We hear it all the time. If not from a Dr, podcast, book or concerned friend you’ll have at least heard it from your Mum. It’s advice that’s given so often throughout our lives, that the words have lost all meaning. We forget how important sleep really is.
Sleep more. Yeah, sure. Once I get this project done. Once I get my exercise routine back up and running. Once my kids are 18 and leave the house. We’ve always got a million excuses to sleep less and do more. There’s some sort of idea that we’ll catch up with sleep later in life.
The problem is, our health is dependant on us sleeping well regularly. The more consistent our sleep, the better our health.
It took me a really long time to truly understand the importance of sleep in my life.
When I was 14 through to early 20’s, my sleep got progressively worse. I didn’t value it much and it showed. I got between 5-6 hours for most of my teenage years and by the time I was 19, I was getting 1-3 hours a night. That is, unless I drank enough to knock me out for longer.
This went on for about a decade. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I began to appreciate that sleep was important. I tried to get into a sleep routine and it helped. I went back up to about 4-6 hours a night. I thought this was great (In my defence, I didn’t know any different. Anything more than 1-3 hours would have felt great).
It was another 5 years before I made a change which transformed the way I view sleep completely. I quit caffeine.
Quitting caffeine wasn’t some long-term thing I planned to do. It was more of an experiment. I had noticed my energy levels dipping all over the place and I wanted to create some stability. I thought I’d try cutting caffeine. Within a matter of days I jumped to 8-9 hours of sleep a night for the first time in my life.
I need to admit, it didn’t feel great throughout some of this transition. No matter how much I slept, I wanted more. I felt sleepy a lot. But my poor body was just crying for the sleep it had always needed. After a couple months of adjustment, 8 hours of sleep became my norm and I felt like a new person.
So why is my sleep story important? I want people to see the overview of sleep in my life and how it’s impacted everything else.
When I was getting 1-4 hours of sleep a night, I was suffering severely with depression. I drank lots and I made horrible life choices. I didn’t take care of myself or my relationships. I felt lost.
When I transitioned to 5-6 hours of sleep a night, I felt “great”. I thought I had sussed out this sleep thing and my health was generally better. I began exercising and eating better. I made better choices for my life. I felt like life was more fun.
When I transitioned to 8 hours of sleep a night, my life changed. A lot of my healthier life choices began to fall into place. I started earning more money at work. I started building the best relationships of my life, including with family members. I began prioritising my health. I felt more fulfilled than I ever had before. I began to make choices which changed my life into new and exciting ways. I began to handle emotions and stress in a way that I never thought possible. I was not dictated to by the world around me. I found peace within myself.
My health and wellbeing has been a slow transition over many years. There are so many things that I have changed in my life and it’s not all down to better sleep. But, if I could contribute my benefits to one thing, sleep is at the top of that list. Sleep gave me the energy to pursue a life I wanted. Sleep gave me the clarity to make better decisions every day of my life. Sleep gave me the foundation for prioritising my wellbeing and health.
When your Mum or your concerned friend or your Dr says those little words “sleep more”, don’t disregard them. Don’t belittle them. Think about the chain reaction that good sleep could make in your life. Sleep is more valuable than any workout, any messaging with friends, any project, any career pursuits. If you get the sleep you need, you will be more productive with the time you have in your day and you will find the right answers for so many other areas in your life.
So, here are my Top Tips for getting more sleep in your life:
1. Prioritise sleep. Actually make a conscious decision to say that sleep is more important than whatever else it is that’s been keeping you from sleep (your newest Netflix binge, what people half way across the world are sharing on Instagram, your late-night catch-up sessions for work emails, that extra early wake-up call for a jog). Whatever it is that you’ve unconsciously prioritised over your sleep, question it. Talk about it with a friend. Meditate on it. Journal about it. Give it your full attention and figure out why you need to put sleep first.
2. Set bedtime hours. Working backwards from what time you want to be awake in the morning, set a bedtime for at least 8 hours before. You may not sleep this whole time to begin with and that’s OK. Setting yourself up for consistency is one of the best ways you’ll improve your chances of regularly getting good sleep. I like to be awake early so I have an extra early bedtime. I’ve learnt from experience that it doesn’t matter how late I go to bed, I’ll wake up at my natural early wake-up time. The only way to get the sleep in is to account for that. We’ve all got our own rhythms. Pay attention to yours and work with it.
3. Low light before bed. Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm and can impact our sleep. LED lights have a constant flicker that is so quick we’re not conscious of it. Despite this fact, it’s damaging our eyes and disrupting our wellbeing. Try to use natural light throughout the day as much as possible. When using light, opt for incandescent or halogen lightbulbs. When it gets closer to bedtime, try and eliminate brighter lights and set your room to low light. Candles are a great option for natural and low light.
4. Eliminate blue light before bed. As above, light has a huge impact on our sleep patterns. Blue light mimics sunlight which can confuse our receptors in the evening. When you play on your phone, watch TV or work on your laptop late at night, you are sending signals to your brain that it’s the middle of the day. You’ll stop producing melatonin which is the hormone that normally signals you to be ready for sleep. If you really can’t eliminate the use of these devices before bed, invest in some glasses which eliminate blue light. They are proven to help with sleep.
5. Limit eating right before sleep. Everyone is different. For some people, eating before bed may cause no changes to their sleep. If this is the case, then feel free to continue to eat before bed but make sure it’s light and healthy. We’re designed to rest in the night. This includes our organs. Our stomach needs rest and recovery time. Having a healthy stomach and microbiome has a huge impact on our hormones and our mood. Take care of it. Notice if you can’t fall asleep or if you’re waking up in the middle of the night. Observe whether it’s linked to late-night eating and listen to your body’s signals.
6. Try a night time tea. There are so many night time teas with a variety of herbs. Something with Chamomile is a great place to start. Pukka’s Night Time or Twining’s Sleep are my two favourites. They are sweet and calming. Chamomile has an antioxidant called apigenin which promotes sleepiness in the brain. Parsley also contains high levels of apigenin. Whilst studies are inconclusive with regards to the improvement of sleep, Chamomile has been proven to help with anxiety. This can also improve sleep.
7. Cut out caffeine. OK, before you stop reading, hear me out. If someone told me to cut caffeine, I would have told them where to stick it. But it wasn’t until I trialled it as a random experiment that I discovered the incredible benefits of cutting caffeine. After HUGE improvements in just a matter of days, I had no reason or motivation to go back to caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which disrupts your sleep. It blocks adenosine receptors which are sleep-promoting chemicals that work throughout the day to encourage sleepiness for the evening. Try cutting back. Have less caffeine throughout the day. Try to limit caffeine to mornings only or try cutting it out all together.
8. Meditate. I found that when I meditate, my sleep is vastly improved. I also find I dream more vividly. I meditate in the morning and this still has a huge impact on my sleep. You may want to try meditating in the morning or just before bed. Whatever the habit, meditation is great for calming the mind and body.
9. Read or journal. Instead of playing on your phone or watching TV, try reading or journaling before bed. These can be very calming hobbies. They can help us de-stress and unwind after a long day. Cultivate the perfect state of mind before bed.
10. Take a bath. It’s been proven that a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed will help lower your body temperature which is what is required for the best night’s sleep. Your body temperature naturally decreases before sleep and rises in the morning.
11. Keep hands and feet warm. Similar to the above, your body temperature is key to a good night’s sleep. Over the years, I found that having my hands and feet warm is the quickest way for me to fall asleep. If I’ve been outside, I may use a hotwater bottle to ensure I get them nice and warm before sleep. I didn’t really understand why this was until reading that the core of our body needs to cool down in order to sleep. Our body naturally moves our warmth from the core of our body to our limbs. I guess by warming my hands and feet, I’m mimicking a natural process that my body has for sleep.
12. Set a bedtime routine. When you’re first trying to improve your sleep, consistency is key. Get your ideal bedtime sorted and then try a combination of the above things before sleep to help create a routine. Trial different things. We’re all unique and respond to things differently. The key is finding what works for you.
Sweet dreams everyone.