In a related article, I laughed about the joy that overwhelms my coaching clients, when I encourage them that instead of yet another diet and yet more exercise, what they actually need more of, is sleep.
There’s so much science behind it, and we talked about the various reasons why specific and regular amounts of sleep are necessary in the article, which you can read here.
In summary, the effects of sleep deprivation are subtle: hence often ignored. Sleep helps us embed important memories and facilitates a clearing out of all the irrelevant ‘stuff’ that we don’t need. When the brain goes into this sorting mode, and you’re not asleep, it will clear out the information you need to retain as well – with sometimes disastrous consequences. Apart from this, a lack of sleep stimulates your appetite for high carb, sugar-dense food and before you know it, another five kilograms are accompanying you to the shower each day.
Image by Lilian Nowosad on Unsplash
There’s a lot more to this.
It’s all good and well understanding the science and the physiology: but if you’re a chronic stress ball, or a chronic insomniac, the theory isn’t going to help unless it comes with a dose of practical advice.
Here, then, are simple ways to START the process towards better sleep. It’s by no means a definitive list. Don’t dismiss some of the simpler hints: each step you take in the right direction, brings you closer to your destination of deep, restful and restorative sleep.
1. Create a sleep sanctuary: Your mind and body must know that when you step into this no-stress, low-activity space, it’s with the intention to wind down and drift off. Do what you need to, to make it cosy. My down duvet and a fresh breeze do it for me.
2. Keep your room temperature between 18 – 20 degrees Celsius (just open a window – air-conditioning is not optimal).
3. Don’t ever work in your bed – allow your mind to accept that your bed is for sleeping.
4. Leave your tech outside the room. (No one said sleep was easy!) I can already hear the protestations of ‘emergency calls from the kids’. Set your phone to allow only emergency calls if you must have it near you and don’t be tempted to quickly check your emails.
5. Aim for complete darkness. Street lights, security lights and the neighbours can sometimes make this a challenge, but splurge on double-lined curtains. Make sure there are no blue lights (alarms, phones, screens) of any kind.
6. Our bodies need physical signals too: cover yourself from neck to toe if you can. If not with comfy sleeping gear, then a light sheet.
7. Avoid heavy or rich foods after 7pm. A digestive system that is working hard won’t want other parts of the body to rest either.
8. Bedtime is between 9pm and 11pm – if you start later, your mental ‘clearing’ process has begun and you’re losing important memories.
9. Caffeine must get a mention – avoid it and all forms of it (yes, tea and chocolate too!) Ideally stop the caffeine at lunch time.) You think it may not have much of an impact but it keeps your heart racing and your organs don’t get uninterrupted replenishment time.
Image by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash
10. Skip alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol not only reduces our REM sleep (the most important part of our night’s rest) but usually plays out at around 2 or 3 am when we wake up and think it’s just because we need the loo – it’s not. Our kidneys and liver are working too hard – they likely need a glass of water. And now that you’re awake… the mental chatter will begin. Smoking’s sidekick, nicotine, is a merciless stimulant.
11. Have a relaxing bath before hopping into bed. Studies show that a relaxing bath 90 minutes before bedtime considerably improves the quality of sleep. If you can’t bath, just soak your feet in warm water for a few minutes.
12. Exercise has proven benefits to sleeping better, but NOT in the few hours before bed, when your endorphins will still be racing and your serotonin pumping.
13. Don’t hit snooze after 7,5 hours. The body rests in 90 minute cycles and if you interrupt the cycle, you create a mental mess. Time your sleep well – set your alarm so that you have 4 – 6 90-minute sleep cycles. Allow 15 minutes for falling asleep. If you switch off the alarm and doze off again, you’ll enter the next cycle. Break it 10 minutes’ later and wham! You’ve undone all the good and you’ll feel as if a bus has run over you.
|If you go to bed at…||Set your alarm for ….||Or ….|
|21h00||04h 45||06h 15|
14. If you constantly hear outside noises, (or snoring partners) consider a good pair of ear plugs.
15. There are wonderful sleep meditations and sleep hypnosis tracks on YouTube. Just make sure that your headset doesn’t wake you up a couple of hours later, twisting around your neck.
16. Consider a melatonin supplement, or get more sunlight during the day.
17. To fall asleep faster, do some conscious breathing. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four and breathe out for four – hold again. Repeat this as you relax every muscle in your body, starting with your toes, moving up to your jaw and tongue.
Does this feel like overload? It doesn’t all have to start at once. Choose four or five that are easy to implement and gradually add more as you can. Don’t expect it to work immediately – the added stress is going to counteract all your good intentions.
On the cover of James Clear’s book – Atomic Habits – he outlines his philosophy that “… real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions”. Right now all you really want to do is make a decision to improve your health and possibly start with sleeping more.
Good luck. Sleep tight.