Do you wake up rested and ready to rock and roll? No? ...Then you need to read this article. And not just read it. You need to understand and own it. It may the most important thing you do this year.
Why - I cannot overemphasize how important sleep is. The time of rest and (relative) immobility is when your body heals. One might argue, that night time was invented precisely for that reason. As we charge about throughout the day we accumulate damage and strain on the nervous system. Night time is there for the brain to work through the backlog - to deal with physical repair, to replenish nutrients in various tissues, to work through emotional issues, and to learn new skills. When rest and sleep is cut short and constantly interrupted the “to do list” keeps getting longer and longer each night, until something goes badly wrong. Now, we must remember that the problem is firmly developed by the time “insomnia” kicks in. By this time the brain is so frazzled that it is unable to even switch off. New parents are familiar with the acute effects of sleep deprivation and the zombie like state it produces. There is loss of cognitive functioning (reduced focus, difficulty with problem solving and impaired memory), reduced athletic performance (strength, endurance, balance and motivation), increased likelihood of injury, increased risk of sickness, and the general irritability that goes with the territory. (you can search the internet for the exhaustive list of effects of prolonged sleep deprivation - It’s pretty grim). Now imagine this process going on for month after month after month. It is enough to make people suicidal. Usually at this point dramatic measures are required to effect a change.
In this article you will learn a few sleep hacks to start helping yourself tonight.
What - Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of individual variation and hence making universal recommendations on the exact sleep requirement is impossible. Here is the scoop, though, you can make significant changes to the quality as well as the quantity of your sleep. The emphasis is on the quality. Think of it like this, you can train hard and gain massive stimulus from your training. Sleeping hard (good quality sleep) is the equivalent, whereby you can maximise your deep sleep and gain maximal recovery and healing for the body, mind and the spirit.
There are a few topics to cover when it comes to getting ready for a good sleep. Simply being physically tired or emotionally exhausted doesn’t quite cut it. Yes, you will fall asleep and gain benefit, but if you have all your ducks in a row your sleep will be truly magical.
Once again, we must try and return to nature to get the best results. The circadian rhythm is what makes us humans become wakeful during daylight hours and sleepy at night. For most of us this has been interrupted due to the hectic nature of our high stress lives and the unnatural lighting that we are constantly exposed to. Throw in poor diet choices, some bad exercise habits, incorrect breathing and dysfunctional relationships and all of a sudden it is not a surprise that sleep is hard to come by at night.
How -Setting yourself up for a good night's’ sleep starts in the morning. You have to prepare yourself for the next rest straight after the last. The first preparatory stage takes place in the form of a good breakfast. It needs to give you a good hit of protein and fat, which will slowly digest through the day so that they are good and ready to be utilised in the evening at bedtime. Those building blocks for repair and healing need to arrive at the production line when needed, otherwise the factory will suffer a delay. A good breakfast will also help deliver the Melatonin at the right time so that you will feel sleepy and ready for bed, skipping breakfast may only bring the melatonin at 3 or 4 am, when it’s really too late already.
Get some sunlight in the morning and at intervals through the day. You can also use “daylight” light bulbs to enforce the circadian rhythm that relies on sunlight to keep the clock in sync with nature. Generally artificial light tends to disrupt this, and thus try and go out of your way to avoid blue and green light after sunset. Get some blue light blocker glasses if you are watching TV or working on a computer. You can use red light therapy in the evening before bedtime. Buy a Himalayan salt lamp or some red LED lights and place them in the field of your vision.
Do your high intensity exercise in the hours of daylight, not last thing in the evening. The nervous system needs time to wind down after high intensity training, so blasting an interval session at 9pm is sure fire way to stay wired for another few hours. Even if you are wiped out and fall asleep after your shower, you are not getting the best benefit from your sleep as your body is trying to wind down and busy digesting the meal you had after training.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after 3pm. Simple, right? Many people still have coffee and / or Tea after dark. Some find it comforting. Some just like the flavour. Whatever the reason, you are still short changing your sleep. Don’t go with decaf either… just don’t.
Eat a good lunch and a light dinner. It’s important that you get sufficient nutrients and calories, but the meal timings are important. Again, it takes time to digest and going to bed with a full stomach makes it more likely that your tummy will be churning through the early part of the night.
Do light movement before bed, such as Yoga or Tai Chi to get blood flowing through to the extremities. Some people get restless legs, cramps, muscle aches and general irritability in the body. Gentle, flowing movement is a good way of unwinding the body. Using the breath to release tension is also helpful.
Cut down on the amount of simple carbs and sugar you eat to reduce the levels of inflammation in the body. When inflamed, the body feels uncomfortable. It can be difficult to drop off into a deep, restful sleep when the body chemistry is going haywire.
Drinking plenty of clean water during the day is great for maintaining your hydration levels and it makes it less likely for you to wake up parched in the middle of the night. Hydration is a skill and it takes a while to get used to being hydrated on a deep (cellular) level. To this end ensuring good mineral balance is equally important. Many people are deficient in Magnesium and other mineral salts, which reduces the amount of fluid bound in the cells. This results in superficial hydration in the plasma only, and causes us to need to toilet more frequently. Of course, drinking a pints of water just before bed is just plain silly and sets you up for an interrupted sleep.
Breathe right. The way you breathe is very important. Check out the articles on breathing here on the website to gain more info about this one. Many people snore. This is a sign of habitual mouth breathing. One of the easiest, yet maybe more exotic ways to tackle snoring is to simply place a strip of tape over the lips. I personally use kinesio tape as it is non-toxic and doesn’t remove the skin from my lips.
Optimise your sleep environment. Use blackout blinds, remove all sources of blue and green light from the bedroom, and close the door for silence. A good mattress and pillow are important to allow the body to rest. If the mattress is too soft the body will be constantly shifting and seeking comfort. Comfortable bed sheets made of natural fibres like cotton or linen are great for reducing static. You can take it another step forward by investing in a grounding sheet, which provides a source of negatively charged ions all through the night. Keeping a window open if at all possible is good as the fresh air in the bedroom helps sleep. Perfecting the sleeping position is vital, as biomechanically good sleeping position reduces the mechanical and neural stress at night. Leaving the phone out of the bedroom is a good idea to reduce the temptation to check the phone at night. Use an alarm clock if you need one.
Power naps during the day are not a bad idea. If you are straining and exerting yourself a lot or if you have young kids (or other reasons that frequently wake you at night) taking the opportunity of a 15 minute power nap can be helpful in restoring your ability sleep at night also. Sometimes using a binaural beat recording in conjunction with your power nap can really boost your rest at night.
Try not to do mentally challenging work too late in the evening. Your brain needs a bit of time to wind down so try and have some recovery time before bed and read an easy story book instead. Also the movement practice mentioned above is a great way of reducing the mental load in the evening.
Don’t go to bed angry. If you have been arguing with your spouse or partner, try and calm down and chat things through before going to bed. It’s not always easy and the exchanges can get heated, but when possible, gaining closure before sleep is a good way of reducing the negative effect on your sleep. You can try and work through the Flame Meditation (found in another article on this website). If you are constantly worrying about things, check out the Baseline Assessment article and make a plan to sort out the problems.
Gratitude at night is another great closure tool. Offering sincere thanks for at least one thing that happened or one person for whatever reason each night before bed sets your mind at ease and into a more harmonious tone for the night. Listening to a meditation recording, affirmations or some binaural beats to settle your mind just before retiring is a great way of reducing mental and emotional tension. You can use this in combination with a special request to prime your mind to work on things at night that you most want clarity and guidance with.
Embrace your dreams. You can affect your dreams to a certain degree. Don’t fight them but let them unravel. Sometimes you can pick up important tips and pointers that can be helpful in your daily activities or when you are about to make a major decision.
Phew, that was a long list of things to work on. I am not expecting you to change it all in one hit, but it all works together to get your body, mind and spirit ready for a good, restful slumber each night. As I have said in other articles, changing things too radically in one go can be even more confusing, so be kind and give yourself a bit of time to get used to a different sleep routine. And remember, the preparation for good sleep starts in the morning. If sleep is something that you struggle with, please make it a priority to establish good habits in this area of your life.
Take Home Message - Learn to sleep well. Your health, wealth and performance depend on it.