There are plenty of sleep tricks that you could find here or in a million other places, such as reducing junk light at night, reducing or eliminating caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco in the evening time, or even taking a spoonful of honey before bed . All of those things are great advice, of course, but the simplest one is something most people don’t ever think about.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, 7 days a week.
Simple, right? But that doesn’t jibe with a lot of what we do in our culture. We tend to burn the midnight oil and then get up before our bodies are ready during the week and, assuming your lifestyle allows it, you are likely to try to make up that lost sleep on the weekend. That works great, right? Isn’t that why everybody shows up at work on Monday morning so energized and ready to get straight to work? No. We all know that’s not the case. So why is that?
Well let’s start with the most obvious thing. Alarm clocks are not your friend. Yes, they help you get to work on time and not miss that early morning meeting but does that mean it’s healthy biologically?
Let’s start by examining the history of the alarm clock. The earliest iteration of this ubiquitous appliance was around the time of the industrial revolution. Factories needed people to get to work, generally before the sun was up. This was also before transportation was as available as it is now and so people tended to live pretty close to work. Often the factory itself would have a giant whistle that was loud enough to wake up everybody in the neighborhood. Sounds pretty archaic, right? Well if you think about it you have a tiny version of that on your nightstand.
If you lived out in the woods without any responsibilities or expectation for you to be somewhere at a given time your body would easily self-regulate sleep. Unless you are sick or suffering from depression you aren’t likely to naturally overindulge. So that means, at least in theory, if you go to sleep when you feel tired your body should wake up when you are sufficiently recovered. The necessity of an alarm clock 5 days a week should tell you something is out of balance. The cause could be wildly different from one person to another but some of the common culprits are staying up late to work, staying up to watch TV (now we’re back to that junk light argument again), or consuming food or caffeine too late in the day. I would recommend doing some experiments to see which things could help you go to sleep earlier if eliminated.
The next thing to examine is how sleep cycles work, although this is admittedly a tremendous oversimplification. You have two main types of sleep, REM or rapid eye movement and NREM, non rapid eye movement. You go back and forth between both phases over the course of the night. In the beginning of the night you will have very deep sleep which is associated with NREM. This is the sleep that is most closely associated with things like physical recovery and your immune system. It’s what makes sure that your body
recovers and is ready to go the next day. This will be interspersed with periods of light sleep and REM. REM sleep dominates early morning as you get closer to the time for you to naturally wake so it is what gets cut short when you wake up too early. Just as NREM performs maintenance on your body, REM seems to do the same for your mind. That is how you are able to learn complex tasks but also why you’re not likely to remember where you parked at Walmart three weeks ago. It is the time when your brain stores important information and discards old useless information. The craziest part of this is that, in many, many laboratory experiments, significant impairment was found in people by cutting your sleep by as little as 30 minutes.
All of that is to say that when you have an alarm clock blaring to wake you up before your sleep cycles are complete you are comparing your brain’s ability to store information for later. You are turning off the learning machine.
So here is your tldr; if you are having trouble waking up in the morning without an alarm clock you are probably going to bed too late or damaging your body’s ability to get quality sleep. There are many things that you can do to improve this but the low-hanging fruit would be to simply work on going to bed earlier so your body can get its fill of sleep.. I fully recognize that is much easier said than done for most of us but I believe that it is vitally important.
So what does this have to do with being in your RV or camper? I think many of us go on vacation and fall into one of two traps. We tend to either get up extra early to (CARPE DIEM!) get as much as we can out of every day of vacation or we end up sleeping in (maybe because we are exhausted from staying up too late and then having an alarm clock wake us up before our body is ready?). If you don’t already have a consistent 7-Day sleep schedule then maybe your next vacation would be the perfect time to establish it. To make it easy on yourself you could simply go to bed at whatever time feels natural and then wake up whenever your body is ready and keep a journal of that. It will take time for your body to reach a balancing point but after a few days you should notice some pretty consistent patterns in what your body is asking for.
Find what works for you and then try it for a few weeks. I promise, you will notice every single part of your body functioning better. And for those of you who sleep less than 7 hours a night and say you’ve never had a problem, just try it and see. I’m confident you will see the value in investing in your sleep.