Do you while away hours in bed or feel like it’s a waste of your life? I used to be firmly in the latter camp – but now I’m in no (wo)man’s land where I’d kill to be able to lounge in bed. However, I have kids so even the idea that I could sleep for success feels like a pipe dream for now. B.C. (before children!) I used to feel like I was fine on the bare minimum of sleep, and indeed wouldn’t have wasted a second longer in bed than I absolutely had to. Staying up late was easy – now 9pm is a challenge.
Can you remember the last time you pulled an all-nighter?
Work party, new-born or submitting your dissertation – chances are you felt shocking the next day. We all know that sleep is vital to our health. Jeff Mann at Sleepjunkies.com asks us to imagine being forced to stay up for a whole week, without any food, chained by the wrists and ankles, wearing only a black hood and a nappy, whilst being sexually humiliated, threatened and made to listen to kids TV themes 24/7 at deafening volumes. He states that up until 2009, this was standard practice by the US military, a perfectly legal and ‘humane’ way to interrogate prisoners. Yikes! (Although I’m already partially suffering this with the kid’s TV themes I’m sure).
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but sleep deprivation impairs our cognitive abilities and hugely affects our emotional state.
Lack of sleep lowers our body’s defences putting us at risk of chronic illnesses and it affects our balance, coordination and decision-making abilities. The NHS say that regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes and it shortens your life expectancy. According to Harvard, studies show that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15 percent. It’s clear that sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life.
It is also directly linked to depression, but this is more to do with the type of sleep you get. Depressed people almost always spend a whole heap of their sleep time dreaming some crazy, vivid dreams. There’s another article about this here.
So, how do you sleep for success?
Your sleep hygiene is so important – and getting into a routine can be a great part of that. If you do have children, you’ll likely recognise the importance of structure – but I bet you don’t apply it to your own life! I know it’s often not practical and sometimes not even doable to stick to a routine but it will keep you more mentally alert, more productive, less emotionally led and more competent at making decisions.
Here are my 5 sure-fire sleep inducers.
Switch off screens half an hour before bed.
The scientific reason behind this is that screens emit blue light, which prevents melatonin being produced. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone that is produced when it starts getting dark in tune with your body’s natural rhythm. Stopping this being produced means that your body isn’t ready for sleep. If you’re stopping your body from knowing that it’s bed time you’re doing yourself a hell of a disservice!
Have a milky drink before bed.
As part of your sleep routine, have a cup of warm milk, or something like Ovaltine or Horlicks. Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help you to sleep. We also have an association with warm milk and sleep from being babies, which is a helpful reinforcement.
Sleep in the dark and quiet where you can.
Try to minimise noise, light, and temperature extremes during sleep with ear plugs, blackout blinds, and an electric blanket or air conditioner. Even the slightest night time noises or lights can, in theory, disrupt the quality of your sleep. Try to keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
Do a brain dump.
If I’m struggling to switch off I often grab a pen and paper and do a ‘brain dump’ where I write down all the things that are going around my head. Keep a pen & paper next to your bed as it can be helpful to do it again if you wake up in the night too! Doing your 3 MIT’s (read the blog here) can also help reduce the ruminating thoughts that are swirling around your brain!
Use the blackboard technique.
Man, I HATE this technique – but it’s so effective. I literally try everything until I decide OK, I’ll just do the bloody blackboard – and then I’m asleep by number 94! Next time you can’t sleep, or switch off at night try imagining a very large blackboard in front of you. It’s so big you have to stretch to reach the top and bend down to reach the bottom. You have chalk in one hand and the eraser in the other. Your task is to imagine writing the number 100 on the blackboard as large as you can; really fill the board – stretch up and reach down. Then you must wipe away the number with the eraser. Do this slowly, making sure that all the chalk is removed from the blackboard.
Your next task is to write the number 99 on the blackboard which you must then also erase. This continues counting down without interruption until you fall asleep or reach zero when the task begins again. Now note – it’s perfectly normal for your mind to fight you and wander off. Your job as soon as you notice that it has is to gently and firmly pull it back to the last number that you can remember writing, and just continue. You’re not ‘doing it wrong’ if your mind wanders – it’s perfectly natural.
The theory is that when your mind becomes focused on a repetitive action, it becomes bored, loses interest and settles down. It’s scientifically impossible to think two thoughts at once so the repeating numbers and images effectively crowd out any other disruptive thoughts. Also, behind your closed eyelids your eyes will follow the chalk on the imaginary blackboard mimicking the rapid eye movement observed in dreamers. The brain is a quick learner: if you repeatedly use the blackboard technique, the response will become quicker and stronger as a new brain pathway is established. Also – it’s bloody boring as hell. You will fall asleep from lack of stimulation if nothing else!!!!!
Give these a go.
If sleep is something that you know that you struggle with, decide to do something about it. Don’t choose to passively accept it. Let us know over on our FB page if you have some more hints and tips for getting a good night’s kip, or tell us how you’ve found implementing these tips worked for you. You can also sign up to our newsletter here and be the first to know about our latest blogs, offers, courses and resources.
Night night, sleep tight!