Sleeping. A task so simple and yet surrounded by so much debate. What is it about the one time of day when we don’t consciously think, which demands so much of our thinking time? While I can’t answer that for everyone, I am personally interested because I have learned the importance of my own sleep through lack of sleep. During exams, work stress, or traveling, I have learned how sleep deprivation feels and the toll it takes on my physical and mental wellbeing. So I now strive to make an effort to make the most of my hours tucked in the covers!
A big question for me was whether to go to bed late and make the most of my evening, waking late and slowly from a long night’s sleep. Or whether it was wiser to go to bed early so that I could catch the sunrise and kick off the day at dawn! Because socializing is a large part of my life, it was not easy to come to the decision to switch my nights out for early-morning yoga. But, I am glad that I did. I had many reasons for doing it and none at the time was the one that I’m sharing today. However, this new study reaffirmed that I made the right choice and brought some interesting points about how our sleeping hours affect our waking lives.
In this study, a group of researchers near Bristol tried to find possible causes for the rise in breast cancers in various countries of the world. They looked at over 150,000 women from different races, backgrounds, income levels and gene pools to test their theory. Their hypothesis was that perhaps breast cancer risk could be linked to the nature of someone’s sleep. They were looking at a number of different factors, such as insomnia symptoms, waking/sleeping times, setting, and sleep duration, to see which ones correlated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Interestingly, they did find a connection between the waking/sleeping times and the likelihood of getting breast cancer. Their conclusion showed a slight but notable difference in those who slept early and woke early and those who slept late and woke late. AKA, the early birds, and night owls. Early risers had a lower likelihood of having breast cancer than a woman who slept later at night and woke later in the day. The study suggested there was a protective advantage in being an early bird and that it is worth considering tailoring your sleep pattern to favor rising in the early hours. The study also interestingly found that too much sleep can have the same effect on us as not enough, in that it heightened the risk of developing breast cancer. So this matter really does begin to seem like a fine balance between the different ways.
Here are some tips on how you can reset your body’s clock to make waking early a normal and easy thing to do. It wasn’t always easy for me… at all. But now, I practically jump out of my bed upon waking in the morning ( even if it’s still dark outside in winter!) So I put together some of the tricks I used when I was resetting my circadian clock for early rising.
- Have a consistent bed-time: Your body doesn’t know what time of day it is to the exact hour, but it does know how long it usually needs to sleep. So whether you got to bed at 10 pm or 2 am, it will still sleep the same amount of time. Meaning you will wake at either (for example) 6am or 10am… but your body won’t know that even though you lost track of time and stayed awake until 2 am, that you still have work at 7 am! So, by having a set and consistent time to go to sleep, your body will naturally fall into a rhythm and after a while, you will find that you wake up automatically within the same half hour timeframe. In fact, nowadays I don’t have an alarm clock… even on working days! I just trust my body to know when to wake me.
- Relax yourself to sleep: Going to bed at an earlier hour to normal can be a bit of a shock to your body clock and initially you may have a lot of trouble actually getting to sleep. At least for the first few weeks, this is something you can change by adopting a nighttime de-stress routine. Some of my favorite ways to find down and start to feel more tired are to drink a relaxing tea, but on quiet music, light candles and turn the lights off, or sit quietly and read. These were hard for me too when I started, but I definitely came to value my slow evenings.
- Putting your alarm beyond arm’s reach: For the first few weeks, I used an alarm to get my body used to waking at the time that I needed to wake. So I used an alarm clock, but I kept waking and then turning the alarm off and going back to sleep. This changed when I decided to put my alarm out of reach, on a cabinet on the other side of the room. This meant that I had to get up and walk before turning it up, which got my body moving.
These strategies are well worth giving a go if you want to implement this new routine to better your chances of avoiding getting breast cancer. This routine can be easy, productive and healthy at the same time and just needs some good techniques and consistency.
Photo: Annie Spratt – Unsplash; Oc Gonzalez – Unsplash; Loverna Journey – Unsplash