Trouble Sleeping? You May Be In Trouble… Find Out Why & Follow My Tips For Better Sleep…
Sleep has been on my agenda for the last 10 years. For about that long I’ve absolutely known that I’ve not been getting enough of it and as time has gone on I’ve learned more and more about how that is affecting my health, my mood, my relationships, everything. Yes, that’s not an exaggeration, just about everything is affected by sleep deprivation. The less good quality sleep you get the less likely you are to avoid anxiety, depression, heart disease, cancer, poor judgement and the reaction times of somebody taking a shot of whiskey every 2 hours. For real.
Forget for a moment that you have kids, that your career needs you to be awake more, that partying into the wee hours is fun, that you’re just fine on 6 hours a night; that sleep is for the weak, put all that to one side.
When you have had a crap-hole week of poor quality sleep, how do you wake up? How do you feel? Bit pants?
When you have a week of 8-9 hours sleep a night (if you ever do), how do you feel? Refreshed? Productive?
It’s not rocket surgery. But the route to a routine in which adequate quality sleep is built into your lifestyle seems to require more brain science that most of can muster. In fact, more than our entire modern culture can support. So what do we do about that?
First watch this TEDx talk by Dr. Kirk Parsley (and yes, that’s the best name you’ll hear all day). It’s about 17 minutes long but it’ll pay you back considerably more time than that on your life. Seriously.
Dr. Parsley served as the Undersea Medical Officer at Naval Special Warfare Group One (NSWG-1) from June 2009-Jan 2013. While there he developed and supervised the group’s first sports medicine rehabilitation center. He is a former SEAL (BUD/s class 164), and a graduate of the military’s medical school in Bethesda, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USUHS) in 2004. His internship was in Obstetrics and Gynecology, at Balboa Naval Hospital in 2005. He then completed a Navy residency in Hyperbarics and Diving Medicine in 2006. Kirk knows sleep deprivation and he knows his human bodies – listen to him.
Kirk’s advice is simple – Sleep deprivation is a modern disease, largely ignored by our modern culture, in fact the very causes of the disease are celebrated as strength in some quarters and critically ignored and marginalised by all of us, daily.
So what the devil can we do about it?
Here are a few things I can hear you saying from here (I know this because I’ve said them myself)
“But I have kids, do you have any idea what that means to me and this thing you call sleep??”
“But as soon as I try to sleep, it’s the last thing I can do – I’m a freaking INSOMNIAC man!”
There are a dozen other reasons why sleep sits at the bottom of the priority pile and as many more that make it an elusive routine for many. But there ARE ways to get better sleep and I know this because I’ve experimented with a lot of them and there’s no doubt in my mind that some of the simplest solutions work the best. This is a big subject and if you have any tips or advice then please drop some feedback below, you might help somebody.
My Top 8 Ways To Improve Your Sleep
This is what works for me. I don’t do it all the time. I forget, life gets in the way, things get shuffled around. But I know when I need to focus on better sleep and I know this works. Mess around with these ideas yourself and find a routine you can live with – it might improve your life.
Diet & exercise
This is a no-brainer really but if you are well nourished you’ll be far better prepared for a restful nights sleep. If you’re full of MSG and sugar then your brain is going to be wired, you won’t sleep well. If you’re hungry, you won’t sleep well. So forget the haribos and chocolate before bed and grab a few nuts and needs. This will fill the gap and help you rest. I know it’s not conducive to weight loss but a few carbs before bed will also help. Some cereal and some warm milk is a double whammy – the warmed lactose in milk acts as a sedative, and so do the carbs in the cereal as they release sleep inducing Tryptophan into your blood.
Cut out the stimulants
Caffeine works just fine as a tool to boost your synaptic response when you need to be productive (it’s writing this post for me right now) but it doesn’t work very well as a late night, pre sleep primer. If you aren’t sleeping enough – don’t drink caffeine (coffee, tea, coke, red bull etc) after 3pm. Give it enough time to get fully out of your system by bedtime, you’d be surprised how long it hangs around in there (don’t complain, you’ll cope, this is important). I certainly know the difference between a caffeine day and a caffeine free day when it comes to sleep that night.
I have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. A glass or two of a good red at the wind down end of the day is about as good as it gets some days – believe me, I don’t want you to sacrifice your tipple. But know this, binge drink (anything that leaves you slurring your speech is a good guide) and aside from all the other damage you’re doing, and looking and sounding like a boss-eyed moron, you will not pass out into a decent slumber, you will pass out into a restless night of very low quality sleep. I can’t stress this enough, if you are having trouble sleeping then cut back on the booze, don’t increase it.
Peace & quiet
Anything that disturbs your sleep aurally is your enemy. Yes, your children are your enemy! Your snoring husband or wife (yes, women snore like mentalists too) is your enemy. Next door’s cockerel is your enemy. Now, you can’t shoot them all without winding up in prison and a personal hell for the rest of your life (and the sleep will be worse if anything) – except maybe the cockerel, he’s fair game, go for your life. But you can circumvent them enough and with a routine.
Step 1. Get some good quality ear plugs.
Step 2. Use them
I know, what about if you can’t hear your kids screaming about the latest Doctor Who induced nightmare? Or what if there’s a house invasion?
If you have a partner – discuss taking turns, ear plugs one night, your turn to get up the next. It’s not ideal but it’s not forever, holy crap, my kids grew up in like 10 minutes flat! Something is better than nothing, parenthood is sacrifice incarnate but you CAN compromise (and there won’t be a house invasion). Wear 1 ear plug some nights to get used to the idea that – guess what? You’re kids don’t wake up every night! Different for new parents of course but there are times when it’s ok, be brave, a more rested you is a better parent.
Snoring is dealt with like this:
“Darling, I love you and I love watching you sleep. But I can’t bare listening to you sore at 3am any more, I’m going slightly psychotic. In the interest of our ongoing relationship and you not getting the frying pan to the head treatment, we need to go to the GP to sort this out. Did I mention how much I love you?”
Choose your own words obviously but face it head on and be honest. Disrupted sleep is horrible and borderline dangerous. And snoring absolutely can be cured – just be honest with your partner and pro-active with your GP – Get on it.
Tossing & Turning?
Does your partner toss and turn all night? One solution is to share this post with them. If they get serious about improving their quality of sleep then a lot of that will go away naturally. Otherwise don’t be afraid of taking time out in the spare room, or even the sofa if necessary. This modern cultural perception that you need to be sleeping next to your partner in order to have a ‘close’ relationship is rubbish. Double beds are a relatively new phenomenon in the great human scheme of things and quality of sleep trumps cultural perception. A healthy sex life, trust, respect and great communication are the cornerstones of solid relationships and all those things happen when you’re awake. Don’t be afraid to sleep alone, it’s not a sign that anything’s wrong in paradise, just that you’re taking life by the horns and making things better.
Darkness my old friend…
This is an easy one – and will make a BIG difference. We are photo-sensitive creatures, we are designed (sorry, have evolved) that way. Before electricity entered our lives and our souls we would get up with the sun, and lay down with her too. Guess what? We slept well then, about 10-12 hours out of every 24 – not even kidding. These days it’s artificial light this, cracks in the curtains that. You need to look at this both when you hit the hay and in the mornings.
There was a recent study in which scientists (them again) discovered that shining a concentrated light onto the back of a subject’s knee was enough to wake them up. I know, right? That’s how photosensitive we are…
Block out curtains are rad, but expensive and they don’t block out the light from your partner waking up and turning the light on. Get a sleep mask, it will change your life. It sounds like such a small change but you really have no idea how sensitive you are to light until you test your self with and without a sleep eye mask. Trust me (said the thingy to the wotsit) – you’ll sleep more.
Electronic screens are baaaaaad. If you’re serious about sleep then you need to take this seriously. Your bedroom is a place of sex and sleep. That’s it. It’s not a place of emails and facebook or candy crush or youtube or netflix or anything else. Do all that downstairs and BAN ALL SCREENS FROM YOUR BEDROOM. Did I say that loud enough? I could bore you with all the science, go Google it, but you know exactly what I’m talking about. The light from electronic devices tells your brain to stay wired. Even just having a phone near your bed, even on sleep mode, is enough to keep your brain anticipating potential calls or alarms or app notifications (some of which ignore sleep mode by the way – looking at you calendar). Don’t do it.
Take a warm bath
Temperature is all important. You need a nice comfortable temperature, preferably on the cooler side. You’ll know when you feel right but get a fan for the hot nights, open a window, all that jazz. Take a hot bath before bed and after, as your body cools down you’ll feel extra sleepy, it’s a very effective method of hitting the sleepy buttons.
Zen & the art of sleep
I can do all of the above, feel sleepy and feel like all my sleep ducks are in a groovy row. And then my brain gets involved, with all it’s ‘thoughts’ that it thinks it should be having; all the arguments it wants to win with people who’ve been challenging during the day, all the testing financial matters that are in play at any one time, and on, and on and on until all that’s left is the frustration at not being able to sleep – the destructive sleep brain cycle (or the DSBC as nobody called it, ever).
Resolve all arguments before you go bed, by whatever means necessary, by any channel available. Life’s too short for that anyway so resolve it now. It’s 99% effective at improving sleep.
DO NOT FIGHT YOUR BRAIN – It will win. Nothing you can do about it so accept it, thoughts will come. You cannot stop thinking. But you can train yourself to see the thoughts differently…
Meditation works. You may scoff, I’m sceptical of everything so I’m as prone to the scoff as the next person, but I’ve got into this game because it works. Mindful meditation allows you to ‘observe’ your thoughts rather than get trapped in them. It doesn’t happen straight away, it takes a bit of time. But it’s a tool you’ll use everywhere. I’ll write a proper post on it soon but in the meantime search for the Headspace app on your app store of choice or your computer (no, I’m not affiliated, just a fan), it’s a good start.
Finally, getting good quality sleep does require a bit of effort. You need to plan, you may need to change some things and get some help from the folks around you (looking at you baby-sitting grandparents!) but you absolutely can sleep better than you are now – and you really, really should.