In Part I, I wrote about why sleep is more important than just keeping eye bags at bay. Part II will cover the practical steps you can take to create the best sleep you could ever imagine.
Preparing yourself to get the best sleep is crucial, yet almost always overlooked. Just like anything else, preparation is key.
That being said, let’s take a look at caffeine. Caffeine can last in our bodies for up to 6- 8 hours. So if you are sensitive to any form of stimulant, I suggest you steer away from food containing caffeine at least 8 hours prior to bed time. However, I know people who can drink an entire Starbucks outlet and still sleep like a baby. For those people, this rule might not apply.
Another thing to take note of is activity levels. Roughly 2- 4 hours before bedtime, stop doing any form of intense activity. That means that if you plan on going to bed by 11pm, and prefer working out at night, your workout should end by 9pm at the latest. For those cramming a ton of work into your head, I suggest you stop at least an hour before bedtime. Besides, if you need to cram that much in your head in such a short period of time, you probably won’t be remembering all of them anyway.
Lastly, sleeping with with empty stomach sucks; sleeping bloated sucks as bad. So if you need something to eat, depending on how heavy the meal is, eat 2 hours prior to bedtime just so it doesn’t affect your sleep.
Right before Sleep
An hour before bed, I would suggest that you turn off your electronic devices. That includes your TV, laptop, handphone, tablets, and any other devices that emit blue light. This is because Melatonin is highly sensitive to light and using these devices right before bed makes falling asleep harder.
The next step would be to dim the lights in your room. Try getting an orange incandescent table lamp rather than keeping your fluorescent light on. The orange light does not affect Melatonin secretion as much as blue light does. Installing thick blinds that block out street lights is another thing you should have. As I’ve mentioned, Melatonin is extremely sensitive to light, so making your room as dark as possible should be the goal. I personally sleep with blinds and an eye mask. This is to make sure that whatever happens, darkness will be my ally when it comes to sleep.
Another thing to do is a brain dump. This simply means writing down all your worries, tasks or anything that is on your mind on a piece of paper. This will help clear your head and prevent you from tossing and turning around in bed thinking what colour underwear you should wear tomorrow.
Lastly, make sure that your room is cool enough as a high room temperature causes disturbance in sleep. I personally sleep with 20°C
Hitting the snooze button is probably the worst thing you could do. Once your alarm rings, immediately draw your curtains and blinds to let the sun in. Sunlight is our body’s natural alarm and exposing yourself to it quickly will help prevent you from going back to asleep.
Also, if you sleep in an air-conditioned room, immediately turn it off and let the temperature rise again. This works well with the rise in your body temperature and helps you to get ready to dominate the day quicker.
Waking up can be the hardest task and besides these tips I’ve given, you just need to force yourself out of bed!
Tools to help you sleep better
I know some of us are busy people and have to use our phones and electronic devices. There are times when I face the same problem too. Here are some tools to help you sleep better and there are some for your phones as well!
- F.lux: This is a software for computers which adjusts the lighting of your computer screen. When the sun starts to set, F.lux will switch your computer lighting from the standard bright white screen to a slightly dimmer orange screen. This concept is similar to dimming your lights in the room which will reduce Melatonin suppression.
- Lux: This is the mobile version of Flux and is available for both Android and Apple products. I personally have Flux installed on my computer and lux installed on both my Android devices. There is one caveat though, for Apple fans, you need to jailbreak your device in order to install it.
- Eye mask: Simple tool you can use to block light.
- Cold Showers: A cold shower 30-40 minutes before bed helps calm the nervous system down prepares you for bed. Some people have told me that warm showers work better and if it does, by all means use a warm shower instead
- Sleep time: Sleep time is an app that is available on both Android and Apple for free. It uses the motion sensor in your smart phone to track how much rest you actually get. Place it beside you when you sleep and it will get the job done. When we are in deep sleep (REM), our bodies are in paralysis. Because of that, the motion sensor will not be able to detect movement and will record this as deep sleep. This means you will be able to know how well you sleep throughout the night. Besides the ability to track deep sleep, it sets a 30-minute time frame for you to wake up. What this means is that if you want to wake up at 8am, the app will start to wake you up in between 7.30am and 8.00am.During this 30 minute period, whenever you move the most (lightest phase of sleep) the alarm will go off. This will make sure that you are not woken up while you are in deep sleep which might make you feel groggy when you wake up.
- Flight mode: Put your phone on flight mode. It cuts out signals from your phone and you don’t want that annoying ex of yours to bug you in the middle of the night.
How long should I sleep?
I am a proponent of sleeping a minimum of 7 hours; 8 hours would be optimal though. This means 8 hours of sleep and not 8 hours from when you lie down till you wake up. So unless you have the ability to magically fall asleep instantly, I suggest that you give yourself an additional 20 minutes to fall asleep. if you are a hard training athlete, you could benefit from more sleep and 9 hours might just do the trick.
There are benefits to sleeping early. Sleeping when the sun is still down ensures that melatonin secretion is present. However if you sleep 4 hours before the sun rises, despite getting 8 hours of sleep, you are only getting 4 hours of Melatonin secretion. So the person who sleeps at 10.30pm and wakes up 6am will have better rest than someone who sleeps at 3am and wakes up at 11am despite the latter having more sleep time. This is true because ever since I came to Australia, I’ve been sleeping for 7 hours on weekdays (9.30pm- 4.45am) but I’ve never been low on energy. Sleeping late nights is definitely something I would not recommend and I’ve never been a fan of burning the midnight oil. If you are still looking for the best time to sleep, I would say have at least 6 hours of sleep when the sun is down. Now you do the math.
We all face problems when we go to bed. Here I’ll just list some common problems people face and hopefully it will be able to help you solve your problems
Difficulty falling asleep
Sleeping difficulty could probably arise from a lot of issues. However , I find that the best way to overcome tossing and turning is to create a sleep routine. Prior to bed, establish certain things that you can do to help you sleep. By establishing a routine, your body will know that when it is time to start relaxing and hence it will help you fall asleep quicker.
My sleep routine looks something like this:
- Turn off/enable flight mode on electronic devices minimum 45 minutes before bed.
- Perform a brain dump and write down to-do list.
- Dim the lights 30 minutes before bed.
- Read a book that doesn’t excite me with killer plots and twists.
- Go to bed.
- Wake up and feel like a million bucks.
Now this is just a sample. You can follow it or establish a routine of your own. Trust me, I am normally not a fan of routine, but this works like a charm.
To fix the problem of lights affecting your sleep, try installing thicker blinds to prevent streetlights from shining into your room and if it doesn’t bother you, use an eye mask.
We all have may have shitty neighbours, noisy house mates or even a partner who might snore or move around in bed so much that it disturbs our sleep. This is by far one of the most difficult problem to deal with since people might not bother being considerate. The solution is simple, tell your noisy neighbours or house mate to shut the heck up! As for your partner, if he or she is making too much noise in bed, it’s highly likely that they are probably not having a sound sleep. If that’s the case, ask them to read this blog post and you both can sleep happily ever after.
I am in no way a medical doctor and treating insomnia is not my forte. However, if you tried all the steps above to help you relax and they don’t work, try taking some magnesium. People who are lacking in magnesium usually find it hard to sleep and a supplement might just help. Also a Melatonin supplement can help too. These supplements are natural. If that doesn’t work, consult your doctor.
That’s it for Part II and I hope you found it helpful. These are all the tools I’ve been using to help me sleep better. So I hope that by implementing some of these ideas, you can orchestrate the best sleep of your life! Stay tuned for part III where I will cover everything you can possibly imagine about napping. Trust me, it has been an important part of my life which has helped me perform optimally. In the meantime, try some of these ideas and let me know how it goes.
If you have any other sleeping tips, do share!