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Why I Decided to Take Charge of My Sleeping Habits at 23

My eyes flutter open to the subtle vibrations of my alarm clock. My phone’s loud chip starts to come into focus as I reach for the snooze button. It’s still dark outside, but the first warm signs of dawn are peaking through the cracks in my blinds. My mind says one thing: “Coffee.”

Steaming coffee

Coffee is a staple in my house of young students and professionals. Between the three of us there is always a pot brewing and when I walk into the kitchen this crisp morning, I smell the sweet aroma of freshly ground beans and a hot brew. My roommate has already made the first batch of the day and he’s sitting in the living room sipping down a black cup of our life blood with a calm smile on his face.

I know the time of day by the cup I’m on. Cup #1, 7:00 am. Cup #2, 10:00 am. Cup #3, 1:30 pm. Cup #4, 3:30 pm. Cup #5, 7:00 pm. My day is dictated by an endless need for this dark black liquid that I can’t seem to get enough of. At least, that’s how it used to be.

Need more coffee!!

My coffee addiction is nothing new for most millennials. Most of us guzzle that stuff down like a homeless guy eats a cheeseburger. We wear t-shirts that say “Life Begins After Coffee,” and “My Blood Type Is Starbucks.” We unabashedly live in cafes and squander our meek paychecks away at these dispensaries. (And extra $1 for soy? Yes please!)

It was the first time I got a “caffeine headache,” or more like a “forgot-to-hook-myself-up-to-that-IV-that-keeps-me-alive headache,” that I realized I had a problem. That dark-roasted goodness had me in handcuffs and I was a slave to its creamy whims. I needed my five-cups-a-day to survive.

This meant I was tired in the morning from only getting between four to six hours of sleep. I’d skip breakfast in the morning and satiate my grumbling stomach with my own version of caramel-flavored crack. I’d drink coffee late at night to stay awake long enough to watch another episode of House of Cards instead of prepare myself for bedtime.

Essentially, I was feeding a slew of bad habits with one, keystone bad habit: coffee.

The thing is, I’m not alone. One study found about 30% of American adults get less than six hours of sleep a night. The three main causes? The Internet, longer working hours, and night shifts. I’ve fallen prey to all three. And since it’s estimated that 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world each day, I doubt I’m the only one who solves the problem of sleepiness with a cup of joe.

Coffee was draining my wallet and my energy. The caffeine hardly worked anymore and I needed 4+ shots of espresso to get even the smallest jolt. I decided it was time to change. And it all started with addressing my bad sleeping habits.

Falling on the bed GIF

Even though almost one-third of Americans are sleeping six hours or less, the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours a night. As it turns out, too-little sleep has major adverse health and productivity effects, and by simply upping my hours to the recommended number, I could live a longer life, I could maintain a healthy weight easier, and I could be more productive at work.

I gave it a shot. I wasn’t ready for quitting caffeine altogether, but I cut down my coffee consumption to two cups a day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and I set strict bedtimes to get more sleep. I vowed to be in bed by 11:00 pm each night so I could wake up at 7:00 am, even on the weekends. I hid my phone and banned my laptop after 10:00 pm. I found healthier energy boosters, like eating fat in the morning and nuts in the afternoon, to get my pick-me-ups.

I don’t know yet if this lifestyle change will make me live longer or keep me from getting heart disease. I don’t know if sleep is the secret to successfully climbing the corporate ladder.

But I do know that I feel healthier and I have more energy during the day. I’m also more creative, and I have an easier time switching between brainstorming projects and zeroing in on the task at hand. I eat better, and my energy doesn’t fluctuate so much during the day. I sleep better; instead of waking up multiple times throughout the night like I used to, I sleep soundly from the time I go to bed until I wake up naturally in the morning, usually turning off that freaking annoying alarm clock before it has the chance to yell at me.

As a career-driven millennial, I’ve often chanted the mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” But not sleeping made me feel like the walking dead during the day more than it made me feel alive. And as I slowly saunter into adulthood, I’m becoming more conscientious of my habits and I’m starting to feel the effects of them each day.

I recognize that if I’m really going to succeed in my plan for world domination, I need to be well-rested. I need my head to be clear, I need to be alert and tuned into my intuition, and I need my creativity and memory to be on point. There isn’t a green smoothie or Spotify playlist that’s going to give me those things. There is only sleep. And luckily, that’s something I have the power to change and influence each day. So, I’ve made the choice to take charge and change my life.

Although I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to break up with coffee, we’ve redefined our relationship with each other. Coffee and I are good friends, but we aren’t as close as we used to be. Coffee knows I’m going steady with a new love of my life. And that love is sleep.

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