We all know that a good night’s sleep is important to overall health and wellbeing. Of course, most of us don’t realize just how important it is until we’re suddenly deprived of it (like, say, when a new baby shows up).
As a health-conscious family, we like to make sure we eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and drink enough water. The one thing we need to be more aware of is our sleep. Regular, consistent sleep is a great way to keep up energy and stay focused. It also reduces stress, helps with weight loss, and generally improves everything else about the way the body functions.
Babies and professional bodybuilders can sleep as much as 14 hours or more every day (including naps). For the rest of us, a solid seven to eight hours at night is usually sufficient. Here are our top five tips to help you get a great night’s sleep, and reap the rewards of being well-rested.
Wake Up Early
You read that right. Waking up earlier is the most effective and productive use of your time you can imagine. There’s nothing better than getting up before dawn and getting yourself mentally and physically prepared for a long day ahead.
This is especially true if you can do it before the kids get up!
There’s a curious thing that happens to us when we start getting up earlier. You might not have realized it, but you are actually trained to get up at about the same time every morning. So, if you’re used to getting up at 8, your body will naturally try to wake up at 8 regardless of what time you went to sleep.
That, in a nutshell, is why people are chronically fatigued. They stay up late, but get up at the same time every day. Plan to shift your wake-up time to an earlier schedule, and you’ll actually start getting a better night’s sleep. Here’s why…
Go To Bed Early
When you wake up early, you’re going to be a bit more tired when evening rolls around. Assuming you’ve got everything done that needs doing in the evening hours, and the kids are all tucked in, bump your bedtime back.
Because of the earlier wake up time, you’ll be in a more tired state, and should have no trouble getting to sleep.
With an earlier bedtime, you can start taking control of your actual sleep schedule, and get yourself back on track.
Think about it: if you get up at 6 instead of your customary 8, what does that mean for bedtime?
Well, eight hours before 8 a.m. would be 12 a.m.. That’s not too shabby for a grown up. But do you really get up at 8? Probably not. You’re probably getting up at 6 or earlier (if you’re like 90% of the commuting population — or have a baby). So, eight hours before 6 a.m. would be 10 p.m.. Even that’s not too bad for an average adult.
If you get up at 5, eight hours would be 9 p.m. for bedtime.
This is a reset here. Remember, start by getting up earlier, then go to bed when you start getting tired.
Hey, if you can sleep train a baby, you should be able to sleep train yourself, right?
Cut the Caffeine
It doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to figure out that drinking a double espresso right before bed is probably going to keep you up. But you might not be aware that even a single cup of coffee can have lingering stimulant effects for several hours after consumption. And when you have multiple cups, that effect can snowball.
Most experts suggest you limit caffeine intake as much as possible. Caffeine is present in all sorts of things: coffee, tea, energy drinks, pre-workout drinks, chocolate, soda, iced tea, and anything labelled “mocha.”
Yes, even your green tea supplement capsules contain caffeine.
So what’s a good limit? Those same experts suggest stopping all caffeinated beverages and foods before 3:00 p.m., in order to give the effects time to wear of by bedtime. Most of us are addicted to stimulants, and while it’s OK to use caffeine as an energy-booster from time to time; including right before a workout; we can and do become dependent on it.
Limit your consumption to 2-3 cups a day, and stop after 3 p.m.. You’ll find this, combined with a good night’s sleep, will produce just as much energy without the crash or the tossing and turning.
Ditch the Screens
Because we live a digital lifestyle, it’s a constant struggle to give up our screens. FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is a genuine form of anxiety that makes it really difficult to put down the phone or switch off the computer, even on our way to bed.
Unfortunately, the blue light emitted by modern LCD screens is particularly bad for your eyes and your brain waves, and with the latter can be very disruptive to sleep. The key is to let your eyes and head recover as long as possible before trying to sleep.
We start with an Android app called Bluelight Filter for our phones, and a laptop plugin called f.lux. Both can be set to various intensities and schedules. f.lux actually keys to the sunrise and sunset based on your geography, so it’s a no-brainer to use.
The next step is to make it a rule to turn off all screens an hour before you go to bed. This can be difficult, because we’re all so plugged in all the time. But what’s going on in that hour before bed that you’re worried you’ll miss out on?
Our philosophy: if it’s a work-related issue and the client demands your attention while your brushing your teeth, fire that client. It’s your time, not theirs.
Have a Ritual
Having an amazing morning ritual is the most important thing you can do to create a perfect, productive day. But so few of us take the time to establish a bedtime ritual.
Yes, we tend to do the same thing every night. Snack. Watch our favourite show. Probably fall asleep watching TV. Drag our butt to the bedroom to change. Brush our teeth. Climb into bed. Check Facebook for another 20 minutes (or two hours, depending on the vortex you get into).
Yeah…not good. None of that prepares your body and mind for the act of actually falling asleep.
If you’ve ever read up on sleep training for an infant, you’ll know that establishing a calming and consistent bedtime routine is vital to a successful and restful sleep. Well, just like babies, we need to get into the sleep zone before actually trying to force ourselves there.
So what’s different between habits and a ritual? A habit is just something you do, going through the motions just like every time before. A ritual is more mindful. It’s an intentional series of steps you follow with the intention of creating consistency and movement toward the effect you’re looking for: in this case, sleep.
Consider this as a basic bedtime ritual. Even try it for a week. Then make adjustments to the way you want to be.
Let’s say you want to be asleep by 10 p.m. (just for a week — aim for a 5 a.m. wakeup time).
- At 3 p.m., stop all caffeine and stimulants. Avoid sugar and alcohol as well.
- At 9 p.m., turn off all screens. Get into your pajamas. Do your bedtime routine (i.e., wash your face, moisturize, brush your teeth, etc.).
- By 9:15 p.m., you should be writing something down. This can be your gratitude for the day, or your priority list for the morning, or even an idea you had while brushing your teeth. Whatever it is, dump it from your mind and set it aside. Your brain should be clear when going to sleep.
- At 9:30 p.m., pick up a book and start reading. Give yourself 30 minutes. Reading in bed is OK, but if you’re not quite ready for that, read in a chair with decent light. Someplace comfortable. The book you read should be fiction, not educational — this is the one time you need your mind to escape to someone else’s narrative for a while, and you don’t need to think about what you’ve learned.
- At 10:00 p.m., turn out the lights, close your eyes, and just repeat in your mind, “I’m so ready for a good night’s sleep. I deserve this. And I can’t wait to start tomorrow well rested and fully refreshed.”