April 4, 2016

April Challenge: Sleep 8 Hours a Night

As I mentioned in Thursday’s post, last week was a bit crazy, and I have definitely not been getting enough sleep. That trend has unfortunately been continuing for a while. I knew it had gotten bad when I was thinking through my schedule last Sunday night (March 27), and starting a personal countdown to Thursday April 7. Why April 7? Well, I target that as being a night when I would likely be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up at a reasonable hour, and finally be an opportunity to get eight hours of sleep! It was definitely a bit of a wake-up call that it would take so long for that to happen, so it was kind of a no-brainer to me that my April monthly challenge would need to be something sleep-related.

Haven’t actually hit 8 hours in more than week – and a lot of nights I’ve gotten way less than that. GRUMPY LAURA ALERT!

I’ve learned from various vacations that eight hours of sleep is what my body wants when left to its own devices – so I’ve always set that as my target. But the idea of committing to getting eight hours of sleep every night for a month was really daunting. During the work week, in particular, my schedule really isn’t my own, and I didn’t want my goal to be something I couldn’t control. My somewhat unsuccessful step challenge in March has shown me how frustrating it can be to have a goal that slips away for reasons that aren’t entirely within my control (e.g., if I leave the office at 11pm and have to be back at 6am, and I need to get dinner/sleep in between, I am not spending any of that time in between on the treadmill). But how else could I measure progress toward my sleep goal if not by number of hours in bed?

Well, this week I finished reading a really fascinating book for my office book club: Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts and Becoming the Person You Want to Be, by Marshall Goldsmith. While sometimes I feel like I’ve read so many behavioral psychology books that all the tactics blend together, Goldsmith had a pretty refreshing idea in the form of his “Daily Questions”, where he has hired someone every single night to call him and listen while he answers a specific set of questions he’s written himself. Basically, this forces accountability toward whatever goals he deems most important. Goldsmith’s Daily Questions remind me a lot of how I use Habitbull to check off my current three daily goals (pushups, flossing, and blogging).

However, while pushups, flossing, and blogging are what I track in Habitbull, those three goals actually aren’t my most important goals each day. That may sound strange to be tracking goals that aren’t my top priorities, but part of what’s kept me from adding other goals to that nightly list is the fact that I don’t want to add a goal that I don’t have complete control over and would be really hard for me to achieve. Part of why Habitbull has been working so well for me is that my goals are all reasonably attainable, and now that I’m on a streak of hitting them, I love seeing my “overall rating” of 92% in the top right corner. That simple A-minus grade is perfect: it keeps me striving to move it up to an A or an A-plus, but it also makes me proud enough of it that I won’t let it slip down to a B-plus easily.

But there’s also another reason I’ve been reluctant to add something like my step goal to that list. A goal like “take 15,000 steps daily” isn’t a bad goal by any means, and it’s certainly measurable – but it doesn’t really account for my level of effort. On days where I had lots of meetings and was running all over the office chasing people down, I would hit my 15,000 steps almost easily. On days where I had plenty of dedicated work time and was just cranking things out at my desk, I’d have to spend an extra hour or two walking around my hotel before bed in order to hit my step goal – requiring a lot more effort.

(Side note: whenever I went to a spin class, I got no steps in for that effort, even though my spin classes usually get my heart rate higher and burn more calories than my classes at Beyond 500. You only strive to do what you measure, but I don’t want to abandon spin class just because it doesn’t give me steps, when it’s actually a really good workout. Spin gets me to my overall goal of staying fit, even if it doesn’t align to my step count goal.)

In Triggers, Goldsmith proposes a twist on questions around goals by adding a little bit more responsibility with six simple words: “Did I do my best to…?” Did I do my best to get my steps in? Did I do my best to get healthy? And finally, what’s going to be my April goal question: did I do my best to get eight hours of sleep?

I’ve never experimented with a nebulous goal before, and I’ll be curious to see how it works. Will I be lenient and give myself a pass daily for the barest of efforts? Or will I be really hard on myself and only give full credit if I tried insanely hard to get 8 hours in? Well, last night I made it to bed at 8:30pm in time for my 3:30am wake up call, which objectively is a fail (7 hours of sleep)… but is still a lot more sleep than I usually get on Sunday nights. I’m proud of myself for forcing myself to go to bed at 8:30pm when I’m usually up way later than that! I’m going to be looking at this month as kind of a test ground: I don’t need to get a pass every single day, but I’m hoping I can learn some strategies toward better sleep as a whole, and generally see improvement throughout the month.

And my secondary goal this month: going to try this 15,000 step goal one more time. Since I didn’t exactly finish out my month of 15,000 steps a day with a bang (um, I left my FitBit plugged into the wall yesterday after showering… oops), I’d like to give that another shot. However, I recognize that getting my steps in will directly conflict with sleep, so I’m prioritizing sleep first, steps second. Just hoping I will surpass all expectations and make progress on both 🙂


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