WOW! The power of a keystone habit—a small, regular habit that spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold,” as explained by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. My new habit of simply getting my naked eyes outside to see the sun twice a day—within 30 minutes of waking up and at about an hour before sunset—has dramatically changed my life.
My previous post explains why scientifically this practice is important, as it’s a part of various behavioral “sleep levers” one should use for good sleep health. (Yes, my sleep has improved, which I’ll get into later in this post.) But also, the sunlight viewings have improved my mood, making me happier, less lonely, calmer, and focused, as well as increased my daily movement and calorie burn.
Ever an optimist, I didn’t realize just how depressing my depressingly dark apartment actually was. My workaholic, WFH lifestyle meant plenty of days that I didn’t go outside until nightfall or even AT ALL. I’m a total extrovert, and I have been battling the post-pandemic loneliness for months if not years now. Waking up and immediately going outside to see the sun with my bare eyes is a physical expression of hope; watching nameless neighbors jog, walk their dogs, and get their coffees reminds me that I’m not alone and forgotten in this city—I’m still part of what makes it thrive. It’s been cloudy most mornings, so to get enough sun exposure per Huberman’s prescription, I walk ten minutes to the East River so I can comfortably loiter, looking in the direction of the sunrise for 20-30 min. This inadvertently kicks off my daily steps and calorie burn in the morning that I hadn’t been getting before.
Tip: Create a go-to morning sunlight viewing outfit. Feeling like I needed to choose my outfit for the day stalled me from getting outside in the morning on the fly. My new habit forced me to work around that—now I wear the same thing, every day, just for that half hour in the morning so I have no excuse. It’s winter now, so it consists of snow pants, my warm puffy long coat, and lined rainboots—I can slip this on while still in my pajamas or even nothing at all underneath and still be warm enough to walk to the river. NO EXCUSE!
P.S. I aspire to have a sun viewing outfit as chic as this.
I also find that if I have to focus in the direction of the sun to get its photons in my eyes, I can’t be playing on my phone. It’s still on “do not disturb” mode at this time in the morning, meaning no possibly anxiety-inducing notifications have popped up yet. I have nothing to do but look at the clouds and the waves on the river and just be... so I’ve naturally taken this moment to meditate, contemplate, and set intentions for the day. I used to start my day with the notifications and the stress, but now, I’ve taken that power back, almost by accident, through a small change.
Similarly, my sunset viewing habit has grown. I found that if I am bothering to both take a break in the afternoon to get on the street and to walk somewhere where I could actually catch the sun (due to my being on the east side of the city around tall buildings), then it gives me momentum to take a walk longer than the 5-20 min of prescribed sunlight time. I have taken beautiful strolls through Central Park, or walked to an evening commitment instead of taking the subway—again, leading to more steps, more contemplative/meditative time, more being inspired by the energy of the city, and more feeling a part of my local community.
The only regimen I am holding myself to right now during Sleep Health month(s), is, of course, the sleep regimen. I’m eating without any particular restraints and maintaining status quo with my fitness routine, which over the holiday months had dwindled down miserably. I let myself do what I feel like doing as long as I stick to the sleep regimen. Wouldn’t you know, that in chain reaction to my new habit, I suddenly have more energy and motivation to go workout? Without putting any additional pressure on myself, I’ve at least doubled my weekly workouts!
But most importantly — I have felt so. fucking. happy. and uplifted… more consistently than I have in well over a year.
Body Progress Report
My stats were a little better starting off in 1/10, but being sick, dealing with a stressful houseguest/bed partner situation (I can’t even go there right now but will at some point, ha!) and then going on an all inclusive vacation threw off my sleeping, eating, and drinking so much that I gained weight by the time February rolled around, causing me to start this whole experiment anew on 2/6.
Not much change to see yet here visually, but I have lost 1.6 lbs and 1.25″ overall, and that’s without going on a diet whatsoever. Especially since I almost completely stopped drinking alcohol, I’m going through a bit of withdrawal and thus craving sweets (which normally I never do). I let myself satisfy those cravings, focusing solely on keeping that sleep regimen. The days after I’ve slept poorly, I am aware of how much hungrier (especially for bad food) I feel; recognizing that fact, either two things happen. I talk myself out of the craving when I realize I’m not actually hungry but just tired (an excess of that hormone ghrelin!) Or, if I’m too weak to do that, I satisfy the craving while recommitting to a good night’s sleep that evening so I won’t subject myself to feeling ravenous again like this tomorrow. So, the current weight loss is from a combination of compassionate choices plus all the extra exercise I’ve inadvertently been doing as an effect from my new sleep behavior habits.
I thought it would be interesting and hopefully positive to create an exercise throughout all of this of finding my sexy at any weight or age, hence the photo above. Your health, your life—you can’t take for granted, so even if I strive for perfection(ish)ism, I should still appreciate what I have in the moment.
Sleep goal #1: Find the ideal amount of time my body needs under normal conditions.
Average, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 7h25m
The week of the 6th, I was being disrupted and agitated by the houseguest/bed partner I alluded to earlier, resulting in getting to sleep later than I wanted, having to take some sleep aids, and waking up by an alarm instead of naturally. That week’s average was 7h16m.
The week of the 13th, I took back full control of my space and thus my schedule. I did start taking the supplement apigenin from Huberman’s sleep stack and using yoga nidra to help me fall asleep quickly. I woke up naturally before my alarm every single day except Sunday, which I attribute to disrupted sleep from having smoked some weed Saturday night. That week’s average was 7h34m.
Sleep goal #2: Find what’s my best consistent one-hour window for waking up and going to bed seven days a week.
Average wake time, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 7:06am
Average bedtime, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 11:02pm
I’ve had my daily morning alarm set to 7am as a safety net (8am after a heavy workout day or a day I felt really tired so I don’t miss out on sleep I may really need, especially as I’m not sure what my window should be), and remarkably, I’ve pretty consistently awoke 10-15 minutes before 7am. Most times, I’ll let myself lie in bed for a little after 7. The Oura ring will count this as “light sleep”, even though I feel like I am pretty conscious, and will mark my wake time at when I truly get up out of bed.
As you can see in the below table, what a contrast these two weeks have been compared to the past holiday, high-stress, and post-daylight saving “dark” months at the end of last year. January, I started doing the behavioral sleep levers, although inconsistently while fighting sickness and situational stress.
Sleep goal #3: Define my factors for optimal sleep latency.
I am really honing in on my bedtime routine. I’ll dive into it in future topic-specific posts, but the biggest game-changers for me has been practicing yoga nidra, mitigating stressors, and abstaining from both CBD and weed (substances I sometimes use at night to relax). Controlling the wild that is my racing mind has been my biggest challenge to falling asleep in the past, despite following common advice like turning off blue light early, etc. This is amazing for me, because as a busy working person, sometimes it’s impossible to be off my laptop or phone two hours before bedtime; yoga nidra, for example, has made that a non-issue. It’s honestly magic!
I’ve been on apigenin for the past week of 2/13, which has had better sleep quality and results than the week of 2/6. However, 2/6, I had some disruptions to my experiment, mainly “the houseguest” who wasn’t out of my hair until the 9th. Apigenin “can support in the transition to sleep through its anti-anxiety and relaxation properties.” I can’t tell, though, if the sleep pressure and chillness I am feeling at night this past week is from the apigenin, or just the extra exercise and now peaceful, controlled home environment I have.
I’m going to take this upcoming week off from the apigenin, relying solely on the behavioral levers. We’ll see how week of 2/13 compares to 2/20!