Snacks, Snooze, Repeat

My wife and I are adjusting our sleep schedules several days ahead of an upcoming trip to Europe. The first night we went to bed an hour earlier than usual, the next night two hours earlier, and so on. Our destination is eight hours ahead of Colorado, so who knows if this fool-the-body ploy pays off when we get there. It’s all about fending off Mr. Jet Lag.

Courtesy of lifehacker.com

Sleep – quality sleep, that is – depends on almost too many factors to count. You’ve heard the guidelines before.  Do you go to bed at the same time every night? Do you get a minimum of seven hours?  Do you have a comfortable mattress? Is the room temperature cool-but-not-too-cool?  Can you “black out” your bedroom, including every light except the little green one on the smoke alarm? And speaking of light, do you wind yourself down well before bedtime, without screens or headphones or anything else to keep the brain humming?

The list goes on, of course. What did you have for dinner; when did you have dinner; did you have alcohol or dessert too close to bedtime; did you take any meds; how and when did you exercise – they all mess with sleep. And if your sleep really is a mess, you have a convenient excuse in any one or more of these factors.  But hang on.  Someone (or some-ones) claims to have a better approach now.  What if your quest for quality sleep hinged on only one factor?

Meet the latest trend in sleep aids: “pre-bedtime” snacks!  Choose from a pint of ice cream, a handful of chocolates, a creamy drink, and others.  They’re all concocted to show you the way to better sleep.  Nightfood’s ice-cream pints are carefully advertised as “sleep-friendly”.  Nestle’s “Goodnight” candies subtly recommend you “enjoy… 30-45 minutes before you’d like to drift off to dreamland”.  Som Sleep’s products innocently ask you to “drink 30 minutes before you are ready to sleep”.

Am I the only one in the room with a terrified look on his face?  I can hear myself already.  “Time to go to bed, honey…. oh wait!  You forgot your delicious pre-bedtime snack.  Don’t you want a good night’s sleep?”  After reading a little about these “foods”, my first thought was not, “how do they taste?”  My first thought was not even, “I wonder if they work?”  NO; my first thought was, “won’t they become psychologically addicting?”  Think about it.  Doesn’t really matter what’s included in the ingredients (i.e. melatonin, magnesium, glycine).  Doesn’t even matter how much you consume.  Rather, if you decide you’re suddenly getting a better night’s sleep, won’t your pre-sleep snacks turn into pre-sleep dependence?  Snacks.  Every night.  For the rest of your life.

For sheer entertainment value, visit the websites and peruse the product claims.  Nightfood says they’ve “removed/minimized stuff that in most other ice creams can be sleep-disruptive” (namely sugar and fat).  Nightfood also says their product “… does not contain sleep-aid substances or drugs.”  Finally, Nightfood does not suggest people eat ice cream as a sleep-aid.  O-kay, anyone else utterly confused?  I can get past an ice cream with no sugar or fat (not that I’d ever eat one), but if Nightfood doesn’t contain sleep-aids and I’m not even supposed to eat Nightfood as a sleep-aid, doesn’t it kinda-sorta lose its purpose in life?

The sad reality is that one-third of us get less than the recommended daily minimum of sleep.  Probably another third is too attached to their handheld devices; brains revving day and night.  The rest of us – save those few quality-sleepers – are getting something else wrong.  But if that’s the truth, instead of snacking on chemicals (er, “food”), why not just adjust a sleep factor or two and see if you can do better?

Despite my soapbox, maybe you’re still looking for the quick fix (to take up pantry space beside your 5-Hour Energy Shots).  Guilty as charged?  Go ahead then; buy into the hype.  As Nightfood jingles, “…turn on TV, grab spoon, do your thing, sweet dreams!”  You can almost see the company’s founders sleeping – er, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “A Late-Night Snack to Help You Snooze?”

Sleeping with the Fishes

With Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras celebrations going on this month, you can bet the decibel levels around the world are higher than normal.  Orbit the globe and all you’d have to do is step outside your rocket to catch the sounds of fireworks and blasting dance music.  In this “Year of the Pig”, I find it funny my zodiac animal is the ox.  By Chinese definition I’m “hardworking, intelligent, and reliable”.  But forget about my “oxen” qualities for now.  Today I want to explore my alter-identity as a dolphin.

(Work with me a little, okay? Don’t dump me at Sea World or a performance of “The Little Mermaid”; just hear me out.  My dolphin identity has more legs than my ox.)

First, a question.  How’s your sleep these days (er, these nights)?  Getting your 7-8 hours, are you?  Do you hit the pillow at night and next thing you know it’s sunshine and chirping birds?  Do you wake refreshed and ready to tackle the day? If it’s “yes” to every question, you and your body clock are finely tuned.  To spin it with science, you “respect your circadian rhythms”.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  Body clocks aren’t wound the same way person to person, nor are they set to the same time.  One size most definitely does not fit all.  We are Timexes, Seikos, Bulovas, and Rolexes.  So which chronotype are you?

Chrono-what, you say?  If I steered this post towards a biology lesson, you’d start nodding off right about now (not the way to treat your body clock).  Instead, let’s keep it simple.  Chronotype is essentially your preference for waking early or sleeping in.  We all have a degree of one or the other, and we’ve had it since birth.

Let’s find out more about the “animal” within.  Take the following test from Dr. Michael Breus (“America’s Sleep Doctor!”) – thepowerofwhenquiz.com – and less than a minute from now you’ll know your chronotype.  You’ll also understand more about your propensity for sleep.  No question – I hesitated when I came up dolphin (c’mon, Dr. Breus – I could’ve been a lion, a bear, or a wolf!), but admittedly the description is spot-on.  I’m a light sleeper.  Naps don’t help me.  Attention to detail impacts my productivity (and my sleep).  I hit the sack at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  That’s me.  And that’s the dolphin chronotype.

[Note: the Breus test wants your email to get your animal.  Do it, and then unsubscribe.  Otherwise the good doctor spams your inbox with books, courses, supplements, and other stuff.  You just want your animal.]

To test the validity of chronotypes, I took the Breus test again… posing as my wife.  If my answers for her were correct, she’s a bear (the most common chronotype).  She’s not a light sleeper (Mardi Gras could be booming down the hall and she wouldn’t hear a thing).  She works hard in the day, relaxes at night, and often goes to bed later than I do.  She can sleep later into the morning if she so chooses.  She needs a couple of hours to be fully alert after she rises.  That’s my wife.  And that’s the bear chronotype.

Unfortunately, chronotypes are not as dependable as they sound.  For one, they shift as we age.  For two, they can’t always be respected (i.e. jobs and lifestyle drive us off our body clocks).  Finally, sleep is influenced by myriad factors having nothing to do with chronotypes (i.e. diet and exercise; light levels and sound levels; your dog, who always insists on going out at 3am.)  But chronotypes are built into your DNA, so it behooves you to get to know them a little better.

One last wink of sleep trivia before we part.  You know those nights when you wake up unexpectedly, and you feel completely, utterly out of it?  Like, you can’t even see straight, let alone carry a conscious thought – as if you haven’t slept at all?  That moment is called your circadian nadir; when your drive for wakefulness is at its lowest point.  It happens about two hours before your natural wake-up time.  For me – a dolphin – it’s not as disorienting a moment as most.  But I still feel pretty out of it.  After all, I’ve been sleeping with the fishes.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Can a Night Owl Become a Morning Person?”