How to Get Better Sleep - Part 2
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Each part of this 3 part blog post discusses a different area of sleep and 7 ways to optimise it. Read on to see how you can upgrade your sleep quality. Click here for part 1.
Part 2 - Habits
Habits shape and define us. Through years of personal training and online coaching, I have found these to be the 7 most effective habits to boost your sleep quality.
1. Be punctual.
There are different phases to sleep. To simplify, lets say there are 2 phases - light sleep and deep sleep.
Waking during a deep sleep is more difficult and will cause you to wake feeling groggy and can leave you feeling unrested for most of the day.
To have the best chance of aligning your light sleep phase with your wake up time, keep your sleep and wake times as similar as possible. Within an hour either side should be close enough to help.
2. Track your sleep.
Building on the above point, there are many free sleep tracking apps such as Sleep Time (no affiliation). These apps track the phases of your sleep (deep/light). This allows you to set an alarm time and a time window of your choice.
So for example if you set an alarm for 8am and select a 20 minute window, this will allow the app to sound the alarm anytime between 7:40am and 8am if it sees that you are in a light sleep. If you are not in a light sleep, the alarm will sound at 8am.
3. Be prepared for bed.
Start winding down an hour (if not 2) before bed. Creating a bed time routine for your pre-bed hour (e.g. warm drink, brush teeth, read/meditate, sleep) can really help coax the body into sleep mode. This is how many parents train their young children into a regular sleep pattern.
Avoid working or “busy-braining” right until bedtime. And avoid adrenalin inducing action/horror/suspense films / stressful situations before bed too.
4. Meditation / mindfulness.
If you have difficulty switching off your brain and getting to sleep, meditation is a great tool for relaxing and quietening the mind,
I've met a lot of people who have said 'meditation is not for me'. All of them hadn't tried it, or had tried some version of it steeped in woo woo. And all of them changed their mind when they tried a more accessible version.
If you just want to relax without pretzeling your legs on the floor or chanting, you can use a free app like “Headspace” or “Calm” (no affiliation).
There are many other ways to meditate / be mindful, but I personally found Headspace to be very easy to stick with when I was beginning.
Diaphragmatic breathing is another great tool for relaxing. I have found it invaluable for getting to sleep, and also during the day for dealing with stress or anxiety. It keeps the mind occupied, focused and calm which reduces the overthinking that can prevent sleep onset. Here is a video on how to do diaphragmatic breathing.
6. Reading material.
If you enjoy reading at bedtime, be selective about what you read. Informative reading and learning may activate the problem solving areas of the left brain. The same area that may keep you awake with overthinking / cyclical thinking.
Fiction is better but you will want to avoid tension and suspense.
Colouring is also great for this purpose, and adult colouring books are becoming more widely available now.
Games like Tetris, CandyCrush and similar games can be as good as reading for keeping the mind just stimulated enough to avoid getting into overthinking, but not stimulated enough to cause wakefulness. Remember to have a screen filter engaged to block the blue light (see part 1 for details)