Do you have trouble falling asleep when you hit the pillow because your mind is running 100 miles per hour going over various things that have happened throughout the day and recounting what you’ve got to do the next day?
Do you feel like you can’t start the day before you’ve had your caffeine kick for that much-needed boost of energy so you can get on with your day?
I hear you!
In the last couple of years in my banking days, I used to regularly wake up feeling like a zombie. I felt like I couldn’t start my day without cradling my morning cup of coffee in my hands.
A Key Pillar To Being At Your Best
When I started my own business, I knew I had to be at my best throughout the day, every day, so that my business and I can thrive.
As I was researching and trying out different methods about being on top form, it became more and more apparent that one of the key pillars to being at your best was about getting sufficient, good quality sleep.
Even so, people often sacrifice sleep in order to get more things done, believing that if they sleep fewer hours, they will have more time to get through more of their endless to-do lists. While theoretically, that may make sense, it’s not necessarily true.
Consequences of insufficient sleep
Getting inadequate and poor quality sleep has its short and long-term negative consequences, for instance:
✓ You feel exhausted, so you end up doing things at a slower pace and your productivity slows down.
✓ It makes your attention falter, so you get easily distracted and perhaps you’re more likely to make errors. While if you’re with your loved ones, you’re probably not truly present and making the most out of those precious moments with them.
✓ Your memory gets impaired in the long run and you’ll find it more difficult to remember information.
✓ Your ability to think through problems clearly and quickly gets challenged.
✓ The insulin that regulates your metabolism is turned upside down, which increases the likelihood of you opting for unhealthier foods and also your appetite increases, so as a result, you’re more likely to gain undesired weight.
✓ You’re probably getting crankier and not so tolerant towards others and your relationships with colleagues, friends or family members may suffer.
✓ If the above wasn’t enough, it’s actually toxic for the connections in your brain cells.
Dr Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, highlights that the majority of adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep for those toxins to get cleaned up and for body systems to function well.
While you sleep, the active neurons in your brain not only get to rest but more critically during that time the glial cells clean up the toxins created during your awake hours.
Only around 5% of people need fewer hours to clean up those toxins. This means that by not getting the amount of sleep you need, those toxins remain in your body.
In the UK alone, one in three people suffer from insomnia and other sleep-related problems. A staggering statistic!
There are a lot of different factors that affect our sleep and there is plenty of advice about coping with it all. So, I want to share with you what I’ve found to be most effective and helpful for me over the past couple of years.
From Active to Sleepy
Before we dive into the tips, it’s important to understand that your brain needs time to go from an active state to a sleepy state. During our normal awake hours, when we’re active, alert, and engaged in a mental activity, we operate at a relatively fast frequency (12-38Hz) brainwaves called Beta. The brainwaves that occur when we’re in deep sleep are called Theta and are much slower (3-8 Hz).
Under normal circumstances, it usually takes about an hour or two for the brainwaves at which we operate to slow down from Beta to Theta.
This is why it’s so important to facilitate this process by establishing an appropriate evening routine. Having an evening routine also sends your brain signals that you’re now preparing to go to bed and sleep.
10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Any sleep expert is likely to tell you that the key to getting a good night’s rest is having consistency (as much as possible).
Aim to go to bed around the same time with no more than 30 minutes leeway, even at weekends.
Start winding down and switching off from work at least 2-3 hours before you want to hit the pillow.
Stop staring at any gadgets with an LED screen (such as mobile phones, TV, tablets, laptops) an hour before you go to bed. The blue light emitted from LED screens is similar to sunlight and it sends signals to your brain not to release melatonin, the sleep hormone, because it’s still daytime.
Keep off social media and emails – LED light aside, if you’re scrolling through your social media feed or emails, your brain is constantly making decisions about whether or not to pay attention to the information presented and then it needs to decide what to do with the data. Effectively, this means that you’re not allowing your brain to slow down the pace at which it operates and you’re keeping it at Beta.
Give journaling a go. Write about what went well during the day and celebrate your wins. You can also reflect on any insights you gained during the day and how you can improve going forward. I suggest doing the latter with a big dose of self-compassion. Journaling is fabulous at taming the mind chatter.
Enjoy listening to relaxing music, which is thought to calm down our stress hormone, noradrenaline. This eases our night-time vigilance and allows us to doze off.
Mind your pillow talk. Heavy conversations, major decision-making or planning, or work-related talk with your other half are perfect ingredients for keeping you both awake throughout the night. These are best kept for earlier on in the day.
Introduce sleep meditation when you hit the pillow. Here is how to do one of my favourite sleep meditations. Breathe in deeply and breathe out deeply. Repeat at least 3 times. Then, focus your attention on breathing calmness into your toes and, as you breathe out, on releasing any tension from your toes. Repeat this for each part of your body from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. By the time you’re done, you’re likely to be drifting off into a deep sleep.
Count down – Another great way to tame your thoughts is to count slowly from 100 to 0. Yes, backwards 100, 99, 98,… etc. To make this tool even more effective, as you count down, imagine that the numbers are written on a blackboard and you’re wiping them off – from left to right. The latter simulates a hypnotising, sleepy state. If all goes well, you won’t get below 80 or 70 🙂
Inhale beautiful scents that relax the body, clear the head and quieten the mind. Chamomile, Lavender, Jasmine, Bergamot, Rose and Sandalwood are well-known to promote relaxation and snooze time.
Give your brain instructions. Tell yourself something along the lines of “Now is my time to rest, relax and rejuvenate so that I can wake up refreshed and full of energy to get on with my day.” I learnt this golden nugget from my good friend and sleep coach, Beatrix A Schmidt. It may take a few times before you start feeling the effect, but it does work.
What about in times of higher intensity than normal?
You may be thinking “Well this is all well and good on a normal day, but how about in times of high pressure or stress?” And I get it because it happens to me, too. It’s easy for good habits to be thrown out of the window during turbulent times, even if this is probably when we need those healthy habits the most.
I will be honest, when I’m feeling restless and my head is full of all sorts of worries, I don’t feel like straightening up and relaxing doing a sleep meditation, because frankly all I want to do is curl up in the foetus position. I guess the latter gives me a sense of safety and protection from all the worries and problems.
But then again, it’s about remembering and returning to base when we get derailed.
What happens at night affects how you are during the day, and similarly what happens during the day affects how you sleep at night. It can be a vicious circle but one that with some effort we can break or at least ease off.
I’d love to hear what keeps you awake at night? What has helped you improve your sleep patterns? Comment below and let me know.
Love what I’ve shared above? If you want personalised help implementing those tools in a way that works for you, do get in touch and let’s chat!
Photo Credit: BeFunky