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I’m A Sleep Doctor & This Easy Habit Changed My Sleep For The Better

I was a sleepwalker as a child, to the point where I would try and leave my house in the middle of the night and set the house alarm off, startling my family. I had moments where I was scared to go to bed since I didn’t know what I would do in my sleep, but I eventually outgrew sleepwalking as I became a teen (which is common for many people).

Ever since then, I’ve tried to make sleep a priority for much of my life, and I focus on it in my professional career too. I’ve pretty much been a good sleeper–but I’m not perfect by any means. One of my big issues with how sleep is portrayed in our current culture is the idea of perfection; that you “need” to get optimal sleep quality and duration every single night. But the reality is that this is not possible for the vast majority of people. There’s variation from night to night, and that’s normal.

I sleep well most nights, but 1-2 times a week, I have some trouble with an early morning awakening or awakening in the middle of the night–often due to hot flashes from being in peri-menopause or my 7-year-old coming into my room after a nightmare. When I haven’t slept as much, I notice my fuse is much shorter and I’m quick to react to those I love the most. As someone who has severe Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), I also am keenly aware of how important sleep is in managing my symptoms.

All in all, sleep is grounding for me. I aim for five nights a week (at least) where I’m content with my sleep, which helps reduce the idea of perfection. If I get those five nights a week of good sleep, I’m happy.

I’ve been a big believer in a solid, routine wake-up time for decades, well before it became the popular thing we all talk about now. Unless I’m out for some reason with friends or at a concert or something, I follow this routine on weekdays and weekends.

5:30 a.m.: Wake up with my old-school Sony Dream Machine digital alarm clock (though my body clock is so well set now that I pretty much routinely awaken at that time without even needing an alarm). Get into my workout clothing that I put out on the edge of my bathtub the night before.

5:45 a.m.: Depending on the day and if I’m training for a specific marathon, I’ll have a prescribed workout from my run coach. Right now, since I’m not training for any marathons for a while, I’m mixing it up. I go to my basement (which is brightly lit) and either run on my treadmill, do a spin class, lift heavy weights or a combination of the 3. If it is a rest day, I’ll go downstairs and slowly make coffee and potentially walk easily on the treadmill or do an easy yoga/stretch for a short, active recovery to help with mobility.

6:45 a.m.: Finish my workout, put my kid’s breakfast out (oftentimes just overnight oats–super easy), and hop in the shower fast.

7 a.m.: Finish shower (I get ready quick!) and do a short, 2-minute morning mindfulness routine while my kids are waking up. I’ve been doing this mindfulness meditation for at least 10 years. I look out the window and observe and describe what I see. That’s it; super-grounding for me before the frantic morning is about to start.

Then, the kids go to school and I start my workday. I make sure to get lots of light during the day since it helps set the body’s natural circadian clock. I also drink water routinely (I use a huge 40-ounce jug and fill it up twice a day), and try to take a quick stretch/walk break at some points between patients.

6:15 p.m.: Dinner at home (sometimes this gets shifted a bit with afterschool activities, but we tend to eat early).

7:15 p.m.: I get my daughter (6 years old) into the shower and ready for bed. She’s asleep by 7:45. My almost 13-year-old son doesn’t need any help from me anymore (awww!) and goes to bed on his own, except he gives us his phone at 9 p.m. and all electronics are off for him at that time.

7:45 p.m.: I finish up any work and cleaning, and prioritize what I must get done for tomorrow vs what can wait. I do all this with the TV on so I can watch something as well. Sometimes I just watch TV or scroll on my phone.

8:45 / 9 p.m.: Go upstairs and get washed up/changed for bed, I’m a stickler about a good skincare routine and also find it super-relaxing

9-9:30 p.m.: I do some stretching on the floor (I do a lot of the Peloton stretch videos, but have memorized them now), then get in bed and read for about 15 minutes. Lights out when I’m sleepy, around 9:30pm. Sometimes my husband comes to bed with me, sometimes he’s up later. We have different body clocks–he’s more of a night owl, and I’m an early bird.

Rinse and repeat.

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