How to Sleep
I never realised how controversial sleep could be until last week.
I had a guest post on Unclutter about how to make more time for the things you really want to do and a few people questioned or misunderstood my suggestion of reducing sleep.
I love to sleep but I’ve had sleeping problems too and when you can’t sleep life’s harder. Sleep’s a huge part of our lives and we owe it to ourselves to make sure we get enough of it every night.
The Problem With Sleep
The main problem with sleep is not getting enough of it and I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.
Research has shown that a lack of sleep makes people 71 per cent more likely to have depression and anxiety and 300 per cent more likely to be obese. When we sleep our mind and body recuperate and recharge ready for the next day and if you don’t get enough sleep the night before you won’t function as well as you should.
I only suggest cutting down on sleep if there’s a possibility that you’re getting too much of it and can function just as well with a bit less.
Most of us have probably suffered sleep problems over the years. There are so many things that can go wrong with sleep patterns like:
- Not being able to get to sleep;
- Waking too early;
- Still feeling tired the next day.
I’ve suffered from exhaustion through lack of sleep. It happens to all parents after their new baby is born and parental sleep patterns are thrown into disarray. I’d say sleep deprivation is a major cause of post-natal depression and definitely something to be avoided.
After the birth of my second son I was too fuddled to recognise the early signs of depression caused by exhaustion and stress and let myself get even more depressed. Even when the baby started sleeping more I was waking up after only two or three hours sleep. Then I’d spend a few hours worrying about everything under the sun (occasionally to the point of tears), before finally falling asleep at dawn and getting up a few hours later. I felt tired and grumpy most of the time and that’s why these days getting a good night’s sleep is one of my top priorities.
Teach Yourself How to Sleep
I believe sleeping is a learned skill. I taught all my kids how to sleep through the night from a young age because a vital life skill, and I’m sure adults can learn how to sleep well too. Like anything it’s easier to set up good habits when you’re young but adults can change their habits if they set their mind to it.
It’s important to get the right amount of sleep because if you get too little you’re endangering your health and if you sleep too much you could be sacrificing time that could be spent working towards living your dream. The amount of sleep you need will vary but a rough guide seems to be 7-10 hours. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for you.
Here are my tips for getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding sleep problems. They’re obvious really but I hear so many people tell me they slept poorly then admit they had too many coffees the day before so I think it’s good to have a reminder. I mess up sometimes by having a cup of mint tea just before bed which means I wake up in the night to go to the bathroom then kick myself for having that late night drink.
Hopefully if we follow these tips we’ll get the sleep of our dreams every night and wake up feeling happier and more energetic each day.
How to Sleep Commandments
1. Get up at the same time every day. This is the key to sound sleep habits. Once you’ve got in a pattern your body clock will take over and you’ll find you wake up just before your alarm clock rings.
2. Go to bed at more or less the same time. You have to play bed time by ear because some days you’ll be more tired than others. I go to bed hoping to read for an hour. Sometimes I read longer but most of the time I get so tired I can’t continue after ten to twenty minutes and that’s when the light goes out. I then fall asleep within five minutes.
3. End the day on a good note. If you meditate or write a journal just before bed time is the ideal time for that. It’s always good to go to sleep thinking about what you had to be grateful for that day too. If you have a partner you might be able to come up with other activities that leave you both feeling happy and drowsy.
4. Exercise daily, preferably outside. Exercise and fresh air will tire you out in the best way possible and walking is a great way to get do it.
5. Watch what you eat and drink. No caffeine after lunchtime and cut back on the sugar too. Both of them will stop you from getting to sleep. Cut the alcohol out completely if you want to be well rested. I like to party but alcohol plays havoc on sleep. Even one or two glasses of wine leave you tired the next day.
6. Make your bedroom a sanctuary. It should be a place you look forward to spending time in. Splurge on top quality cotton bedding and make sure the room is dark, airy and quiet when you’re sleeping.
7. Get up early. Studies show that successful people are early risers so it’s an easy way to get on the track to success. I love getting up early these days although I never used to. It’s worth training yourself to get used to it – the early mornings are peaceful and productive and in the winter I get to enjoy the sunrise too. Start slowly by getting up 15 minutes earlier each day. If you’re struggling to get up put your alarm clock in the bathroom so the only way to turn it off is by getting up.
8. Have a morning routine you look forward to. I get up at about 6am giving me time to gather my thoughts and exercise before springing into action and getting the kids ready for school. In a strange turn around I actually look forward to getting up early and fitting in this me time. My exercise and thinking time is something that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t schedule it for first thing. Prepare everything you need for the morning the night before for a stress-free start to the day.
9. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep. If you do wake in the night, get up and read elsewhere until you’re tired then go back to bed.
10. Don’t worry at night. You shouldn’t worry at all but if you must set aside five minutes for worry in the daytime so it doesn’t cut into your sleep. If you wake at night thinking of things you need to do the next day make a list of them in the day time. Keep it by your bed so if you wake up and remember something you can write it down. You’ll soon get into the habit of keeping a list and stop waking up.
11. Unplug it. No electronics like TV or computer for an hour before sleep time. They over-stimulate you and keep you awake too late.
12. No big drinks just before bed.
How to Sleep Easy
Give yourself a week or so to get into the swing of it. Like anything, good habits don’t happen overnight and you need to keep working on them. They say it takes three days to sleep train a baby but it’s much longer in my experience. You should be getting quite good at your new sleep routine after a month or so.
These days I go to sleep at about 10pm (give or take an hour) then wake up just before 6am, usually just before my alarm clock goes off.
If I do wake in the night because there’s a wierd Australian bird making a racket outside and can’t get back to sleep again fast I read on the sofa until I’m tired. And at the weekend I usually let myself catch up on any sleep I’ve missed and treat myself to a daytime nap. Blissszzzzzzzzzzz.
If you’re well rested sleep shouldn’t be controversial.
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Thanks for this topic. The best advice I ever heard about getting a fabulous, restful sleep – the kind where you dream wonderful dreams and awaken fully energised, stress-free and ready to take on the world – is this…
The key to a blissful sleep is to live a blissful life. It’s what you do when you are awake that can drive how well you rest.
Doing what you set out to do and not postponing your dream-come-true life.
Following through on what you said you would do – keeping promises.
Dealing with negative stuff as it arises.
Taking responsibility for your life and what happens next – no matter how bad the situation.
Treat people beautifully.
Sure, the things on your list count. Love your life, and you will love your sleep! Well, that’s my experience.
Best, Robin :)
Robin – Yes, totally agree. I’ve found that to be true for me. When life’s good you sleep well and when you’re stressed out and miserable you can’t sleep then you can’t cope with the stress and before you know it you’re stuck in a cycle that can be hard to break. It is so satisfying to go to bed feeling you’ve had a good day, achieved as much as you could and done something good. One of my favourite expressions after a busy day is to say that I’m tired but happy. That’ definitely when you have the best sleep:)
Sleep is a skill and I like the key practices you shared.
I found that my “shutdown” routine at the end of the day can make a big difference in the quality and duration of my sleep (not to mention the dreams, and oh how do I dream.)
I really like this article, Annabel. It’s great advice and as you say, a simple reminder. One more suggestion I have is to remove all electrical items from your bedroom. We recently replaced our digital clocks with small battery operated travel clocks. We removed the phone from the bedroom and have no TV. I think this is one more way of creating a calm environment.
J.D. – I like the idea of a shutting up shop routine. A hot bubble bath is a favourite of mine but it’s too hot round here and there’s a drought on so I have to forgo that. Dreaming sounds good and you can definitely train yourself to remember your dreams too. I think that would make an interesting article.
Trish – Great to see you here. I think removing all the electronic things from your room is a fine plan. I can’t bear ticking at night so I do have a digital clock but just a tiny one, not a big glowing flashing thing like they sometimes put in hotel rooms. I tell you what’s a sleep killer for me – when my mobile runs out of batteries and the beeping gets to me all the way from my handbag on the kitchen floor. Sooo annoying!
The best advice I ever had about how to sleep was the following:
Look forward to sleeping.
Because, frankly, there’s nothing like it. If you can train your brain to get excited about getting into bed at the end of the day because sleeping just ROCKS, then you’re halfway there.
I also find that deep breathing, once in bed, knocks me out quick.
I’m new here, but I’ll be coming back. Thanks Annabel.
I’m a person who’d had sleep issues too.
Recently I’ve been tired but the mind seems to race at night. I’ve been meditating twice a day now; plenty of resistance built up in me so the energy has to dissipate sometime.
When I become accustomed to the new schedule sleeping will be easier for me.
Helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.
This was a nice overview, Miss Annabel. As someone who needs a good 8-10 hours to feel good, it was nice to see that reiterated. One thing that can really be detrimental to my sleep pattern is, regrettably, alcohol. Even one glass of wine too late in the evening can put me on a sugar high that makes my mind race for precius hours when I could be sacked out. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one with this issue, and I definitely ignore it far too often, so I thought I’d put it out there. Perhaps “saying it out loud” will make me drink less…?
Oh, yes, sleep… what a luxury. i love my sleep time. 8-10 hours? I wish. I’ve a little ‘un – well, more of a growing boy really – who just doesn’t sleep. He likes to share it. I’ve been trying to train him to sleep through the night for nine years now (3 days?!). Eventually gave up and play musical beds now to try and get the shut eye I long for. But you know what? On the rare occasions he does sleep through the night, i wake up anyway. It’s him who has trained me :) . Ah, well.
Love my early mornings – always have. Nothing like seeing the sun rise, and enjoying the peace and quiet of those early hours. That is when I recharge the batteries with a bit of meditation and some exercise, check my email and take a few deep breaths before…um… trying to wake the boy up to start his day!
Yup, those 7 -10 hours of good quality sleep make a world of difference to how we are able to cope, our overall level of well-being, ability to fight off colds and flus and even to how well we regulate our weight and appetite.
I find that eating anything much past 8 p.m. at night pretty much guarantees that I’m going to suddenly be wide awake at 10:30 p.m. and through ’til about midnight. I try to wake up at the same time every day (about 6 a.m.), but those early morning hours aren’t helpful or productive if I don’t get to bed by about 10 and fall asleep by 10:30. Listening to a guided meditation CD helps me to fall asleep. (I have yet to hear all of Deepak Chopra’s Chakra Balancing meditation!)
My curiosity got the better of me and I just had to check out the raucous Kookaburra. That is one zany bird “song”, and–at the right time of the day–is an almost infectious laugh. It wouldn’t be so funny in the middle of the night though. There is a bird in India called the “brain fever bird” (also known as the common hawk cuckoo) and while I don’t think it starts “singing” before dawn, it could drive you mad listening to it for any length of time–and it will happily go on repeating the same few notes for hours and hours: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1ws_PlFSx0&feature=related
Just be glad the brain fever bird can’t pair up with the kookaburra or it could be a symphonic nightmare!
My favorite part of this is the last sentence. Good advice too :-)
I have been deprived of sleep for many months now because of my little son. I am now recuperating my sleep pattern and these tips will be beneficial to me. I will try to cut out my coffee intake for this keep me awake at night. :-)
Great article Annabell! We all probably neglect to get the right amount of sleep. I have found that not drinking before bed (alcohol) and definatley not eating at least three hours before bed will help you grow sleepy earlier and rest much more peaceful. One third of your life you know!
A couple of points:
First of all, the depression/insomnia correlation may not be what you think. What I mean is that cause and effect are tricky things and in fact there is evidence that it is the depression that causes the insomnia, not the other way around.
I can attest to this personally. I began having sleep problems in 1997 after my brother was killed by a drunk driver. Years passed and I have had many other deaths in my family, some also quite tragic, as was my brother’s death. Because of the effects of the trauma of these events I battle depression and anxiety on a daily basis. I have learned over the years how to cope, however, nothing helps with my insomnia.
On that basis, I disagree with the claim that you can “learn” to sleep. I have read all the recommendations you point out here, over and over again in sleep articles. None of those recommendations can begin to help someone with insomnia that results from traumatic events as mine has.
The result: I have learned to live with being tired all the time. The level of tiredness varies from day-to-day, but it is almost always there at some level. I think people might be surprised that you can survive even if you’re tired. We act as if being tired is the worst thing that can happen. Believe me, there are far worse things than being tired!
I love your articles Annabel, but I just had to add my 2 cents!
Matt – Great to see you here. I do look forward to it. Especially when I’ve got clean sheets. Love the deep breathing trick.
Ryan – That’s been my problem too. My mind racing away when it should be resting and brilliant ideas popping into my head at the wrong time!
Molly – Same problem here but it’s hard to resist sometimes. As long as we don’t do it every night and can catch up some other time.
Cate – Lol, yes it is a challenge with kids. They need to be retrained often and they do get us into bad habit too:)
Sue – Thanks for commenting and the crazy bird link. Another thing to be grateful for:) You’re right, I missed the don’t eat tip!
Connie – Nothing is controversial when you’re well rested. You just shrug your shoulders at annoying stuff and move on.
Walter – Thinking of you. Those new baby days are the best and worst of times. You’ll get through it:)
Randall – Thanks for adding the no eating tip. Sad about the alchohol thing but so true.
Anne – So sorry for your losses. It’s terrible and I can understand that it would knock your whole world upside down, never mind your sleep patterns. I think you’re right my depression got worse as it interfered with my sleep. I want to believe that you can get a good night’s sleep one day. Don’t give up on it. Oh and thanks for giving us your two cents worth. I learn so much from my readers and that’s what I love about doing this. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us.
These are great tips, Annabel! I have trouble sleeping and I think you’re sugeestions are spot on.
Sleep is indeed very important — but why? You have put together a very interesting article. The link to ‘Australian bird’ brought a smile here even without hearing it again.
Life has dealt to me the apparently usual variations in sleep patterns, to this point. The sweet/sour characteristics and time consuming nature of sleep has long caused me to ask (anyone really) basically this sleep related question:
Why did God create humans that NEED to sleep almost one third of their existence in this life
Annabel, I love a good nights sleep. I trained myself long ago to fall asleep. It was in ninth grade which was a big year for me. I learned to stop worrying and how to fall asleep fast that year.
The stop worrying came as an epiphany, but the sleep took practice. Every night for several months I would practice falling asleep by using some meditation techniques to still my mind.
Now, I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. It took much practice, but I’m glad now that I put in the effort.
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I have a foolproof way to sleep. Works every time, regardless of all those other rules you mentioned. I’m not good at following rules.
I apply EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s like acupuncture without the needles. You simply tap on your energy meridans while in the comfort of your own bed. For a more detailed description of how it works check out my site.
If you have any questions ask me. Only too happy to help. By the way, EFT works on any issue, problem or circumstance that you would like to change. You are only limited by your imagination.