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Sleep Challenge 2010: How Sleep Is Like Steroids ...Without the 'Roid Rage'

After finally getting eight hours of sleep a night, I was surprised to discover that getting enough sleep also helps you exercise better.
 
 
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It's now day 8 of the Sleep Challenge I'm doing along with Glamour's Cindi Leive. So how is my "sleep-hab" -- that's sleep rehab! -- going?

In a word: progress! As of my last sleep challenge post at four days in, I'd yet to reach my goal of eight hours of sleep a night. Well, I am pleased to announce that for the last two nights I've gotten the full eight. That might not sound like a big deal, but it's a lot harder than it sounds (if you don't believe me -- jump in and take the challenge with us).

Not only that, I woke up without an alarm -- which was, in itself, a bit alarming. When I woke up, I looked around anxiously to see what was wrong, wondering what had woken me up, since there was no alarm buzzing. It actually took me a minute or two to realize that the reason why I was wide-awake was because... I didn't need to sleep anymore. Imagine that.

It's well known, of course, that regular exercise helps you sleep better, but what I was shocked to discover is that it's a two-way street: regular sleep also helps you exercise better.

As I hit the machines as part of my morning exercise routine, I couldn't believe it -- I was lifting heavier weights, punching the treadmill button to go faster and giving it a higher incline than normal. If someone who knows my usual approach saw me during these recent workouts, I'd probably be asked to submit to mandatory drug testing. But the only performance-enhancing stimulant I was on was a couple of eight-hour hits of sleep (aka, the new eight-ball).

Our sleep consultant, Dr. Michael Breus, has shown how getting more sleep can actually help you lose weight more effectively than exercise, but I've been finding the two are wonderfully compatible.

And my energy lasted throughout the day. I have a group of friends whom I hike with and it's our tradition that whoever is feeling the most energized that day has to talk on the way up the hill. Let's just say I'm pretty well-known as a consistent downhill talker. But on my last hike I was talking on the way up -- mostly haranguing my hiking partners to get more sleep, of course.

I also took a cue from my sleep challenge mate Cindi. In her last missive, Cindi wrote that it helps her to plan a set bedtime and treat it like an appointment -- with the same importance that we give all our other appointments (work, dinner, medical visits, etc). She calculates what time she needs to be up, counts back 7.5 hours (that's her goal) and whatever tme that is becomes her appointment with sleep. If you have Type A tendencies (guilty!), it's a brilliant way to use your compulsion more productively.

And to help you keep your appointment, Cindi also mentioned Dr. Breus's fantastic suggestion to set an alarm to go off -- in your bedroom -- when it's time to go to bed. As she wrote, "you'll be forced to enter your bedroom to turn the damn thing off -- which at least gets you into the right room at the right time."

I also want to take a moment to welcome my wonderful compatriot and friend Nia Vardalos to the sleep challenge. In a post this weekend, Nia said she was inspired by the challenge and decided to join in. "I've always wanted to sleep with you both and figured this is my chance," she wrote. A sleep orgy! Let's do it.

 
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