When it comes to life skills, sleeping is often overlooked. We are not taught how to sleep in school, and many of us just do it without giving it much thought. But what if I told you that sleep is a skill? And like any other skill, it can be improved. It is one of the most fundamental needs in life, yet it is all too often pushed aside. I believe it is time to give sleep the attention it deserves and make it a priority in our lives. After all, getting quality rest is a vital component of living a well-rounded and fulfilling lifestyle. So, let's raise awareness about the importance of sleep and make it a front-of-mind topic for everyone.
If you're reading this, chances are you're human. If you are human, you have probably had your fair share of sleepless nights. I know I have – more often than I would like to admit. I'm not one to throw around medical terms like "insomnia" or "sleep apnea." I have never been officially diagnosed with anything, but one thing is for sure: most of my nights are spent tossing and turning, counting sheep, and praying for a good night's sleep. If you can relate, then you know just how frustrating it can be to wake up feeling groggy, irritable, and unproductive. The good news? There are ways to improve your sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed and energized.
I don't have trouble getting to sleep. I have trouble staying asleep (sometimes waking up to 10 times a night) and as a consequence of jumping in and out of sleep cycles at the wrong times, I wake up feeling like I haven't slept much at all (even though I may have spent 8-10 hours in bed)
In this article, I am going to dive into some tips on how I personally improved my skill of sleeping, having had issues with it for years on end. Similar to my previous article on budgeting money (link is here if you are interested) The tips I'm sharing may not be evidence based, they are based solely in my own experience. As with anything in life, you should take these tips at your own risk. What works for me might not work for you. But if you are like me, a mere mortal who has struggled with terrible sleep for years, then maybe some of these tips will be helpful to you. So, let's get started.
While some of the tips I'm about to share may seem like common sense, the real question is: are you doing everything you can to improve your sleep game? It's time to take a closer look at your habits and routines and see where there's room for improvement.
Stay off your phone and read a book
I hate reading, and I am not good at it. This is what I keep telling myself. Turns out reading is excellent to do before you fall asleep. I was faced with a challenge: how do I do something which I hate doing even though it will benefit me greatly? It is all about building a habit - start small. If you struggle picking up a book (or a kindle or whatever digital reader you use) consistently, try reading every night before you go to bed for 2 minutes. It might seem useless at first, but if you manage that for 7 days straight you should be able to continue doing it for more than 2 minutes at a time as you are building a habit of it.
The book I first picked up is called 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhig. If you are interested in understanding how habits are formed and how they work, read this. It is excellent. To adhere to the above habit building exercise, it of course helps if the book is engaging, so try out fact or fiction and see what you like better. If you manage to stay off your phone and read instead, it is most likely that your sleep will get better.
Build a regular sleep pattern and adhere to it
I am a gamer. I know how hard it can be to build a good sleep pattern. Years ago, I used to stay up until the early hours in the morning to escape into a miscellaneous fantasy world such as the Elder Scrolls universe and thus sacrificing sleep. These times would vary every night. Some days I could go on for hours, and some others I could not. The difficulty is the inconsistency of the hours you go to bed and wake up; for me this could be sleep at 2AM with a 11AM wake up one day and then 10PM sleep and a 6AM wake up the next day. Your body will get confused and you will hit peaks and troughs of energy levels across every different day if you do this consistently.
Set a bedtime (e.g 10PM) and set a wake time (e.g 6AM) and adhere to it every single day (I know the weekends are hard, and I won't lie - I get a cheeky lie in at the weekend too here and there). I am giving my example above. Everyone is different and you have to cater this sleep pattern to your work hours, your school hours or whatever it is that you are doing. What is important is that your sleeping and waking times are the same every day and that you hit your hourly sleep goal (on average 8 hours) depending on what age group you are in. With this adhered to every day, your energy levels and moods are likely to be more consistent.
No caffeine until one hour after waking and none after a certain time
Coffee, coffee, coffee. The biggest substitute for lack of sleep which people use and abuse day in day out. While caffeine (which of course is found in coffee) has many health benefits if used in moderation, it can have quite the opposite effect if applied above moderation. I used to consume A LOT of caffeine. When I say a lot I mean around 600-800mg of caffeine a day. (for reference, as per google the average cup of coffee with 236ml contains 95mg of caffeine). It was obvious enough: I needed to cut down or cut it out completely. I tried both.
I cut out caffeine for 6 months, completely. Cold turkey. Nada. To be honest, I didn't feel much different, nor did my sleep. With this tested out for myself I went to option two, which will suit most people more.
No caffeine after 2PM. With my usual wake up time around 6-7AM, I would consume my first coffee ONLY one hour after I wake up to allow my body to wake up naturally and not have an over-reliance on the 'nectar of the gods' as some call it. (not to be confused with Beamish, if you are from Cork) I would keep my caffeine intake limited to everything before 2PM. Caffeine has a pretty long half life (which means it stays in your system for x amount of time) which varies from person to person. Putting a hard stop to consumption 8-10hours before your bedtime means it will have a less drastic effect on your sleep quality.
Wow, what a no-brainer Ben. Yep it is really, but do you actually do it? While writing this, I know haven't done any today meaning that my quality of sleep tonight will not be as good as if I know I did it. While it may be beneficial to do it at specific times of the day (according to research) I will only say to get it done whenever you can in a way that it suits your day. Some people feel terrible when doing it in the morning, some the same in the evening. Do what suits you, as long as you do it.
Congratulations, you've made it to the end. The above have helped me enhance the skill of sleeping over the last few years, and thus alleviate some of my issues.
Before you go, I have one final piece of advice: don't try to implement all of these tips at once. Trust me, you'll only end up overwhelming yourself. Instead, start with one and focus on building that habit until it becomes second nature (shoutout to "The Power of Habit" again). Once you have got that down, move on to the next tip. I have tried to keep everything as general as possible and based on my own anecdotal experience, but as always, exercise caution and do what works best for you.
See you in the next one.