Jennifer Martin likes her room to be filled with natural light when she wakes up. She wouldn’t mind fresh air but the cackling, sometimes honking, sometimes shrill cries of the wild peacocks outside force her to shut her windows at night.
Martin has spent the last two decades ensconced in the study of insomnia and sleep. But, she doesn’t suffer from insomnia, even though she is consumed by the topic.
Here’s how Martin preps for sleep each day as told to Sleepopolis News Editor Rose Palazzolo.
The first and last thing I see when I’m in bed is the bay window in the front of my house. It’s facing north (so it doesn’t get direct sun), and if I open the blinds, I can see flowering plants that are often visited by hummingbirds. I also have a view of the San Gabriel Mountains, which is one of the things I love most about the house.
I am a bit of a morning person, and am out of bed by 6-7 a.m. I have an alarm set for 6:30 a.m., but I am usually awake when it goes off. The most important part of my morning routine is a cup of coffee (or two). My favorite is a Peet’s dark roast of some kind. A good coffee, or an espresso or cappuccino is a great way to start my day. I wish I could enjoy a cup of coffee at night too, but the caffeine keeps me up so I don’t. I get myself dressed, if I’m going into my office, check email or do a few chores around the house, then I wake up my teenage son Kobe. Thankfully, California requires high schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later, so it only takes a moderate amount of convincing to get him out of bed at 7:15 a.m.
While I don’t eat breakfast, I make something for Kobe and we sit down at the table for a few minutes to talk while he eats and I have my coffee.
It gives us a few minutes to talk about the day and for me to run down the “checklist” of items he needs: Is his laptop charged? Does he have his baseball gear and uniform? Is he coming directly home after school or going to an activity? Is there anything slated for the evening? One of us checks to make sure the pets have water for the day, and then we head out the door – or he heads out and I get ready to start my workday at home. I’m still teleworking 3 days a week, and will probably stick to that routine for a while. I definitely don’t miss the daily commute.
SIDENOTE: There are a few keys to a good night of sleep for me. Routine is key. I found a schedule that works for me, and I stick to it as much as I can. I always allow exceptions, but get back to my sleep schedule quickly when I need to stay up late or get up early for a few days.
Second, I protect the space where I sleep from being overrun with other things. When I go into my bedroom at the end of the day, it feels relaxing and I look forward to going to bed for the night.
Third, I keep alcohol to a minimum and avoid caffeine in the evenings. About five years ago I cut out all alcohol, caffeine, added sugar, and artificial ingredients from my diet for two weeks. I slept great. Now, I am much more attentive to what I eat and drink in the evening than I was before. I feel fortunate that I have not struggled with long-term sleep issues myself, but I definitely have a rough night now and then when something is on my mind. For me, getting back to these basic strategies seems to do the trick.
My morning schedule is definitely linked to my son’s schedule. I would prefer to get my day started earlier, but I enjoy the time with him and appreciate the opportunity to hear about his plans for the day. My daughter Alex is a college student at the University of Oregon. When she is home visiting, she usually sleeps until around 9 a.m. or so, and has her own routines during the day.
I usually have a snack around 10 a.m., and lunch in the mid-afternoon. I stopped eating breakfast quite a few years ago, and thought it was a problem, but my friend and colleague Dr. John Berardi, who has a PhD in nutrition, pointed out to me that delaying the time I eat really isn’t a bad nutrition practice, as long as I make good food choices when I do eat, and since that time, I’ve stopped questioning this tendency. I usually have yogurt, a piece of fruit (this time of year I’m enjoying peaches, nectarines and apricots), or a slice of toast with an egg. For lunch I either throw together a quick salad, or take leftover food from dinner the night before.
I am a Professor of Medicine at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the VA Greater Los Angeles. My work day typically involves a series of meetings on zoom, Microsoft teams, Google, and Webex. Even when I’m in my office, we still aren’t having large in-person meetings, but we do have small group meetings in person at the office. This also includes meeting with students and people I mentor at UCLA, meeting with other faculty and researchers, working on projects related to sleep, and activities related to my role as president of the AASM.
With a lot of zoom meetings I have tried to be more conscientious about building some activity in my day. I try to schedule some short meetings with my research team by phone so we can walk and talk at the same time. I also take breaks to take a five-minute walk around the block a few times a day.
Around 5-6pm, I shut down my work computer, take a walk around the neighborhood for about 20-30 minutes and start cooking dinner.
Cooking dinner is one of the strategies I have used during the COVID pandemic to put an end to my work day.
We eat all different kinds of food. I enjoy planning for dinner, whether it’s just me and my son, or a larger group. When my daughter is home from school, I try to cook some of her favorites like spaghetti with homemade sauce and meatballs or grilled salmon. I love to cook. Tonight we are grilling lamb chops, and having that with seasoned rice, and roasted broccolini. Last night we had chicken fettuccine alfredo, salad, garlic bread, and cauliflower. The night before we ordered Thai food from our favorite local restaurant.
When my son is not home in the evening, I take a longer walk, and keep my own dinner a bit more simple. Taking a walk in the evening has become an important part of my routine over the past few years. It helps me disconnect from the day, and I might call my mom or my sister to check in while I’m out walking to get updates on the extended family. Even though we have a dog, I don’t usually take him. He is over 10 years old and is getting pretty slow. I find that taking him out with me is distracting and I don’t feel as relaxed when I get back.
In terms of my sleep environment, I like natural fibers. I use cotton sheets and have a combination of firm and soft pillows so I can adjust my position during the night. As a former athlete (volleyball player), I do have issues with shoulder pain, and being able to change positions is important. For the same reason, I have a mattress that isn’t too firm (but also isn’t too soft). I sleep with a mid-weight down comforter for most of the year (a luxury of living in a mild climate), and add an extra blanket in the winter months. My neighborhood is fairly quiet at night – except that we have wild peacocks! At certain times of the year, they are VERY noisy at night, so I sleep with the windows in my room closed. I have light-filtering window treatments (not black out shades) because I do like waking up to natural light.
Other than the bed, there are just nightstands, a chest with extra bedding (which also serves as a perch for the cat by the window, and a chair with a small table in my bedroom.
I take the idea seriously that the bedroom is for sleeping – I don’t have a desk in my room and don’t work in that space. When we were all at home during the COVID lockdown, my workspace became a small desk in a corner of our kitchen. This is still where I work when I’m working at home.
I always have a stack of books on the nightstand next to my bed (whatever I’m reading plus the next couple of books I plan to read), but otherwise, I try to keep the space tidy. There are no televisions in bedrooms in our house.
Knowing that pets can be disruptive to sleep, we trained our dog to sleep on a dog bed on the floor in my bedroom. We never allowed him on any of our beds. He does have a second bed in my son’s room and sometimes moves there in the middle of the night. We tried to keep the cat off the beds too, but cats have a mind of their own. In the winter, he sleeps at the foot of the bed – this is cute but he does sometimes wake me up in the early morning if he decides it’s time to play or to look out the window at the birds or bunnies in the front yard.
After dinner, I tidy up the kitchen and most evenings I wrap up a couple of work items before getting ready for bed. I usually shower, put away laundry, watch some TV with my son (if his homework is done), and then climb into bed around 10-10:30pm, check that my alarm is set, put my phone on the charger (which is in my room, but away from my bed).
I read for a few minutes and when I feel my eyes getting heavy, I turn off the light and fall asleep.
I am reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold right now, and I am looking forward to reading a few pages when I climb into bed.
I insist that the house is quiet by 11 p.m., so my kids are usually in their own rooms by that time.