In the vast majority of cases, sleeping is like peeing. You stop when you’re done.

I say this to almost anyone I hear complain about oversleeping. I’m not a sleep expert, but I have read a fair amount of sleep research in my study of psychology and psychotherapy. That research suggests that except in conditions like severe depression or narcolepsy, “oversleeping” should be reserved to mean sleeping past an appointment, like “overpeeing” can really only mean overfilling your urine sample cup.

It’s important to sleep until you are done sleeping and when you can’t avoid restricting sleep, to make up for it later. This is true for how your body functions, how your brain functions, and your overall well-being. If you don’t believe this, you are either ignorant of or ignoring the evidence. Try searching “sleep restriction” and “metabolism,” “cognition,” or “well-being.” There is a good-sized mountain of evidence. (If you don’t like reading academic writing, try searching “sleep” at TED.com or reading Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren.)

And yet, I wake up to an alarm every weekday, and have done so for many years. This is clearly incongruent with my beliefs about sleep. Waking up to an alarm clock is just another way of purposefully restricting sleep.

So here’s the plan: I’m giving myself 10.5 hours in bed every night, from 9:30pm until my alarm goes off at 8am, until I start waking up naturally before my alarm. It means giving up an hour or two of socializing, exercising, reading or writing each evening, which feels like a lot. It feels like giving my life completely to work, getting ready for work, and sleep. On the other hand, I could end up feeling better and being healthier, and I could stop being such a hypocrite. My wife is on board with the project, so it has some chance of success.

I’ll post again about it in a few weeks.

In 2011, Roger Walsh published a review of the research into ways we can improve our mental health and resiliency by changing how we live. He found eight that had both solid research behind them and strong effects. As therapeutic interventions go, these lifestyle changes tend to be enjoyable, inexpensive, and carry only positive side effects such as increased physical health, self-efficacy, and longevity. Despite that, mental health professionals do not emphasize lifestyle changes. This could be due to a spin on the instrument fallacy: Clients bring in a nail and all therapists can think of to use is their hammer. Walsh suggests this failing is because therapists have unhealthy lifestyles themselves.

  1. Exercise: 30 minutes or more of exercise has therapeutic and preventative emotional and cognitive effects.
  2. Nutrition & Diet: Fish, vegetables and fruit in the diet have both enhancing and protective psychological effects.
  3. Time in Nature offers cognitive and emotional benefits and stress relief.
  4. Good relationships: Being connected in rich relationships comes with cognitive benefits, happiness, and resiliency. In fact, the quality of a therapeutic relationship may account for a large part of the benefit of therapy.
  5. Recreation & Enjoyable Activities (AKA fun): Helps with stress, mood, and well-being.
  6. Relaxation & Stress Management: Mindfulness practices and muscle relaxation techniques can have strong and lasting positive effects on mood management.
  7. Religious & Spiritual Involvement is associated with good mental health, maybe especially with faiths centered on love and forgiveness.
  8. Contribution & Service: Giving time and energy to others boosts happiness, as long as it isn’t out of a sense of obligation.