Arranging your sleep routine takes time AND it takes time to practise.
Do not expect to want to go to sleep or even feel sleepy at 10pm! After years of PRACTICING and PUSHING YOURSELF TO STAY UP FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE it takes proper effort to start noticing when your body is ready to wind down.
With most of the things in place most of the time in about 2 weeks of continuous attention and effort of not working after 9pm, not watching TV to unwind, not scrolling/texting, not having biscuits before bed, etc essentially NOT doing things you normally do and consistently practising breathing, reading, calming down, keeping active, etc – you will start noticing that you are beginning to feel different: calmer, more energetic, everything is clearer and easier. THEN when the “usual night” happens the difference will stand out.
Adjusting sleep is much harder than improving your food habits.
Without adequate sleep no fitness/nutrition programme is going “to work” as you’ll be fighting cravings, exhaustion, anxiety, mood swings, inability to focus.
I am saying this is NOT to put you off trying – this all sounds too much and too hard and just give me a quick solution…
There is no quick solution. Sleep routine is as much of a habit as walking at least 1 h and eating 4-6 servings of veg daily – if you are not used to it, it will require DAILY PRACTISE.
As an adult only you can decide what is important to you and only you can look after your body. You are in charge!
Here is a quick check list to help you see what needs to be changed in your current routine:
Questions to ask:
- What time is your usual cut off time and get up time?
- Falling asleep – quick or finding it hard to unwind?
- Quality of sleep, disruptions, getting up through the night and how quick to fall asleep again?
- Getting up – how is the energy?
If sleep is disrupted – check activities through the day:
- Training 4h before sleep
- Food 3-5h before sleep
- Alcohol 4h before min and 1 glass water per unit
- Easy sugar foods late afternoon/eve to be avoided
- Enough protein in daily diet (serotonin)
- Magnesium (spray, bath or supplements) – check with GP
- Caffeine after 12pm to be avoided
- Learn and practice breathing techniques
- Ensure to get at least 10mins of daylight before mid day, if no opportunity to get outdoors – SAD lamp
- Absolute darkness – full blackout curtains, any screen/device lights covered up
- If investing into blackout curtains is not something you can do right now – use a comfortable eye mask (might take getting used to)
- Cool room
- Quiet room
- Screens off 2 hours before bed or earlier – this should not be the point when you start arguing how little time you have for yourself and how important it is to be online 10pm+ or watching something. Yes, it’s common, we all do it, and no, this is definitely not normal and not something to aspire to maintain. Arrange what you can, figure out what is your optimum. Use breathing techniques, meditations to shorten the unwind time.
Things to remember:
- Sleep quality, unless severely disrupted, is not tangible and yet is connected to everything we do throughout the day from food choices to ability to focus, make decisions and communicate.
- Optimising sleep involves updating food and activity and as the body begins to function better some wonderful things begin to happen – people lose weight, inflammation calms down, and so does anxiety, people see things clearer and feel more confident.
- Main physiological recovery is happening from 10pm to 2pm, does not matter how long you stay in bed the following day – it is crucial to get as much time before midnight as possible.
- Super late nights during the week and staying the whole day in bed on a weekend is not a solution.
To round up, from me as a coach and as a woman who’s been (is?) there: it took me literally decades to understand that being able to function on a few hours of sleep and having trouble sleeping is not some sort of badge of honour, it does not demonstrate how strong and determined you are. It shows how little thought you give to yourself. And this is closely tied with other self-reflective behaviours and habits. I have been clawing back my sleep minutes and my routine is still not optimal. The thing is that I KNOW THE DIFFERENCE and am fighting TO change and improve, whilst when you are just starting you tend to fight to keep your “normal”, familiar routine, which doesn’t work at all but is extremely hard to shift – there’s so much to do and going to sleep never takes priority whilst you are feeling ok. Also there’s guilt of being not good enough, not productive enough, etc. Like I said – improving sleep is hard. But training yourself to become a person who does not compromise their sleep is definitely worth investing your efforts into – it pays back in wellbeing, productivity and being a happier person!
P.S. I highly recommend investing into a sunrise alarm clock – it’s a game changer!
P.S.2. When a terrible night of sleep happens it is important to declare a bad day – there are things that can immediately help you to support your body. And it is not caffeine! Get in touch if you want the list of these things/steps.