How dirty is your sleep routine? No, not that kind of sleep routine. I’m talking about your actual sleep routine. Have you got one? Have you even thought about this before? If I had a tenner for the amount of people who are always tired, I’d be Alan bloody Sugar. Now, I’ve got an excuse for being consistently knackered – but do you? If not, maybe it’s time to have a long hard look at your sleep routine, and try out my 5 ways to tidy it up a bit.
Sleep routines are for kids. I’m an adult.
Yes. Yes you are. An adult who’s probably fucking exhausted every day from a life of constant work-based/life-based bullshit. An adult who more than likely stays up way too late watching shit documentaries on 90s’s love triangles, Gavin and Stacey repeats on Dave and 8 Out of 10 bastard Cats. You also fall asleep on the sofa watching said telly-guff and wake up in a small but disgusting puddle of your own drool at 3am, don’t you?
Sleep routines are for kids. They exist for a reason…but that reason is valid for adults too. We neglect our sleep health as soon as we can. It’s the one routine that almost all of us forget to give a shit about. And yet, it’s the one routine that can make the biggest difference to our health and wellbeing. Most adults need at least six to nine hours sleep a night, and many of us just aren’t getting that on a consistent basis.
When I first got diagnosed with Narcolepsy, I had to work so hard to reset my clock and actually cultivate a sleep routine. It’s all gone to shit in recent years, I’ll be honest, but it genuinely made such a difference to my life when I stuck to it. I felt awake. Actually awake, and not just dragging my battered carcass through each day until Dave o’clock. When was the last time you felt truly awake?
If you fancy giving it a whirl, here’s how to get started with cleaning up your sleep hygiene. That’s what it’s called, by the way, I didn’t make that up…grim.
1. Sack off the TV.
I know. WHAT ABOUT GAVIN AND STACEY?!
Look, you’ve seen them about 400 times. You can recite the ‘2 steaks Pam’ routine with your fingers in your ears and still do the Essex accent to boot. You look fabulous, and you feels it, alright?
Turn the telly off at least an hour before you go to bed. It’s the same shit that you’d do with the kids, and it does actually work. Your brain needs wind-down time, especially with the level of mental/online processing it does on a daily basis. Use the TV-free time to relax, have a bath or do something relatively concentration-free to help your brain tell your body that it’s time to switch off.
2. No caffeine after 3pm.
I know. This one was a much bigger one for me to combat that I realised. I used to drink about ten cups of tea a day. This was before I knew I had a sleep condition, and just thought I really loved PG Tips. Crafty old brain. Basically though, you can’t expect your brain to chill out for bed properly if it’s wired off it’s neurological tits with caffeine, nicotine or sugar. The hormone that tells your brain it’s night-time and time to wind down is called melatonin. Foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan boost the production of melatonin and therefore induce a better quality of sleep.
Things to eat and drink that can help relaxation and promote sleepiness are:
- tryptophan-rich proteins such as chicken, turkey, nuts and seeds
- milk and dairy products which also contain tryptophan
- decaf (rank I know) tea or coffee if you have to drink it
Make sure you’re not eating a massive dinner just before you plan to go to bed either. Digesting it will push your body temperature up and delay your brain’s ability to start the sleep process, plus you’ll feel really uncomfortable trying to sleep on it straight away.
My advice on this point is to try and reduce your caffeine intake gradually. It’s not easy, but it is doable!
3. Pick a bedtime and stick to it. No deviating.
Again, this is a tough one. I had to train myself to be in bed and actually asleep by 10pm. Also this was in the pre-child days, so much easier. However, if you’ve got one that’s in a fairly stable nighttime pattern now, you can give it a whirl. I used to start my wind-down at 9pm and then be in bed, on my way to falling asleep by 10pm. To begin with it was fucking hard work, but after a while I started to wake naturally at 7am.
Without the alarm clock.
You know that when you’re waking up before your alarm goes off, and you don’t feel like actual shit on toast, then something is going right somewhere.
It’s not easy, and temptations to work, catch up on emails, piss about on Facebook will always be there, but trust me, this one really does reap it’s own rewards. I need to start doing it again myself.
4. De-stress your bedroom.
You might not realise it, but your bedroom might be causing you more than your fair share of bad dreams. According to sleep specialists, your bedroom should be used for two things only; sleep and sex. As an aside, a good shag is one of the other things that can induce quality sleep, so that’s one to just make a side note of and file under FYI.
Your room needs to be quiet, dark, tidy and a cool temperature. Most importantly, it should be free of any electronics. My room has a bed, a chair and a chest of drawers in it. That’s it. No TV, no gadgets, literally nothing else. If you’ve got a telly in your room, get rid of it. It could be playing major havoc with your brain’s ability to properly switch off.
Trust me on this, it makes a big difference.
5. Don’t fixate on a magic cure.
If you’ve got any sleep issues, like me, then it’s important to know that they’ll take time to sort out. It’s never going to be as easy as following a list of tips and tricks to magic away insomnia or eye bags.
Proper cleaning up of your sleep routine takes time and perserverance, but also a pinch of salt. It’s important to take your sleep cycle seriously – not enough of us really consider the long term implications of poor sleep and the constant mental stimulation we all endure thanks to our tech-heavy lifestyles.However, it’s not something to fixate on if it doesn’t all go to plan straightaway. You’re not going to definitely develop Alzheimer’s just because you’re using your iPad before bed each night! Like everything else in life, it’s about moderation and evaluation.
I hope you’ve found some of this helpful and that if you’ve been looking into your own sleep issues at all it provides a bit of food for thought. If you’ve got any questions about sleep disorders, sleep hygiene or narcolepsy, feel free to pop them in the comments below or drop me a tweet over on Twitter. Anyway, I’m off to watch a bit of Dave. Sweet dreams.