Implementing a strict early bedtime was the best decision I made in 2018.
Going to bed before the ripe hour of 9:00 p.m. may sound like an escapist way of coping. But I assure you it isn’t.
Instead, going to bed at 8:30 p.m. — a grace I’m afforded as a freelancer with a flexible work schedule — was a move toward a more productive morning. It was challenge I set for myself as deadlines loomed leading up to the end of the year.
I’d learned one frenzied morning when I had to wake early to meet a deadline that 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. could be the most productive three hours of my day. During those three hours, no emails, no new assignments, no phone calls would ding in, and no chatty roommate would distract me with a quick story.
The thing of it is, if I tried to wake up at 5:00 a.m. after my usual 10:00 or 11:00 — OK, fine, sometimes 11:30 p.m. — bedtime, I’d be faded and have a mental hangover by 2:00 p.m. Translation: My morning hours may have been as productive as f***, but the fatigue and mental fog that inevitable followed was seriously counterproductive to the rest of my day.
How much of that would change if I slept earlier to wake up earlier?
“Sleep drives our schedules as humans and everything about our bodies works a little bit better when we’re on a schedule,” says Chris Winter, MD, author of “The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It,” and medical director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Virginia.
“We digest better, our hormones function better, we’re in a better mood, our skin looks clearer, and yes, we’re more mentally focused and productive.”
So, with a lot to gain (read: getting assignments in on time) and not a lot to lose, I set out to fall asleep at or before 8:30 p.m. — even on the weekends — for a full week. Hello, productivity. Goodbye… social life?
In order to make my first appointment with my bed-turned-suitor, I had to leave dinner with my CrossFit friends by 8:00 p.m. Considering we normally ward off the Sunday Scaries by hanging out until at least 10:00 p.m., this was arguably freakishly early.
Still, I fell asleep without issue by 8:30 p.m. and hopped right out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.… to five unread texts from my #fitfam with geriatric doctor recommendations in the area. Hilarious.
The morning may be my work primetime, but the nights are when I crush my workouts — which is why for the past two years I’ve been a devote attendee of the hour-long 7:00 p.m. CrossFit class at the box around the corner from my apartment.
Let’s pause and do the math here: If I wanted to take that class, I’d have approximately 30 minutes after class to walk home, wrestle off my sweat-soaked sports bra and leggings, nosh on a post-workout snack — potentially even dinner — brush my teeth, wash my face, and fall asleep.
On top of that, Winter warns that exercising so close to bed might actually interfere with my ability to fall asleep. “Our bodies natural temperature dips in the evening, which is a sign we’re ready for bed. But exercising at night can thwart that by heating your body up.”
Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be the case. I was back home in my jammies by 8:20, and with only 10 minutes to eat before my self-prescribed bedtime, I noshed on a protein bar, brushed my pearly whites, and was asleep somewhere between 8:35 p.m. and 8:38 p.m.
All was fine and well the next morning… except I was ridiculously constipated. Cue the black coffee and the official ban of protein bars 10 minutes before bed. Never again.
Since I work from home., I prepped a dinner Julia Child would approve of around 5:00 p.m. The thinking was that if I could make, eat, and digest dinner before getting my fitness on, I wouldn’t need a protein bar after working out and constipation would be a thing of the past. Like flip phones. Or my ex.
Unfortunately, there were handstand pushups in the workout that day, which for the uninitiated, require you to be full upside down.
I didn’t vomit. But I assure you salmon burps post-WOD are unpleasant — and oddly distracting. Regardless, I finished the workout, walked home, pulled on my pajamas, and rehydrated, no post-workout snack necessary.
On these days, I had a GI-friendly (read: bland) dinner before CrossFit, got back home by 8:10 p.m., and spent the next 20 minutes taking selfies in my new Christmas pajamas — 3 pack at TJ Maxx, don’t @ me — before going to sleep.
Here’s the thing: I woke up before 5:00 a.m. those next mornings. As far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t just make me a morning person. It basically makes me the next Tim Cook.
Alas, instead of doing important Apple-y things, I answered emails and wrote about vagina sheet masks.
On Friday evening, two glorious things happened.
One, my dad was visiting from his retirement home in Florida. Completely unaware of my little challenge, he made 5:30 p.m. dinner reservations. A great, if not elderly, way to avoid the New York dinner crowds.
Second, dinner was over by 7:30, and because it was my rest day, I spent the rest of the evening watching Friends reruns in a eucalyptus facemask. I was dreaming about dyeing my hair blue and moving Texas by 8:30 p.m. Ah, the good life.
And let me just say, I think waking up at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday is the missing (read: lucrative) link my routine had been missing. When I say I got shit done, I mean I made that to-do list my b****.
Nothing says single and ready to mingle quite like going to bed at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday. So, in the name of not becoming an old lonely maid (and you know, #balance), I hung out at the bar with my friends until 9:30 p.m…. and then was asleep by 10:00 p.m.
Sure, this may have been a slight cheat to my challenge, but I got up the next morning with 7 full hours of sleep logged and had finished my Sunday to-do list by 10:00 a.m. I guess you could say my productivity hack worked without totally destroying my social life.
I may not have the Instagram followings of bedtime-routine queens Oprah, Arianna Huffington, or Sheryl Sandberg, but I’ve never felt closer to fame (i.e. more productive) than I felt during my full week of going to sleep at 8:30 p.m. and waking up at 5:00 a.m.
I’m no mathematician, but if I had to put a number on it based off of how many more articles I wrote this week, I’d say I produced 30 percent more content this week than any other week.
While I can’t promise that I’ll choose socializing after the gym over or a Tinder date over an 8:30 p.m. bedtime every night, I learned that this switch is the most stress-reducing, productivity-increasing thing I can do for my work day.
Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. She’s run commute for two weeks, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.