If you're like most people, you probably don't think too much about the process of sleep. You just 'do' it.
But sleep is more than something that you should just do. It's a secret weapon that you can utilise to increase your performance and be at the top of your game in both work and in life.
Even though it is as vital for the body as food and water, more than 60 per cent of Australian adults are sleep deprived.
So how do we go from 'doing' sleep to ensuring that we get quality, restorative sleep each night? Follow these ten tips and you'll be sleeping your way to the top in no time.
1. Make sleep a priority
Did you know that being awake for 19-hours has been shown to result in the equivalent performance of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 (legally drunk)? Sleep isn't an evolutionary error; it's something that we all need in order to perform each day. The four primary functions of sleep are to conserve energy, repair and rejuvenate our body's cells, improve our brain plasticity and improve learning and memory function.
2. Cut out caffeine after 3pm
Caffeine has a half-life of around five to six hours. By half-life, I mean that it takes around five hours for your body to eliminate one half of the total caffeine you have consumed. So while that 5pm coffee hit pepped you up enough to get through the last half hour of work, you're going to be feeling its effects later when you try to go to sleep. Stick to 'tea with flowers' after 3pm instead.
3. Keep active and use movement to your advantage
While having a healthy physiology and ensuring that you eat well and exercise regularly is definitely a factor for improving sleep and your health, it's not the aspect that I'm focusing on today. Instead, I want you to start timing your exercise properly. Time your high intensity exercise to be at least three hours before bedtime. Try and avoid working out too late in the evening as it won't give your body enough time to cool down.
Bonus tip: Try combining aerobic exercise in the morning with a follow-up protein meal. This will increase the serotonin levels in your body, which converts to melatonin (sleep hormone) in the evening.
4. Learn to relax
At The Performance Clinic we teach our clients the importance of having a Sleep Countdown and integrating time to relax and wind down at least 30 to 60-minutes before going to bed each night. It's the same concept that our parents used on us when we were children. Watching Chuck Norris action movies, listening to Metallica or doing work right before bed will definitely not get you into the right mindset to drift off (and stay) asleep easily, so stick to warm baths, soothing music and calming fragrances. Dim your lights and have a warm cup of milk (it's not a myth, the science shows it actually works).
5. Disconnect your technology
Don't worry, I'm not telling you to disconnect from technology permanently. What I am asking you to do is switch off your mobile, TV, laptop and iPad at least 30-minutes before going to bed. This will help you to wind down and ensure that you're not disturbed when you do fall asleep. In my opinion, the bright lights of the iPad and other technology confuse your body clock and as a result you're not able to sleep as deeply.
6. Have a routine
Okay, okay, I understand how hard it can be to stick to any type of routine when the demands of daily life change on a minute-by-minute basis. But by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day you are increasing your chances of having deep, undisturbed and restful sleep. Your body settles into a rhythm. If you can't stick to your routine every night, commit to having at least three nights a week where you go to bed and wake up at the same time.
7. Be realistic if you have rug rats
For the parents out there: disregard point 6! If you have young kids you need to accept that it might take a few years until you get back into a decent sleep routine. Sorry, but that's the reality. If you're really feeling short changed on the sleep department, try to set up a sleepover (for the kids, not you) with the grandparents or a trusted friend.
8. Keep the TV out of the bedroom
Your bedroom should be kept for two activities only – sleep and sex. Avoid watching TV or doing work in bed. You can read, but stick to material that's light and will allow you to fall asleep easily.
9. Don't sweep things under the carpet
What do you think about before you fall asleep each night? Unpaid bills? That dentist appointment you keep putting off? An argument with a co-worker? Don't let these things disturb your sleep and your mental wellbeing. Realistically address the complications in your life so that they don't become major problems and continue to worry you. And while you're at it, clean your bedroom. While there are no proven scientific benefits to having a clean bedroom, it certainly won't hurt for you to fall asleep in a neat, tidy and clean sleeping space.
10. Practice makes perfect
Finally, keep at it. Developing a healthy lifestyle and a good sleep routine can take between four and six weeks, so keep practicing. See challenges as just that – challenges to be overcome. Put your sleep (and you) first. Nighty night!
Do you have trouble getting to sleep? What tips do you have for others who struggle at bedtime?