Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer.
A good night’s sleep improves every area of your life. This includes your emotional wellbeing, memory, metabolism, ability to focus, stress response, and much more.
Why are so many of us sacrificing sleep?
One theory is Revenge Bed Time Procrastination.
Although this concept originated in China, Revenge Bed Time Procrastination is a global phenomenon.
The idea of Revenge Bed Time Procrastination is simple . . .
When you feel like you don’t have much control over your day (due to work, study, and/or sports commitments), you sacrifice sleep to engage in fun activities to regain some sense of freedom.
Instead of sleeping, you stay up late watching your favourite shows, playing video games, and/or chatting with friends online.
But this comes at a cost. By seeking revenge on your work/school day and sacrificing sleep, your health suffers.
Your ability to study and learn is also negatively impacted. When you’re sleep deprived, the hippocampus (that’s the part of the brain associated with memory and learning) ceases to function properly. This makes it incredibly difficult to retain information when you study.
How much sleep do you need?
High school students need about 9-10 hours each night.
Adults need about 7-9 hours.
But it’s not just quantity of sleep that matters. It’s quality, too.
Getting up throughout the night to check your phone destroys your sleep quality.
The good news is there are a range of simple things you can do to get more and better sleep. Since you spend about a third of your life asleep, it makes sense to learn how you can optimise this area of your life.
Here’s a list of 10 things that sleep experts recommend doing:
1. Wake up and go outside
Getting some sunshine first thing in the morning when you wake up can help you sleep better at night. Even just 10 minutes of sunshine can work wonders. You could create a tiny habit of eating breakfast outside or going outside for a short walk, run and/or workout.
2. Charge your phone in another room
If you use your phone as an alarm, there’s a good chance you’ve developed the habit of sleeping next to your phone. When your phone is in sight and within arms reach, it’s tempting to keep checking your phone.
Co-founder of the Centre for Humane Technology Tristan Harris says sleeping with your phone next to you is like sleeping next to a giant doughnut. It’s really hard to resist.
In addition, the light that is emitted from your phone messes with your ability to produce melatonin (a hormone that makes you feel sleepy).
This explains why so many people struggle to fall asleep. And it’s why many sleep scientists recommend charging your phone in another room at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. Out of sight, out of mind.
3. Avoid screens 2 hours before bed
It’s not just the light from screens that keeps you awake at night. Scrolling through social media and playing video games are mentally stimulating tasks. These apps and games are designed to hook you in and hijack your attention.
The problem is this is the polar opposite to how you need to feel before you go to bed!
To get a good night’s sleep, you need to slow down and calm your mind, which brings me to the next point . . .
4. Listen to Fat Cat
When I was a child, a character called Fat Cat would come on the television at 7.30pm every night. Fat Cat would get into bed, wave, and say “Goodnight boys and girls”.
Fat Cat was a big fat prompt for bedtime. He was effectively saying to parents, “Put your children to bed before the adult programs start”.
As children, most of us had some kind of winding down time before bed. Our parents would give us a bath, put on our pyjamas, and read us a book. These activities helped to calm our minds.
But as we got older, many of us abandoned winding down time.
It’s time to bring back winding down time and create bedtime rituals. Engaging in just 15-30 minutes of calming activities before bed can make a massive difference to your sleep quality.
My bedtime ritual involves the following:
• Charging my phone in another room
• Putting on my cosy pyjamas
• Dimming the lights in my bedroom
• Reading a book (nothing too exciting or work related)
• Writing down my wins for the day
5. Consider buying a new pillow (if you need to)
If you find yourself having to fluff your pillow up or flip it like a pancake throughout the night, it could be time for a pillow upgrade.
If you keep putting off shopping for a new pillow, I don’t blame you. Shopping for pillows can be frustrating and disheartening. I have purchased many expensive pillows that I haven’t been able to sleep on (e.g., too high, too low, or too firm). But I recently found the perfect pillow.
So, my advice is don’t give up. Keep searching for the perfect pillow.
Here are my pillow shopping tips:
• Go to a bed store, find a mattress that is similar to your own, and test out a range of different pillows on that mattress.
• Don’t be afraid to take a 15 minute power nap with the pillow in the shop!
• Some sales assistants will try to sell you really expensive pillows ($200AUD+) but the most expensive pillow may not be the best pillow (I ended up buying a $40 pillow).
6. Watch your inputs before bed
I had a stack of Guardian Weekly news magazines that I wanted to get through. I thought, “Why not create a tiny habit of reading the news before bed?”
This was a terrible idea.
On the night’s I read the news before bed, I noticed that I would have nightmares.
So my advice to you is this: don’t read the news right before going to bed! Find a better spot in your daily routine to do it (after breakfast or lunch work works for me).
7. Don’t be lazy: wash your bed sheets
A survey by Sleep Junkie found that people who washed their sheets frequently (every 12.8 day on average) reported sleeping better than people who washed their sheets less frequently.
There’s something really nice about getting into a bed with clean sheets. Why not change your bed sheets and see how you sleep tonight?
8. Get your thoughts down on paper
If your mind is racing, grab a piece of paper and write out what you’re thinking. It doesn’t have to make sense or even look nice.
There is something mentally liberating about getting your thoughts out of your head and down on paper. When I write my thoughts down, I gain a little distance from them. Those thoughts are also less likely to keep looping through my head on repeat.
9. Make your room like a cave
When you sleep, you want your room to be dark. The darker the better.
If you can see little green or red lights coming from devices, put tape over them. Block out curtains can work really well, too. But if you’re not in a position to change your curtains, I recommend investing in a good eye mask to block out the light.
I have experimented with lots of sleep masks over the years, but my favourite is a sleep mask I was gifted from Baxter Blue (you can check it out here). This eye mask is a little pricey but it’s super comfortable as it doesn’t apply any pressure on your eyes. Most importantly, it does a great job of blocking out the light.
10. Eat more plants
Studies show eating a fibre rich diet can lead to better sleep.
Where do you get fibre from?
From plant foods (i.e., beans, vegetables, fruits, and wholegrains).
There is no fibre in meat, eggs, dairy, and junk food.
Add an extra serve of vegetables to each of your meals (including breakfast). If you’re not a fan of vegetables, find ways to hide them in your meals. For example, whenever I add a handful of spinach or kale to a smoothie, I can’t even tell it’s in there!
To sum up
There are many different things you can do to improve your sleep each night. The key is to commit to making sleep a top priority. Commit to trying a few of these strategies.
Getting healthy sleep is one of the simplest ways you can improve the way you feel, think, and learn. Let’s face it, everything feels easier after a good night’s sleep.