Monday Musings....Changing Your Sleep Patterns for Good!

The purpose of sleep is to refresh, restore, and recharge. But most people in North America rarely get enough sleep. It's like they're constantly running on low battery mode, trying to squeeze in every last drop of energy, when what they really need to do is stop working, plug into the charger, and wait until they're back up to 100%.

According to

· Humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep

· Being awake for 22 hours straight can slow your reaction time more than 4 alcoholic drinks can

· People who continually get too little sleep can’t concentrate well, have weaker immune systems, and consume around 300 more calories a day

· Caffeine remains in your blood for up to 7 hours, so don’t drink coffee in the afternoon if you want a good night’s sleep

Most people know these facts, and yet they willingly continue to put themselves in sleep deprivation mode, and then wonder why they feel the way they do. There is a way to change this pattern, for good.

Sleep is a Necessary Habit

Most people are creatures of habit. You brush your teeth, shower, get dressed, and eat. All regular parts of your day. You may have a regular route you take to work, school, or even the grocery store. Routines create efficiency and predictability, and they also make you feel like you're in control of your world.

But the one thing that is rarely routine for people, is sleep. You go to bed when you feel like it, sleep in when you can, and do all-nighters when deadlines approach. All under the guise that 'you gotta do what works'. Well, it doesn't work. It throws everything off, and even when you try to catch up on sleep, you still feel groggy and out of sorts. Bottom line, when something's got to give, you'll sacrifice sleep. And pretty soon, it becomes your way of doing life. Sleep becomes an afterthought and not a priority.

Creating Your Strategy for Sleep

First, you have to figure out how much sleep you need. Eight hours is the standard, but some people need more and some need less. To figure out what you need, keep track of when you wake up feeling rested, and count back the number of hours you slept. Now, you may be saying you never feel rested. In that case, pick a night when you know you have no commitments the next day. Go to bed at your usual time. Don't set the alarm. When you wake up, see if you feel rested. This may take some effort. Ideally, do this when you're on vacation, or if you have no early morning commitments, a couple of days in a row.

Now that you know how many hours you need to recharge, let's go back to childhood. You know the expression: sleep like a baby. Well, that's exactly what you have to do. Put yourself on a sleep schedule. That means go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time the next day. Even on weekends and holidays. No cheat days. It will throw your circadian rhythm off (the system in your brain that regulates your sleep patterns), if you are inconsistent.

Next, location, location, location! The place where you sleep, should be designated for that purpose only. We easily develop connections to places. You likely have a place where you regularly eat, do your school work, watch Netflix, and sleep. The problem is you may do all of those things in your bed. So when you go to bed your brain doesn't know what it's supposed to be doing. As James Clear says, in his book Atomic Habits, (which I highly recommend) our behaviour is not determined by the objects around us (i.e. the bed,) but by our relationship to the object. A bed is just a bed, but how do you interact with it? What is your expectation from it? It should be for one thing - sleep.

In order to fall asleep, you need to be mentally and physically tired. Many of you may feel mentally tired at the end of the day, but if not, read something that doesn't interest you, and your head will feel heavy in no time. But a bigger problem is that with Covid, you're likely not moving around enough, not getting exercise, and so your body is simply dragging all day. It needs to use up its energy through activity. Make it a priority to get at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise in each day. Try to do that before 8 pm or your body will be too hyperalert to relax.

Another key thing to consider is not eating or snacking at least 2-3 hours before bed. Your body needs time to digest food and so you want to give it time to transition to a restful, non-active mode. This is also why you don't want to consume a stimulant like caffeine, which excites the brain and body. If you must snack, choose something high in potassium or magnesium (banana, sweet potato, pumpkin seeds) which may help you relax.

As you get into bed, minimize your screen time on your phone, or eliminate it all together. It's not just the light from the screen keeping your brain awake, it's your distracted mind filtering through your social media feeds. You're firing your brain up, instead slowing it down. You don't want competing cues. Head on pillow, close eyes, sleep. Not head on pillow, scroll through the phone, try to sleep.

Keep a pad of paper beside your bed. Write out what you need to do the next day. Your mind can then relax, knowing you have done what you could that day, and you have a plan in place to be productive the next day. You can start your morning with a purpose!

Now, many of you likely sleep with your phone close beside you, and for no other reason than to hit the snooze alarm. DO NOT hit the snooze! Mel Robbins, in another great book, The 5 Second Rule (which I also recommend) talks about how she dramatically changed her life, simply by stopping hitting the snooze alarm. She describes hitting snooze as the catalyst for developing the hesitation/procrastination habit. That extra 5 or 15 minutes is really not going to help you. You'll be confusing your brain, as it thinks it's going to enjoy another sleep cycle, but it won't. And you'll be groggy all day.

Because your bed is so important for a good night's sleep, make sure you make your bed every morning. Admiral William McRaven, retired US Navy SEAL, in his May 2014 convocation address to the University of Texas at Austin, told the graduates that if they wanted to change the world they need to make their bed, every day. If you do this, as he tells them, you will have 'accomplished the first task of the day'. It may seem like a small, simple task but beginning your day this way, he informs them, will spark the chain reaction to keep going with the other tasks of the day. I whole-heartedly agree. And another benefit of making your bed, he tells them, is that when your day goes badly, at least you can climb into a nice clean bed at the end of it. It may be the only thing that goes right for you that day, but it's something to be grateful for. So, take ownership and make your bed, everyday. You'll be able to fall asleep, even if you had an off day.

Lastly, REPEAT! Make this a daily ritual. I use an app to track my daily habits that puts me in the right mental and physical state in order to go to sleep. When you lead a busy life - and who doesn't - sleep is the gift you need to give yourself everyday, or should I say night!

So, make getting a good night's sleep a priority. Small changes in your behaviour patterns can lead to improved sleep and overall wellbeing. Start tonight!

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon