Cutting through all this macho cultural nonsense the simple reality that we all need to face up to is that if we aren't getting 8 hours of sleep a night then we are sleep deprived. This may come as a nasty surprise to any 5 hour a night types yet this is what all the evidence shows us. Digging a layer deeper reveals another interesting fact - that we are terrible judges of our performance when we are sleep deprived. We don't feel that our performance has dropped and therefore carry on regardless.
If the previous paragraph has come as bad news for you then hopefully the rest of the post will give you some hope. There is so much we can do to improve our sleep and, if you are able to make the commitment to prioritising your sleep, then you will rapidly discover how good you can be when you are properly rested. What follows are my top tips for optimising your sleep:
- Routine is king: We are rhythm based animals and operate on a 24hr circadian sleep cycle. Unfortunately our modern lives do everything to disrupt this rhythm. In order to get the most from our sleep we need to re-establish our rhythms. the easiest way to do this is to pretend you are a baby. Set bed times and wake times and have associated routines that go with these. Stick to these for 5 or preferably 7 days a week and you will soon click in to a natural sleep pattern.
- Cleanse your sleep environment: Sleep hygiene is the winner of the 80:20 calculation for sleep. You need to ensure your room is quiet, dark and cool. You also need to make sure it is only used for sleeping and related activities. Not as an office or playroom. Your mind needs to associate your room with just sleep, otherwise you will find your work thoughts starting to creep in.
- Wind down: When you come home at the end of the day do you slowly reverse into the garage or do you crash straight into it at full speed? Stupid question right? Well now imagine that the garage is a metaphor for sleep. Do you slowly ease into sleep or do you just stop whatever you were doing and crash into bed? To sleep well we need to ease into it, as a bare minimum give yourself 30mins before bed where you slow down and relax.
- Eliminate screens: Melatonin is the main hormone associated with sleep and this is produced in response to falling light levels, unfortunately if we stare at screens all evening the blue light from these tells our body that it is still light out and we therefore don't produce melatonin. This makes it hard to sleep. To counter this we need to try and keep screens out of our evenings. If we absolutely have to use them try blue light blocking glasses or programs like f:lux which reduce the blue light that will hit your eyes.
- Relax: The adrenal hormones associated with the stress side of our nervous system do a great job of preventing us from sleeping, keeping our body in a state of constant alertness. This often gives the 'tired and wired' sensation in an evening where you are physically shattered but your mind races. To prevent this you need to shift into the rest and digest side of the nervous system. there are many ways to do this, my personal favourites for ease and utility are simple breathing techniques. I use the box breathing app every night before bed. In only a couple of minutes I quickly feel calmer and slower and I subsequently fall asleep much more easily. You can also try meditation programs such as Calm or Headspace.
- Cool down. To help us fall asleep our body temperature needs to drop. With the average bed creaking under the weight of all the throws, blankets and pillows that has been piled upon it this can be a challenge. If you exercise in the evening then this makes the process even harder. Whilst you may not like it a cold shower or bath before bed will do wonders. If warm baths are your thing then keep the room coll so you can quickly drop your temperature when you dry off.
- Cheat: if all else fails there are some tricks that you can use. Supplementing with a ZMA and 5-htp product can be useful. Especially if you are deficient in zinc and magnesium. However my top cheat is a little more high tech. Researchers have found that certain kinds of music can reproduce the brain waves that are associated with sleep. These binaural beats can therefore be used as a sleep aid. My favourite program for this is a simple, and free, app called Pzizz. It has helped me and everyone I have recommended it to so do check it out. My only caveat is that you tick the other boxes too. It isn't a panacea on it's own.
I hope that these quick tricks can help you give your sleep the priority it deserves and start to experience the benefits of being at 100%. If you are able to sleep properly you will notice that mentally you are sharper, you are more resilient to stress, you don't get ill as often and your energy levels rise. In short you become a better person to be and to be around. So for the sake of you and your friends and family, please give this stuff a try.
If you have any additional advice that has worked for you please do share it in the comments.