5 Daily Habits To Help You Improve Your Sleep performance
Sleep is arguably, the most fundamental part of our lives.
On average, we’ll spend ⅓ of our existence asleep. For many Australians, not only do we not get enough, but we see it as something that we can afford to avoid. We simply have too much to do in the day to prioritise our rest. We’re told we need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night, ideally 8-9hrs. According to Sleep Health Foundation’s (SHF) 2016 Sleep Health survey, the average sleep time for Australian adults is 7 hours (hooray!), although 12% sleep less than 5 ½ hours. They reported that 33-45% of adults have poor sleep patterns that can lead to low productivity, energy levels and emotional intelligence.
I have a fairly solid relationship with sleep, the sandman and I have been in a stable place for close to 3 decades. I’m one of those annoying people that has never snoozed an alarm in my life (does this mean I haven’t lived?) and slides straight out of bed once said alarm is off. I can put it down to a few things, such as routine and personal desire for early mornings. But as time goes on it is increasingly because of the habits I’ve needed to implement to keep my sleep on track. Yes I still wake feeling tired sometimes, but most of the time it’s because I’m a coach who's up at 5am to train you.
As Till Roenneberg, a professor of Chronobiology (the study of examining biological rhythms) put it, “I have a suspicion that once we really understand what sleep does, we will not choose to shorten it”. Perhaps more knowledge is needed to create drastic changes with our sleep. Our relationship with sleep, a rocky one for many, must be changed not overnight - but with habits implemented daily. So I’ve put together my top 5 daily habits to help improve your sleep performance.
1. Change your mentality around sleep..
If we’re ever to change our relationship with sleep we need to first change how we view it. From a young age we’re told that bedtime is something to be avoided at all costs. If you’re naughty a standard punishment was being sent to bed early. As we moved to teenage hood we were told our constant desire to sleep in was because we were lazy, now research shows that teenagers need 8-10 hours, their natural rhythms are changing - hence staying up later and needing to sleep in longer too.
And then finally, as adults, we are asked to work late, be contactable 24/7, answer emails at any hour and believe that sleep is for the weak. It’s viewed that having to rest, pause or ponder is not something you should be doing if you’re wanting to achieve great things in life. This hussle mentality is a great motivator to ‘get shit done’ but on the flip side has created a culture where ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’. Which is unsafe advice, because studies have shown death may be far closer if you don’t get enough. Simply put, we’re overworked and under slept. SHF’s Sleep Health survey showing nearly a quarter (23%) of Aussie adults report their typical weekday routine of work does not allow them to get enough sleep.
But luckily societies mentality around sleep has begun to change, as businesses implement working from home days (helping with commute time), and even sleep incentives (yep, cash for rest) we are heading in the right direction, but as an individual it’s your responsibility to take charge first.
TIP: View sleep as your secret energy weapon: think of your brain’s energy levels as your life bar on Street Fighter. The more hits you take in the game the lower your life bar gets, the same goes for your brain’s energy - the more amazing things we accomplish and tasks we get done in our day, the more of our energy is used. Lucky for us we actually have a way of refueling this, and it’s free - sleep.
2. Decrease light and screen exposure 1-2hrs before bed..
26% of all adults use the internet most or every night of the week just before bed and 16% of all working adults do work just before bed. Technology has allowed us to continue to complete tasks at any time we’re willing. We work with people in different countries and therefore different work hours to us, can access any information we want at the click of a button and have endless entertainment to scroll through - all of this from the comfort of our home (and more often than not, our beds).
Our increasing use of technology is seeming to affect our illusive good nights sleep. LED emitting devices (think your TV, phone, ipad) can mess with our circadian rhythms and keep our body from releasing sleep hormones like Melatonin. Melatonin is important in helping regulate your body’s internal clock, so it knows when you should be asleep and awake. Cheeky Netflix session in bed? Expect your body clock to be pushed back a little, your body might be ready to hit the hay but your brain still thinks it’s daylight.
TIP: Sleep in complete darkness! You can also trick your brain for jet lag: Melatonin can be useful when travelling between time zones. Your internal clock is out of sync so your natural melatonin isn’t producing at the right time. Another great invention for everyday use are Blue Blockers, they’re blue-light inhibiting sunglasses to wear at night time. Found here. Apologies, these aren’t fashion accessories yet.
3. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption…
Ah caffeine, the love affair that I’m unwilling to let go of. Lucky for me, we don’t have to cut it out altogether, just be smart about when we consume it. If you’re wanting to improve your sleep health, it’s suggested to limit your caffeine intake in the hours before bed. Caffeine can help increase alertness as it blocks and effectively inactivates adenosine receptors in the brain (i.e it blocks the sleepiness signal that the brain sends when you’re tired). Close to sleep time this is something we kind of want to avoid. And be aware that caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours - dependant on individual factors. So on average, try to limit any caffeine consumption to before 2pm.
And what about that friendly nightcap that helps you de-stress and slide off to sleep? Despite what it may feel like, drinking alcohol to help you go to sleep is kind of backwards. What you’re aiming for is to fall to sleep easier, but in reality you’re being sedated. Both alcohol and marijuana trick your brain into thinking it’s asleep, you’ll dive into deep sleep far quicker but end up having your second half of the sleep cycle disrupted. So whilst being sedated sounds like fun, and super restful - it’s not the quality sleep you’re after and it won’t put you into REM sleep (where you have your dreams).
TIP: Ideally - don’t drink on school nights! Find another way to de-stress after a hard days work like hitting the gym or going for a walk around the block without your phone (seriously, it’s quite peaceful). But if you feel like you must, aim to limit your intake and stop drinking an hour before bed.
4. Food can help sleep…
Have you heard that urban legend that you shouldn’t eat carbs after 6pm? Well if you tend to have a hard time getting to sleep at night, carbs could actually help the situation. Carbohydrates help increase serotonin release; a chemical that enhances calm and pleasant moods, while making tryptophan; the chemical responsible for sleepiness.
I mean it kind of makes sense, you know that food coma feeling? When we eat carbohydrates, nourishing complex carbs like sweet potato, pumpkin and brown rice, serotonin is released which lowers the effects of cortisol; a stress hormone - which will inhibit sleep when elevated at night. As cortisol lowers and serotonin and tryptophan are released we get happy-drowsy, a perfect state for sleep.
TIP: This isn’t an excuse to smash an entire pizza - choose your carbohydrates wisely and give your body time to process them before jumping straight into bed (or passing out on the couch).
5. Movement is key!
Simply put, the more energy we’re burning throughout the day the more our body will desire quality sleep. We all know the awesome feeling of deep, sustained sleep after a hard workout. Exercise has been shown to increase our mental state, regulate our fight-or-flight system (think, cortisol levels) and optimize hormone levels.
Not only does exercise help improve sleep, but it also works the other way around! The more quality rest time you have the quicker you’ll recover from your workout. It’s during deep sleep that the body uses the protein you consumed during the day before and the growth hormone (produced during deep sleep) to repair broken tissue and helps you get stronger. And of course, the more quality sleep you’ve had the more energy you’ll have to smash your next session at the gym.
TIP: After you binge watch some TV, head outside and go for a quick 5 minute walk. Being in the darkness of the night helps your body figure out that it's time to wind down. Plus, now that it's cold out it'll help drop your body temperature too - which also aids sleep.
Still think you’re one of those people who can get away with getting minimal sleep? Matthew Walker, professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley states,
“The number of people that can survive on 6 hours of sleep or less, without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number, expressed as a percent of the population is zero.”
So if you’re guilty of sleep neglect (which we all have been at times … hello uni exams and deadlines) start thinking about making it a priority - just like you do with work projects, training sessions and brushing your teeth. Get into the habit of nailing your before-bed routine and setting yourself up for sleep success during the day. Remember that a good night’s rest pays exponential dividends … it makes you a nicer, happier, more productive human being … and who doesn’t want a little more of that in their life!?