 AM, simply because I had high-quality “focus time” to knock out the projects that would take a full day when under constant interruptions.
During the scalding summer months, between then heat and the late hours at work, it was dark by the time I tried to get my 1-2 hours of walking into my schedule–which meant I might talk myself out of my physician-recommended exercise–so I changed up my schedule to enjoy the cooler air and the sunrise. This, too, was a big part of hacking my sleep: connecting with the rhythms of Nature, Light, and Darkness. But I’ll come back to that.
To get to the ungodly early rise, we need to back up to the night before. Why? Because the only way you can plan a productive and healthy day is to start the night before.
First of all, if you’re going to get up at 5 AM, then you know you must be in bed (for sleeping purposes) by a certain hour and not stay up until 1 AM. Back in college, I could manage my day on 4 hours of sleep every night for, well, years. I was still doing that up until a year or two ago. For two decades, my ex-husband used to go to bed earlier and get up later and then praise me that “you just don’t need as much sleep as I do.” The truth was, I did need as much sleep, but I had a full-time and more career, little kids to take care of, homework to help with, and a dream of writing novels, and usually my only time to pursue my dreams was between 10 PM and 1 AM after the hubby and kids were in bed, and I’d be up by 6AM and running frantically into a new day. I would put everyone to bed by 10 PM and then write until I was bleary-eyed and literally nauseated from lack of sleep.
I was still doing that in late 2012 when I was diagnosed with adrenal burnout. Not even adrenal fatigue but burnout. I had royally screwed up my metabolism and hormones at this point, plus had been diagnosed with cysts on my thyroid. Those mid-life hormones were going crazy, and one of the side effects–even when I could sleep in much more frequently–was insomnia. I couldn’t fall asleep…or I’d wake and couldn’t go back to sleep. Just lie there for hours and then kick myself for not getting up to vacuum or…or anything productive.
When I first started hacking my sleep in late 2012 with a Zeo headband, I found that I could stay in bed (alone) for 8 hours or more and still have such lousy sleep effectiveness and wake so tired I could barely crawl out of bed. I’d catch up on the weekends with 12 hours in bed and a decent effectiveness rating that was heavily weighted toward spending enough hours in slumber. My Zeo stats from 11/30/2012- 04/08/2014 when Zeo went out of business and I could no longer get the electrode pads were on average:
Deep Sleep: 2:06 hours
REM Sleep: 1:13 hours
Light Sleep: 2:16 hours
Total Sleep: 5 hours 35 minutes
This was during a concerted effort to get more sleep and balance my hormones, so I was spending easily 8-10 hours in bed in sleep mode but still wasting much of the time tossing and turning or waking and not being able to fall asleep for hours. By comparison (and this is where collecting data electronically comes in so handy!), last week I averaged 7 hours 35 minutes sleep at 90% effectiveness. My stats show that I woke during the night at specific intervals (I’ve discovered that my neighbor’s sprinkler system shuts off and then on and disturbs me enough to rouse me until it completes a couple of hours’ cycle) but I apparently went right back to sleep, thanks to a few new tools I’ve started using.
Let’s take them one by one through a typical night. What? More than one? Yep. And it took a while to find what worked.