Getting a Good Nights' Sleep—every Single Night
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“A good day starts the night before.”
Sleep is one of the perpetual pillars of a happy, healthy life. It’s one of the few things that has the power to affect everything. From how you think to how you move and live.
Your sleep quality is enough to make the difference between having a bad day, a good day, or a phenomenal day. It’s the difference between a day of feeling strong and a day of feeling weak. It can help you live happier with more resilient to stress or make everything feel stressful.
What we once called “normality”, and quite possibly more so in this time with Covid, I feel like many peoples’ sleeping patterns and quality of sleep are not that great. Whether it’s due to stress, upset, or an inconsistent sleep schedule.
It might be you, or you might know someone who does struggle to sleep well. But in truth: we all could do better with our quality of sleep. And so, I wanted to tackle this problem, simply, and create an outline of solutions to the problems we face with getting a better night of sleep.
The common problems with getting to sleep
Personally, I don’t often have issues with getting to sleep. But this is because I have practised—for many years—how to sleep on demand. So, I asked my girlfriend and close friends about what problems they have. And I thought about what I did to get to sleep quicker. I also explored for research-backed hacks and secrets to getting to sleep quicker, staying asleep, and improving your overall quality.
Here are the most common problems (and solutions) with sleep I’ve found:
You’re staring at the ceiling, perfectly still and eerily quiet.
Yet inside, you feel like your heart is pounding with energy and your mind’s racing like a NASCAR event.
Yeah, you can’t drift off. And I’ll bet it’s not the first time.
Anxiety likes to ruin the hopes of many things we dream of doing. Like starting a business, coping with failure, asking for more money, speaking to a girl or guy we like, starting a new hobby or profession or simply talking to others about what we’re interested in.
It loves to restrain us from facing things that might scare us. And this, in turn, affects how well we get to sleep at night. Believe it or not, anxiety is not something you may always notice to be affecting your sleep. But it can be the protagonist to your sleep problems entirely.
To define anxiety: it’s the worry we have for a future outcome. Or in other words—something that doesn’t exist.
We get anxiety because we fear the unknown. It surrounds this uncertainty we have over our future. And that’s what causes us to panic and make our minds race like a jockey on a horse.
Anxiety works to stop you from switching off, especially so at the time before we try to sleep—when you have a chance to think about nothing for once until the next day. It causes you to wake up feeling grouchy, irritable or sluggish. It hinders your cognitive function. It weakens your immune system, aids diabetes and heart disease, and it makes your everyday problems feel worse than they are.
Whenever I felt anxious, I’d spend hours tossing and turning, forcing my mind to shut up. And if I did get to sleep, I’d either wake up again shortly after, or I’d wake up too early and lay there staring at the wall.
What I now do to fix this is I play a podcast or lo-fi music. It wouldn’t stimulate my mind so much to keep me awake, but it keeps my mind busy, so I can distract myself enough to fall asleep peacefully.
Another thing I did and recommend to you, first, is to dedicate time before bed as downtime. That means not fulfilling work obligations or commitments or stressful activities in the hours before going to sleep. Save it for tomorrow. It’s always better to leave those things and start earlier when you're fresh.
Do things like stretching, watching a nice movie or series or having a hot bath. Most advice says to not look at screens before bed. And it’s correct. But I’ve not really had issues getting a good sleep after playing video games or watching something on my phone. It helps, if anything. But if you struggle severely with anxiety before sleep, It’s best not to look at screens for long before bed. Focus instead on mental and physical relaxation.
And if you wake up and find yourself struggling to get back to sleep for a while, there is little benefit to staying still and hoping you nod off. Rather, get up and do something gentle. Something that uses minimal mental energy.
We’ve all had those nights when we just can’t switch off. Anxiety-inducing thoughts are running through our heads. Or, we’re simply excited or fascinated about something that’s happened or will happen.
Overthinking at night keeps many people awake and stops us from getting the sleep we need to feel refreshed and zest the next day. But what causes it? Here’s what therapist and psychologist Hope Bastine says:
“We don't have the time and space during the day to process what's happened and to evaluate and make sense of it. Sometimes, the only time we get to do that is when we're in bed. A lot of people tell me that as soon as they're in bed, all their thoughts start rolling around in their head—it's a blizzard. And they're suddenly remembering all the things that they should have done.”
Overthinking at night is largely correlated to our brain processing what has happened to us during the day. It comes down to us now trying to use the quiet time as an opportunity to think about every possible thing we can.
To relieve this, rituals tend to be the best natural remedy. Having a ritual of at least an hour to relax before you plan to sleep is really important. Whether you’ve come home from the gym or a late-night working, you still need that wind-down time to process your day. This allows you to activate the alpha brainwave state. If not an hour, then picking two of your favourite things to relax will help you switch off; perhaps, making a herbal tea, writing in your journal, lighting a candle or sitting to meditate.
One other thing I tried is having mindful chats with my partner, but you can try this with a family member or friend. To help with sleep, we’d have a positive conversation that’s deep, connected and meaningful. Not “what I did today…”. Not even about fixing problems. Just a focus on speaking, hearing and listening.
“We work so hard, so when we come home tired and don’t get time to appreciate what we’re working hard for, we become resentful and negative.”
Our phones. Screens; Netflix, Youtube. Our mind. Our partner. The noise of the street. Our neighbours. There are so many distractions surrounding us that it makes our brains have to process even more information than it may already be doing.
Distractedness contributes to a lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep contributes to distraction. It’s a dangerous cycle. And research has found that sleep-deprived people have a harder time rebounding from distractions than well-rested people.
Distractedness can seem like an insignificant problem because so many people do it. But it’s a serious issue which costs our cognitive function, productivity, activity and memory.
But to preemptively deal with distractions, we must first realise that much of what distracts us is frankly beyond our control; trying to control it can cause even more anxiety, frustration or overthinking.
To limit the negative impact, focus on scheduling your sleep. There is a no better and simpler remedy to sleep than a consistent schedule.
The best thing you can do for your sleep is to sleep and wake up at the same time. Inconsistency is one of the worst things you can do for your sleep.
Give yourself ample break time to switch from concentrated work to relax mode. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to make errors and produce low-quality work. When we say we’re too busy to improve our sleep, it’s a myth; what we need is better time management.
A final tip is to create extra buffers against distractions. While it’s easy to say to someone “sleep more”, I know that’s not so simple for everyone. When you do find yourself short on sleep or always tired, be extra attentive to removing distractions. Silence your phone and put it far away, keep pets in another room, close yourself in a quiet and cool room and focus on your breathing.
Mindfulness is the key to better sleep. It’s not one sole solution that’s going to make your sleep better. It takes a mixture of good habits done consistently—one night at a time.
What’s on My Mind
The power of progress is a wonderful thing. These past two weeks have seen the highest number of reads this newsletter has seen so far, and when I started this, I dreamt of even just one person reading this and seeing the way they think, move and live get better—even if it’s a 1% improvement.
I want it to help. And seeing it grow so far has been great. It reminds me continuously that perfection doesn’t matter. I’ve seen big channels and platforms get it wrong and make mistakes like I do. But it’s the consistency in trying to progress that matters. That’s what makes us happy and successful. And that’s what makes me love every step of this so far.
“You have to take responsibility for where you want to end up. To gain mastery, a student has to leave a teacher and develop a point of view that she brings to her work. Danielle LaPorte says: ‘If you really want to screw up your life, you should never question your spiritual teachers’.”
— Srinivas Rao
Article of the week:
This weeks’ article is a reflection of all my rejections over the past year. There was a lot. But it made me a happier person. Have a read to find out why.
Interesting thing of the week:
5 Mental frameworks exceptional people use every day, by Polina Marina Pompliano.
Question of the week:
What are 5 things you like about yourself? (if you don’t know, spend this week writing them down.)
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