Forget smart drugs, the single best way to enhance your cognitive powers and become more focused is to get more sleep. And forget supplements, the single best way to accelerate your muscle gains and improve your strength is to get more sleep. There are countless articles out there that detail ‘life hacks’ and other strategies you can use to sleep better.
These range between lying on spikey mats (which is nonsense), to taking ZMA (which doesn’t do much), to eating honey before bed (which might just be helpful but is negligible). More efficient then is to look at some small, simple changes you can make to your routine that will have a major impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep.
There’s that ‘kaizen’ again!
Number one: Take a hot shower or bath before bed. This helps to encourage the production of growth hormone and melatonin and it also helps to relax the muscles – far more effectively than taking valerian root. As your body cools down, you’ll sink into a much deeper and more restorative sleep and you’ll also save yourself time in the morning.
Number two: Open the window a-jar. We sleep much better when our environment is slightly cool. Let some cool air into your room but make sure you can keep warm with your duvet.
Number three: Go for a run or walk in the morning that day. Getting more exercise helps you sleep more, as does getting fresh air and vitamin D. You can also supplement with vitamin D in the morning – if you live in the UK like me then there’s a good chance you’re deficient.
Number four: Take half an hour or even just 15 minutes before bed to wind down and do some reading. Avoid looking at mobile screens or computers if possible, as the light from these increases cortisol production.
I experimented with wearing blue-blocking shades before bed for a while but truth be told, you look like a nob and it’s pretty impractical – especially if you’re in a relationship. Taking a little while out to ‘unwind’ will help you forget the stresses of the day while getting your body into a good ‘sleep mode’.
Number five: Most important of all is simply to prioritize your sleep and to give it the attention it deserves. Stop watching YouTube videos until 2am in the morning and start getting into a routine.
Number six: Of course you also need to look after the environment you’re sleeping in. Comfortable pyjamas and duvet covers, along with curtains that actually block out the light and an absence of blinking LEDs will make a huge difference.
Waking Up Full of Beans
Meanwhile, I highly recommend investing in some kind of ‘daylight alarm’ (such as those made by Lumie). These are designed to emit a light that is more similar to sunlight in terms of the wavelength and will come on gradually as it approaches the time you set the alarm. This then gradually rouses you out of sleep and if all goes well, you’ll wake naturally before the alarm goes off.
As a result, you’ll feel significantly more awake and well rested. Even if it takes the alarm to wake you though, you’ll be waking up in a light environment from a much lighter state of sleep. You feel far less ‘sleep inertia’ and you’ll really notice the difference when you’re forced to wake up without it. This is especially effective for those who struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Trust me, this is one change that will really make a highly noticeable difference. Just think about the difference you’re now making: previously, you were sleeping deeply at which point a loud alarm would suddenly startle you awake. This would jolt you out of sleep with a start and you’d wake up into a pitch black room and have to drag yourself out of bed.
Instead, you’re now coming around gently, waking up gradually and naturally as the room gets lighter and then being nudged over the edge by the actual alarm. And when you open your eyes, the room is already light and you’re already ready to go!
Get Up on Time Every Time
For those who struggle to get out of bed without hitting the ‘snooze’ button, a daylight alarm can help. If you need a little extra help, then try waking up in ‘stages’. Instead of forcing yourself to leap out of bed, agree that you’ll just prop yourself up into a more upright position and turn on the light when the alarm sounds.
If you must hit snooze then that’s fine once, but the second time it goes off you’re then going to grab a book, your phone or something else that will prevent you from dozing off. Absent mindedly look through this. Then, you should find you’re awake enough to get up. Getting up slowly is not only healthier, it’s much easier to do when you’re feeling low on will-power.
Why You Feel Ill in the Morning
If you find you still can’t wake up effectively in the morning, then it may be that you’re struggling with a number of potential issues.
If you have a scratchy throat or you feel ill, then below you’ll find some possible causes and solutions:
Something that is thought to help this is a spoon of honey, which
contains both slow release and fast release sugar, providing you with a
steady supply of energy through the night. This might seem like a bit of
a random tangent but it really isn’t – many of us wake up in the
morning feeling sub-par but aren’t quite sure why. Often it comes down
to factors in the environment or in your overall health like these and
as we’ve seen, it should be relatively easy to solve them in many cases!
CBT for Getting to Sleep
Finally, if you struggle getting to sleep because you can’t stop your mind racing, then address the way you are thinking about sleep. There’s a lot more to learn about CBT and it really is a fantastic tool but for now all you need to know is that it involves changing the way you think about a problem.
In this case, you’re going to stop putting pressure on yourself to sleep – if you feel stressed that you’re not asleep yet then you’ll work yourself up and be far less likely to be able to drift off! Instead of getting frustrated then, focus on using the opportunity to just relax and enjoy lying down to have a think/feel free from the pressures of the day.
Even if you’re just relaxing, this will still offer you some recuperative benefit. What you’ll find though, is that the moment you manage to enjoy ‘just relaxing’, you’ll fall asleep. Don’t force yourself to drift off, that’s an oxymoron; just get comfortable, enjoy the moment and let your body take care of the rest when you really need to drift off.