In honor of National Sleep Day, here are 21 tips on how to take charge of your sleep environment and routine to help ensure you’ll get a good night’s sleep:
1. Check the bedroom temperature. A cool room temperature brings on sleep and reduces sleep disruption. Make sure the room you sleep in is no warmer than 18°C (60–65°F).
2. Change your mattress/bed. The Sealy/Loughborough University 2016 sleep census found that uncomfortable beds were responsible for reducing sleep time by one hour. Mattress technology has evolved significantly over the last decade. If your bed is eight to ten years old, it is definitely time for a change. Couples tend to sleep better in bigger beds. Consider going up a size if your partner’s movement tends to disturb you in the night.
3. Bedtime wind-down. Set your alarm to start your bedtime routine half an hour before you want to go to sleep. Begin slowing your breathing pace, have a hot bath, drink chamomile tea, listen to soothing music, turn the lights down.
4. Avoid technology. Don’t expect to dash off a few emails then quickly slip into a blissful sleep. Engaging with technology right before bedtime will stimulate cortisol production (the chemical that wakes you up) just when you need to be winding down. It is best to leave your technology outside of the bedroom. If you must have technology near you at all times, it is unwise to have devices close to the bed or to use them before going to bed. It is better for the brain to wind down away from screens for one hour before sleep. Also, eliminate any light from screens and technology. Compelling research from Harvard Medical School shows that blue light emitted from tablets, computers and smart phones used in the evening affects melatonin production and disturbs sleep. Most devices now have orange filters. Make sure you have this switched on, especially if you rely on a smart phone as an alarm and need to set it prior to sleep or check the time during the night.
5. Limit light from outside. Blackout blinds and sleep masks minimise light disturbance. In cities and towns, street lamps tend to create ambient light in bedrooms, which inhibits melatonin production.
6. Stretch before bed. See below for particular stretches that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax you.
7. Exercise during the day. Exercising during the day primes us for sleep. Activities such as walking, running, yoga, Zumba, gardening, dancing and golf all help reset the balance of the nervous system so that the parasympathetic division is ready to kick in as you head to bed.
8. Don’t exercise too late. Vigorous exercise too late in the evening will make it more difficult to get to sleep because you are stimulating the adrenal glands, which continue to pump out adrenalin for a couple of hours or so post-exercise. If you do exert yourself within two hours of sleep because it is the only time you can fit exercise into your schedule, put a tablespoon of Epsom salts in a hot bath to replace magnesium and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to help your muscles relax.
LIFE HACK: Walk more during your day to help you sleep at night. Try to have three meetings walking rather than seated throughout the day. If you don’t work in a corporate environment, get up and walk around the block during your lunch break. Get off the bus or the tube one stop earlier and walk the last part of your journey.
9. Don’t eat too late or too heavily. It takes two to three hours to digest a meal. A heavy meal at 8 or 9pm may interfere with your ability to get to sleep at 10 or 11pm. Eating well in the evening is important, but if you are prone to indigestion, heartburn or reflux or have trouble getting to sleep, consider eating greater quantities at lunchtime and a lighter meal in the evening.
10. Avoid/minimise sugar and alcohol. If you have an excess of sugar or sugar from alcohol in your body as you go to sleep, the adrenals will keep going until it is digested. Then, once digested, the liver sends an alert message to the adrenals saying, ‘Quick! Release more energy!’ At midnight or in the early hours of the morning, cortisol levels rise to meet this energy demand. We need cortisol to wake us up in the morning, but not at 2am! If you do find that sugar and alcohol tend to disrupt your sleep, find other types of evening treats. Dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa) is delicious and stimulates serotonin production and serotonin triggers sleep – but limit yourself to just one or two squares.
11. Party wisely. Even if you sleep flat out after partying and drinking excess alcohol, you will get less REM sleep, which is one reason why the brain feels groggy the next day. If you are a party animal, plan your partying so that you have recovery time. Most people need a day to recover, more as you age.
12. Beware of caffeine. Caffeine interferes with the uptake of adenosine, a chemical that quietens the brain to enable sleep. If you’re a coffee lover, One good- quality coffee in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, is great for brain function. More than that and even if you drop off quickly, it will likely interfere with the quality of your sleep.
13. Sleep naked. Skin-to-skin contact with a sleep partner releases oxytocin – which, if you remember, lowers cortisol levels – so it is in your best interests to sleep naked.
14. Invest in good earplugs. Wax earplugs that mold to the shape of your ear are one of the most important items in my sleep kit, especially helpful in hotel rooms and when working on trains and planes.
15. Manage your/your partner’s snoring. We all know that as we get older muscles lose their firmness. The frequency of snoring also seems to increase with age. This is often due to a looser throat, tongue and facial muscles, which make the soft palate at the back of the mouth fall back, especially when we lie on our back. This large fleshy mass creates sound vibrations as the air passes around it. We are also more likely to snore after an excess of alcohol or taking sleeping pills because both loosen all of the muscles in the face, tongue and throat, which has the same effect as ageing. Nostril-widening tape and sleeping on the side rather than the back often help, as does limiting alcohol/sleep medication intake. Try relaxing through natural means as a potential remedy.
16. Take charge of your thoughts. Sleeplessness can be due to interfering thought patterns caused by or causing cortisol levels to rise, which wakes you up. If you wake in the night with your mind whirring, instruct your mind to ‘STOP’, keep a pen and paper by your bed if you need to jot down any revelations that come to you or actions you need to take.
17. Try to resolve difficulties when they arise. Getting to sleep with problems on your mind or arguments in the air can interfere greatly with quality of sleep. Attempt to resolve as much as you can before sleep; let go of what you can’t change so that you can get some good rest.
18. Release tension and track emotion. If you are lying in bed tightly coiled, with your jaw tense, shoulders pulled in, abdomen squeezed, brow furrowed, your sleep will be of lower quality. Use sequential relaxation and try to let emotions play through you rather than holding them back. Sequential Relaxation: Working sequentially through the different muscle groups of the body, use your out- breath to tense and your in- breath to release. Most people like to breathe out and tense over a count of five, hold for a few moments, then breathe in and release over another count of five. Work through your body as follows:
• Toes, feet, heels and ankles
• Calves, knees and thighs
• Bottom, lower back and lower abdominal muscles
• Middle back and middle abdominal muscles
• Upper back, chest and shoulders
• Arms, hands and fingers
• Head, neck, face and jaw
• Whole body
LIFE HACK: If you don’t sleep well the night before a big event, don’t catastrophise – it happens to us all. If you are well prepared and have been sleeping well in the period prior to the event and have been treating your adrenal glands well by giving them enough rest overall, they will repay you by rising to the challenge. If possible, use paced breathing and find a few minutes – even if in the taxi on the way to the event – to meditate. Then focus on what you are doing, trust yourself and all will go well.
19. Use your breath pattern. Breath pattern and sleep are closely linked. A slower breathing rate imitates sleep and releases acetylcholine; a faster breathing rate imitates wakefulness and releases adrenalin. You will remember that paced breathing covered in the strength section (pp. 60–4) is the bedrock of an improved mental, emotional and physical state, HRV (heart rate variability) and vagal tone. If you are breathing well during the day, restful sleep will come more easily at night. We can Wind-Down Breathing to get to sleep or get us back to sleep if we awaken early.
LIFE HACK: Do you find yourself tossing and turning, semi- or fully awake for no particular reason? Take action. Try one of the following:
• Get out of bed. Lie on the floor and stretch your body, bending forwards and releasing the neck.
• Get up and do something that uses your ‘awake’ brain (provided it doesn’t involve technology), such as reading a book or writing some notes.
• Sit up and meditate deeply. Your brain will thank you.
20. Learn how to do nothing. This is important for true insomniacs as well as restless sleepers and is one of the core principles explained in The Sleep Book by Dr Guy Meadows. He shows you how to accept rest, stop battling sleep and learn to do nothing. Stillness can be a place of great pleasure just for its own sake.
21. Take sleep supplements. These include 5HTP, which balances GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). GABA stimulates production of serotonin, dopamine and theanine, which supports health by promoting alpha brain waves, reducing cortisol build- up and giving you a relaxed, clear head during the day.
About Companies in Motion
There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)