Volume two: Your daily habits effect your sleep
[ How the timing of activities effects sleep || What to do in the morning to help you sleep at night || Eating well for sleep || Body and mind practices to help with sleep ]
Your comprehensive guide to a better nights sleep with advice on how to sleep better if you have insomnia with trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
This series is in four volumes that compliment each other.
Volume one: ‘Your sleep environment effects your sleep’ covers how to maximise the benefits of where you sleep.
Volume two: ‘Your daily habits effect your sleep’ covers what you do outside of sleep that can impact your sleep quality.
Volume three: ‘Getting help with your sleep’ covers getting help, supplements and alternative methods.
Volume four: ‘Your better sleep action plan’ takes a few basic idea’s and sets you the goal of doing them.
*Please talk to your medical professional if sleep is a major cause of interruption to your life. This is not a replacement for such advice but rather a list of added methods and idea’s for you to add to your knowledge to help improve your sleep.*
Volume two: Your daily habits effect your sleep
What you do during the day will have a surprisingly significant effect on how you sleep at night. From how you deal with stress to what you spend your time doing in the hours leading up to bedtime.., your habits will either help you sleep or make it harder.
In this volume we will cover what you can do at the point of behaviour to improve the quality and quantity of sleep.
How the timing of activities effects sleep.
Our minds and bodies are governed by an internal body clock called the circadian rhythm that operates on a 24 hour cycle. This cycle may be primarily affected by the changes in light and darkness as discussed in volume one, but that is not where the subject of timing and sleep ends.
There are three most influential factors in a quality nights sleep according to most experts. Total darkness, a coolish bedroom temperature, and the first subject of this volume in the better sleep series.., timing of going to bed and getting up!
We are creatures of habit and we get used to doing things the same way as a means to streamline our lives.
Most people forget that when planning the times they sleep though, and this is one area that if you get right will help massively.
Consistent sleep times
Sure we all have nights where we are busy and end up going to bed late, but as much as possible try to aim for the same bedtime and wake up time every day including weekends.
Obviously for shift workers who have a changing rota this is difficult. But you can still make adjustments based on this and other points in this article on timings and habits. Creating a common timing for going to bed will teach your body and mind that this is sleep time and you will begin to feel sleepy as that time approaches.
Chemically, there is a spike in melatonin (the sleep hormone) at around 10pm in a normal 24 hour cycle so aim for close to that time to take advantage of that.
Our sleep patterns have a regular cycle period throughout the night also. We alternate between various brainwave states of more or less arousal in a cyclic manner that lasts about 90 minutes each time.
Experts agree that on average we should get about 7-9 hours of sleep a day. So ideally if you take that 90 minute cycle into consideration then either 7.5 hours or 9 hours would fit nicely with ending your nights sleep at a natural arousal point of that 90 minute cycle. Waking up naturally without an alarm clock is the best way to find your ideal amount of sleep.
When it’s time to sleep, leave everything else
Leave your phone away from the bed and preferably either off, or in flight mode. Better still, if you want to be available in an emergency.., most phones have a timed ‘do not disturb’ mode that will automatically turn sounds and vibrations off. This mode will still let through a call if someone calls more than once in a certain period of time. A clever feature worth using.
Leave what is for tomorrow till tomorrow. This can be challenging when tasks are ongoing but it is vital to be able to switch off for the sake of reducing stress and anxiety. Finish tasks rather than jumping from one to another. If you can finish one thing rather than part finishing multiple things then go for finishing one thing. This is about switching off and making the end of your work day a full stop and not a comma!
If you didn’t finish something important then make a list of tasks for tomorrow and then forget it as best as possible. It’s not just our minds that hold on to things but our bodies also hold onto unfinished tension. This is one of the powers of journaling or diary writing also. Get it out of your head and on to paper.
Often our body is in a type of physical and mental pause state waiting for something to happen before it relaxes. Doing a few small ritual movements at the end of the day can stop this. Things like tidying your desk and turning off printers and computers. Even opening and closing drawers! This may seem strange, but it can actually complete unfinished movements in the body and release tension. This is where exercise helps too.
What are you thinking as you go to bed? Are you expecting to not sleep well? Chances are if you sleep poorly then unconsciously without knowing you may have an expectation to not sleep well. So set an intention to have a good nights sleep. It may not do anything initially but who knows what may happen after a week or two of that practice. Expectation is powerful.
And if and when you do wake up in the middle of the night, don’t give yourself a hard time about it. That will not help. In fact one possible strategy is if you wake up, get up. You may be tempted to not do this as it seems counter intuitive but this is about breaking patterns. So try actually getting up and doing something before then going back to bed.
Don’t make this getting up a habit, but trying anything different is worth it in case it breaks the recurring patterns. If nothing else it may make you more tired at the end of the next day and therefore easier to fall asleep.
You could even decide to try some alternative sleep practices like lucid dreaming or astral travel which both work best when you do in fact wake up during the night.
What to do in the morning to help you sleep that night.
Having already talked about in volume one the practice of getting outside in natural light first thing in the morning, what else is important?
The first hour of every day will set you up for the day ahead, literally. If you start your day being drawn into stress or other peoples needs and desires then you will neglect your own needs and be at the mercy of the outside world.
Far better is to plan the first hour of every day (or even half an hour if that is all you can manage) in advance to be a new routine that becomes part of your life and sets you up to have a productive and fulfilling day.
Avoid social media
Do NOT reach for your phone! Leave social media in the morning. If you do pick up your phone you risk becoming a part of other peoples plans and miss the best opportunity you have to change your life long term. Social media and emails are great at the right time.
But here is what happens if you start looking at messages or posts. Every post or message that you scroll past initiates many dozens of micro decisions in your mind as to what should get further attention or not. This may sound strange, but you have a finite ability each day to make decisions without getting overwhelmed and tired.
And you will fall into the trap of the punishment (cortisol) and reward (dopamine) chemical activations that media plan on creating in you to keep you coming back for more. By looking at social media you are in a sense making everyone else’s needs a priority and wasting your decision making muscle on them.
Rather than starting with your goals and desires for the day, you are overwhelming yourself with everyone else’s worries, goals and potential negativity. I know that is metaphoric when I say decision making muscle but research shows it to be true.
Do you know that a recent poll showed that for 80% of people.., their phone is the first thing they see in the morning, and the last thing the see at night!
That’s not a good trend in my opinion.
Your mornings are precious
Start your day doing things for you! This at first will take a bit of commitment but the rewards are huge. Maybe that new routine is meditation or going for a walk or exercise or even just eating properly. Or maybe it’s as simple as a cup of tea and a casual look at a newspaper. Just don’t get drawn into the newspapers desire to affect your emotions as well. It’s their job to make you want to read more by shocking you. Better to read something more useful.
You can even negotiate this first hour with your family or partner so that they know that they will get more complete attention off you after this ‘me time’. You will be amazed at the difference this half an hour to an hour for yourself will make.
Engage three senses in a morning routine
Try this for a morning routine: There are three senses that we have that have the biggest ability to effect how we feel.., sight, sound and smell. And when you first wake up, your mind is in a suggestible state.
What if you started your morning by employing all three of those senses in a way that makes you feel ready for the day in a positive mindset. So what is the first thing you want to see when you wake up?
Could you have something like a picture, photo or quote that makes you smile every time you see it. And then what about the smell of your room or even while you have a shower? Either use scents or fragrant shower gels that you enjoy to get you off to a good start too.
And finally what if you listen either to the sounds of nature (assuming you can) or some of your favourite music that gets you motivated, moving and positive. Would that be a better way to start your day than randomly waiting for someone or something else to be your first experience of the day? Try it!
Eating well for sleep
Another obvious choice really. If you eat poorly then you are putting strain on your whole body and mind to deal with the crap you eat. Digestion is on average the biggest user of energy of all the activities we do on a regular basis. I’m not going to go into many details here but in general if you increase the amount of vegetables and decrease the amount of sugar and simple carbohydrates like bread and pasta then you will be on the right track.
And on the subject of how much energy digestion takes, stop eating 2-3 hours before bed or your body will struggle to use the natural melatonin effects to slow down your body and cool it’s core temperature. If you have to eat within that time window then keep it very light and easy to digest.
Why not try intermittent fasting where you eat only during an 8 hour window. So for example you eat from midday to 8pm. I won’t go into the benefits here but it’s surprisingly easy to wait from wake up time till lunch.
The same avoidance advice applies to caffeine (or Guarana) containing products like coffee, energy drinks and some tea’s. In fact try to avoid stimulants after midday as caffeine takes a number of hours to wear off. Caffeine has a half life of 3-5 hours! That means it takes that long for even half of what you have ingested to leave your system. It’s vital that you stay hydrated too. Drink plenty of water regularly as it helps with digestion, heat regulation and helps reduce blood pressure and hypertension.
Body and mind practices to help with sleep
It stands to reason that if there is tension in your body or your mind, then getting relaxed enough for sleep to be easy will be compromised.
One of the best things to do physically to help with sleep is to be active physically during the day. Exercise causes a number of beneficial chemicals to be released including growth hormone that has a recovery and growth effect not just on the body.., but on the mind also.
When you exercise more, you reduce stress, improve your immunity and energy levels, relieve depression, flush out toxins and protect yourself from age related decline like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Morning exercise has been shown to be better than afternoon or evening exercise for sleep quality. And regular exercise teaches your central nervous system to switch on and off at will thus making it easier to let go of tension when you go to bed.
Here’s an interesting one.., have more sex! It’s scientific I tell you! But it’s true.., the chemicals released during highly pleasurable moments and especially orgasm have a significant impact on stress release and sleep onset. And done right, haha, it’s fun too.
Breathing and meditation
And then of course there is the obvious action of some sort of meditation, breathwork or yoga just to name a few. No surprise here that calming the mind will have the same effect on the body and lead to a more peaceful night of sleep. And you don’t have to sit for hours chanting mantra’s or in perfect silence either.
Even a few minutes on a train closing your eyes and just focusing on your breathing will over the course of a few days and weeks have a remarkable effect. Walking and listening to music can have that same change to your state of mind too. This practice of meditation is one area that audio visual brainwave entrainment can be beneficial. More on that in volume three.
A useful note on breathing. Nose breathing is better than mouth breathing in a number of ways. Better oxygen absorption, a lower heart rate, less stress due to the activation of a more rest and digest state, lower blood pressure and better HRV Heart Rate Variability are all encouraged by breathing through the nose.
Interestingly, breathing through the nose increases the production of nitric oxide which is one of things responsible for the above benefits. Excessive mouth breathing has the opposite effects and can lead to sleep apnea and/or snoring. Practice breathing through the nose more if you have a habit of breathing with your mouth open and if you struggle with this then see your doctor.
Powernaps, grounding and rhythm
Don’t rule out having a nap during the day. As long as you keep these short ‘power naps’ to about 20 minutes you will not go past the point of light sleep into deep sleep within the 90 minute cycle and will therefore feel refreshed rather than sleepy wanting more.
Again best not made into a habit but they can do wonders if you are short on time and need a quick pick me up. These short naps have been shown to positively affect productivity, mental function and memory.
Considered too weird by some, grounding yourself by walking bare foot on grass or swimming has been studied with promising results. We tend to walk around all day with rubber soled shoes keeping us effectively isolated from the earth. There are even earthing sheets that plug directly into the earth only slot of wall power sockets that some people report as beneficial for the same reason.
Earthing after a long flight can be a great way to help with jet lag too.
One of the interesting things about our mind is the inability to feel certain emotions or states if both hemispheres/sides of the brain are engaged at the same time. You can use this to your advantage because one of those effects is that rhythm reduces anxiety.
Another way that audio visual brainwave entrainment can help which will be covered in volume three of this series. Try the following activity as demonstrated by NLP trainer Andrew Austin in the video linked below.
Using a small ball or anything round like rolled up socks, toss it from hand to hand to activate both sides of your brain and notice after a few minutes how differently you feel.
Demonstrated here: Anti anxiety exercise video >>
Engage the mind on purpose
One last idea on things you can do physically or mentally to help with sleep. If you are lying in bed and unable to get to sleep.., try playing a mind game.
For example, imagine a pendulum in your minds eye and start it swinging from side to side. It will after a short while, perceptually keep going without your effort and at that point you can add another pendulum and set it going in a different direction.
Play around with this idea and you will find your mind start to wander which is a good thing as it means whatever thoughts may have been keeping you awake will have gone away also. In reality anything that you do differently from what you have done up till now has the potential to work for you so try it.
And there you have it.., the end of volume two of the better sleep series.
Have a go with whatever looks interesting to you. Even just one change can be all it takes to give you the sleep you deserve.
Read volume three: ‘Getting help with your sleep’ >>>