Most Americans don't get near enough sleep on a nightly basis. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Most Americans don't get near enough sleep on a nightly basis. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

When I was in my mid ‘30s, I realized I needed to make some healthful changes in my life.

I was one of those kids who could eat whatever they wanted and never gain a pound. Partly this was just winning the Metabolism Lottery. But a string of entry-level jobs with lots of manual labor didn’t hurt, either.

In my late ‘20s, I finally landed my dream job as a magazine editor – a job, it must be said, that requires virtually no manual labor or exertion. And after a couple of years, this new, sedentary lifestyle was catching up with me. I was slowly, but surely, putting on weight and a beer gut. And I was noticeably out of shape.

So, like a lot of people at that age, I decided I needed to make some changes, and I decided on two major courses of action.

The first is what everyone in that situation does. I joined a gym and started working out.

And I hated it – every single hot, sweaty, painful minute of it. But, if nothing else, I’m stubborn. So I stuck with it, to the point where it eventually just became a part of my routine – something I still do today. And while I still was a few years away from putting the whole picture together in terms of diet, junk food, snacks and so on, at least when I finally did, I had a well-established gym routine in place to help things along.

But it was the second health decision I made around this time that actually had both the most immediate and long-term health benefits for me: The decision to make getting enough sleep at night a priority.

At the time, I was like most Americans – seriously sleep-deprived on an ongoing basis – but without any real understanding of just how sleep deprived I was.

By that point, I was a confirmed night owl, and had been since junior high school. On week nights, I averaged around 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night. I didn’t have an official bedtime – typically I’d try to be in bed around 2 am. Partly this was the common desire to have some “personal time” after working all day. But, on the other hand, I didn’t think I could do anything about it. I’d read about people having different biorhythms and circadian cycles. And I just assumed that, unfortunately, my body clock was set to a different time cycle than “regular” society, and that I’d just have to suck it up and deal with it.

The result? I was always tired – forever swatting at the snooze button on the alarm clock in the morning… Perpetually running late… And it seemed like it took me forever to get clear-headed enough to work as efficiently as possible in the mornings.

But doctors at the time were beginning to raise awareness on sleep deprivation in the U.S. and I’d read several articles detailing the fact that most people need around eight hours of sleep a night (everyone is a bit different on just how much, of course) and that most Americans were already overworked and not getting nearly enough sleep to boot.

I knew that when I did manage to get eight hours of sleep or more, I felt vastly better than I did when I did not. So, even though I was convinced that my personal biology was working against me, I decided to try and get more rest at night. To do that, I decided to make three changes in my life:

  1. Be physically in bed no later than 11 pm. (If I wasn’t tired, then reading was fine. But no TV.)
  2. Lights out no later than midnight.
  3. No caffeinated drinks later than 5 pm.

To my surprise, of those three things, it was the third one – cutting down on caffeinated drinks – that was the hardest on me. Like a lot of us, in my teenage years, I’d developed a pretty serious cola addiction. I generally cracked one open first thing in the morning (I don’t do coffee) and then drank around 7 to 8 more in the course of a day. It was not unusual at all for me to open a soda at 10 or 11 at night while I was waiting around to fall asleep – which only kept me up even later at night, of course. Cutting down on the caffeine helped me tremendously when it came to getting into bed earlier. And although I didn’t plan on it, it wound up being the first step in my eventually cutting sugared, caffeinated sodas out of my life almost completely.

And although I’d assumed that getting into bed earlier and going to sleep earlier would be the biggest challenges for me, those two changes went amazingly well. It turned out that I wasn’t doing anything particularly interesting late at night. Mainly I was just killing time waiting around to go to sleep.

 In a surprisingly short few weeks, I was turning out the light at 11:30 pm. And then, not much longer after that, 11 pm. And this turned into an easy habit to stick with – mainly because I felt so much better in the mornings when I woke up. I wasn’t instantly perfect. It turns out there is something to those biorhythms, after all. I still wasn’t a morning person. But I was making progress. And today, much like my workouts at the gym, getting into bed and getting a good night’s sleep is just part of my routine.

Of course trucking is an industry that has early mornings, long days, and late nights hard-wired into its DNA. So, if all of this sounds like an unattainable pipe dream to you, I understand.

On the other hand, making the change to get more rest turned out to be easier than I anticipated simply because most, if not all, of the assumptions I had about my sleep patterns and how I spent my evenings turned out to be wrong. So, if nothing else, it’s worth looking into. Take it from me, if you make an effort to get more rest, you’ll be glad you did.

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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