Running on low sleep has often been associated as a badge of honor, a sign of some sort of physical prowess in a world that celebrates busy-ness. Yet in our ongoing quest for a more conscious and intelligent lifestyle, a good night’s sleep is one of the biggest ingredients for any success formula.
Whether you are working towards life-enhancing goals, pursuing professional ambitions, or aiming to improve your mental wellbeing, getting a good seven to eight hours sleep every night is just as vital as the manual labor you need to be putting in.
Sleep will also determine the quality of your overall health: having chronically bad sleep can compromise your immune system, reduce your memory and attention span, and increase the risk of diabetes, depression, heart disease, and, for those over 50, dementia too. These are scary prospects—yet entirely avoidable, if you make some conscious choices throughout your day to improve your sleeping patterns.
So, how do we reclaim our eight hours of sleep in a world where we’re always tempted to be on alert?
Keep Your Bed for Sleeping
Our brains tend to make quick assumptions and attach objects to experiences. So, if you spend part of your day working from your bed, your brain will just think that the bed is your makeshift office, not your place of rest. As tempting as it is to lie down and work horizontally when working-from-home, try to resist the urge and use a different part of the room or house.
The same principle applies if you’re dealing with insomnia: if you’re lying in bed for hours struggling to fall asleep, your brain will start creating negative associations with your bed as a place of discomfort. The solution? Apply the “rule of 25” and get up if you’ve been in bed for longer than 25 minutes, unable to sleep. Do something relaxing (think journaling, meditating, reading, drawing, or drinking peppermint tea) before returning to make a second attempt at snoozing.
Avoid Screens, Caffeine, and Alcohol
We are usually battling with screen time and the temptations of our phones throughout the day—but time spent in front of the screen in the evenings can be especially bad for you. The blue light emitted from all the different devices tricks your brain that it’s still daytime, preventing you from properly unwinding and ruining the quality of the sleep you will get.
The solution is simple and takes nothing more than some mental conviction to resist temptation and prioritize your own wellbeing. Commit to a calming evening routine and switch off your devices at least an hour before bed, keep them in a different room, and dim the lights to signal to your brain that it’s time to slow down.
Just like screens, alcohol and caffeine can compromise your sleep. Try to stop drinking caffeine by 2pm to ensure there’s none left in your bloodstream by bedtime. As for alcohol, the best way to avoid letting it disrupt your sleep cycle is to stick to two drinks maximum, consume lots of still water in between, and stop drinking at least three hours before bedtime—because, contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not a sedative and can suppress REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the stage where dreams occur.
Write it Down
If you’re struggling with a dilemma and way too many thoughts are circling your brain, it’s inevitable that falling asleep will be that much harder. While there’s no magic solution to clearing away the thoughts or difficult emotions you might be grappling with, you can always alleviate the situation with journaling. By putting your thoughts onto paper and giving them a two-dimensional reality, you will feel an instant sense of relief and gain a refreshed perspective.
No one has ever grown up wanting to go to bed early, but as mindful adults with goals to pursue, an early bedtime can work wonders on our motivation, productivity, and general vitality.
So the next step—after switching off your screens and beginning to unwind—is to commit to a specific bedtime every evening (try to be in bed before midnight) and an early wakeup seven or eight hours later. This will help you become better aligned with your natural circadian rhythm.
“Midnight is no longer ‘mid night’. For many of us, midnight is usually the time when we consider checking our email one last time – and we know what often happens in the protracted thereafter. Compounding the problem, we do not then sleep any longer into the morning hours to accommodate these later sleep-onset times. We cannot. Our circadian biology, and the insatiable early-morning demands of a post-industrial way of life, denies us the sleep we vitally need,” said Dr. Matthew Walker, author of the book Why We Sleep.
Staying physically active during the day will prime your body for sleep in the evening. That doesn’t mean intense HIIT workouts or heavy lifting every single day. Become more mindful of how much you move your body each day and start introducing some form of movement into your schedule. It can be anything from a walk, to stretching, or simply choosing to take the stairs instead of the lift. Studies by the Sleep Foundation have shown that any exercise routine, no matter the intensity, can help you fall asleep up to 13 minutes faster and gain up to 20 minutes of quality sleep.
Pro tip? Make sure you exercise up to four hours before bed to give yourself time to unwind.
Get to the Root
If you are experiencing chronic sleep issues, dig deeper in all other areas of your life and try to identify the root cause that’s keeping you up at night. Are you lacking purpose in the workspace? Perhaps a personal relationship is weighing you down and there’s a difficult conversation waiting to be had with your loved one. Or you feel like you need to take full ownership of your life and be more proactive. Real change can only take place when you get to the root at the end of the day.
As you begin the challenging yet highly rewarding process of digging deeper, your mindfulness practice, an open mind, and consistent journaling will become your best friends—helping you improve your sleep and consequently the quality of your life, one day at a time.
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