When was the last time your head hit the pillow, and you moved effortlessly to a sleep so profound you failed to remember your dreams? Me neither, apart from last night, so I’ve resolved to Do Better and read up on how to best have the kind of sleep that is restorative and refreshing. My normal night goes something like this:
– about 10,45, close the laptop, clean teeth, PJs on, go to bed, look at Instagram and Pinterest (don’t hate on me too much, at least they’re calming)
– on the third occasion after the phone hits me on the nose (way short sighted, so it’s always close), finally give in and snuggle down for sleep
– wake, usually between 1-2am, for the loo. Because I’ve downed a litre of water in the hour before bed, conscious that I haven’t had enough during the day
– try to get back to sleep. On a good night, that’s instantaneous. On a bad night, husband is still up, and tries to have a chat with me because I’m awake. That’ll wake me up properly.
– snuggle down again. Sleep fitfully. Get woken up by the beautiful and lovely birds, who are serenading from about 4.30am.
– go downstairs to my study. Sit on the sofa for a bit, contemplating what I need to do. Lie down. Sleep for another 40 minutes or so.
When I look at my Fitbit sleep records, they’re full of those telltale red stripes that say it’s been a pants night on the pillow. I don’t seem to have much problem falling asleep; it’s the staying asleep that’s a challenge.
It’s not just you…Or me
It’s a problem so insidious, that the US even has a National Sleep Foundation where sleep tips are plentiful. They have a whole set of ideas for getting that good night of rest, including
- sticking to a schedule, so you sleep at pretty much the same times each night, weekday or weekend
- having a relaxing bedtime routine
- avoiding naps, especially in the afternoon
- exercising daily
- evaluating your room,especially for light, noises or other distractions
- having a comfortable mattress and pillows
The Foundation recommends a sleep time of 7-9 hours a night. Looking back at my Fitbit (which I think is pretty accurate), I’ve managed weekly averages of between 5:50 and 7:11, but I’m mostly clocking in at around 6 hours average a night. The nights when I’ve managed just 4 hours, I’ve felt pretty pants afterwards.
So I’ve been thinking about what made last night different
For starters, I ate well. My Fitness Pal nutrition data revealed I absolutely rocked my vitamins (that’s pretty much the norm these days), but I also had enough protein (which isn’t my norm). And I ate reasonably early (7ish) which seems to be a contributor to a good night for me. Less effort for the body to make while I’m flat out. I also drank well: plenty of water, and consistently throughout the day. Not too much coffee.
Then there’s exercise. I did my 10k steps. That’s unusual in a day where I’m volunteering, as I have to sit all day, and there’s very little movement from 10am to 5pm. Certainly no time to get out at lunchtime and walk around.
But when we finished, instead of going straight home via the nearby train station, I went wandering around the city for a while, meaning my Fitbit did its happy celebration while I was still browsing in TK Maxx. And I put in 20 minutes on the exercise bike before and after my day out. Not only was I full of endorphins, but I was actually physically tired. That helps a lot.
Body and soul
Thirdly, mental calm. It’s challenging, the volunteering I do. Plenty of concentration, lots of focus, some difficult decisions. So my brain got some exercise. The afternoon was troubling. So I walked off some of my agitation. I then bent husband’s ear about the bits that I could share. That helped too. So I went to bed calm.
Fourthly, tech and devices. I work from home, for myself. So there’s no real boundary between home and work life unless I impose it. And I’m really bad at that. Really, really bad at that. I’ll often be at my desk before 6am, and sometimes still there at 11pm. With breaks, of course – I’m not that much of a machine.
But the earlies and lates connected to some device or other are known to be bad for you. And my usual habit of falling asleep reading things on my phone, and usually turning the light out when I’ve knocked myself on the nose with my phone while reading, has got to stop. Last night, we watched a bit of junk tv. Then when we came upstairs, I – shock and horror – listened to my body, and instead of cranking up the laptop, washed, got into my PJs and went straight up to bed at 10.30. Where I fell asleep, according to the Fitbit, at 2307 and slept until 0648. That’s a stunner.
There’s a term for a lot of the things above that worked well: sleep hygiene. The article linked also flags up some things I hadn’t considered, such as maximsing your light exposure during the day and minimising it at night, helping melatonin production. and keeping your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
Here’s your checklist
|Get your exercise in during the morning, afternoon and early evening, preferably more than three hours before bedtime
Get plenty of light, whether by going outside or sitting by a big window
Eat well, hydrate properly, and keep caffeinated drinks to sensible levels
|Quiet your mind. Eliminate distractions and worries as best you can, whether chatting to someone supportive, or writing your list of things to do tomorrow
Wind down, get yourself in the chill zone – maybe have a night time routine and use relaxation techniques
Yoga and stretching can promote sleep
Don’t watch, read, eat or drink anything too stimulating
|Keep pretty regular bedtimes and getting up times, whether during the week or at weekends
Keep your bedroom cool, calm and quiet
Make sure your bed and bedding are doing their stuff, and are comfortable
Learn how to get yourself back to sleep again by not over thinking, relaxation exercises, slow and mindful breathing
If you need to get up, keep the lights dim
So, I’m going in with some new efforts to up my sleep. It sounds pretty simple. Eat well. Get the exercise in. Work more sensible hours. Don’t try and sleep with worries on your mind. Chill before bed. Not exactly difficult is it? Wish me luck. And sleep well.
Techniques to try
Soothing bedtime rituals
- Write down things to do tomorrow, and let them go
- Gratitude journal
- A warm bath, with relaxing bubbles, and a bit of pampering
- Audio books
- A relaxing hobby
- Stretching or yoga
- Dim the lights
- Listen to some calming music
May the sheep be with you.