Sleep used to be the filler between the waking hours and subject to the lottery of alarm calls, alcohol and infants. Developing good sleep habits was never part of a disciplined routine to help improve my performance or wellbeing.
I now have a sleep ritual to develop good sleep habits, although it is a touch dull (cue: yawn), it sets me up for a good day tomorrow. If I miss my routine and a good nights sleep, I really have to focus hard the next day on being disciplined to get things done.
Here is an extract of an article first published in entrepreneur.com by James Swanwick, an author, entrepreneur and co-founder of Swanwick Sleep, who reports on the good sleep habits of highly successful (but sadly anonymous) entrepreneurs.
I have selected eight habits from James’ full list with some commentary from me in italics
Good Sleep Habits to Dramatically Improve Your Sleep
1. Have a morning routine
Use a dawn simulator for a consistent wake time, ideally 90 minutes before starting work. Resist the temptation to immediately check emails and messages—you’re not fully alert to process or respond to them properly. Plus, your stress hormone, cortisol, is at its peak. Leave it for 15 to 90 minutes until you’re fully awake, hydrated, and fueled. If you feel the need for some mental stimulation, play Lumosity, read a book or listen to a podcast.
I think this is the most important piece of advice, which is why it is top of the list. A routine builds a sense of control and familiarity leading to confidence, two important foundation stones of mental toughness. However, one person’s routine won’t necessarily work for another, so trial and error is important. For example after my first coffee and a quick read of the basketball and football results I do clear my overnight emails as part of my planning for the day. It gives me a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of confidence as I’m already ahead of the most of the rest of my world.
2. Try morning exercise
Appalachian State University found that morning workouts support the best sleep at night. Those who exercised at 7 a.m. slept longer and deeper than two groups that trained at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. You don’t have to destroy yourself with high-intensity training; do some stretching or yoga. If proximity isn’t an issue, walk or cycle to work.
On the odd occasions when I do exercise in the mornings it feels so empowering and exhilarating. So, I’m a fan in theory but have yet to find a way to fit it into my ritual. Note to self – “must do better”.
3. Get more sunlight
Science proves that getting more sunlight helps you sleep better at night. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, sets the body clock to daytime, improves alertness, and boosts performance. Stand in the sun (or fresh air, if it’s cold) with your morning coffee, and get your day off to the right start.
I’m a big fan of this advice. I work at a desk by the window and ensure that I’m out walking somewhere during the day, even if its only between office blocks. I don’t know if it helps me develop good sleep habits but it certainly makes me feel more positive about everything. This is helped by the regular clear blue skies in Australia, which are way more uplifting than a gloomy grey backdrop.
4. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, but it messes with your sleep cycles. Your brain and body won’t rejuvenate fully if you’ve been drinking. Experiment with a no alcohol challenge and watch your sleep improve dramatically.
I used to regularly drink to excess to manage my stress but I’m now teetotal. I have written about the benefits of this recently so already include these in my Sleep Ritual.
5. Avoid evening overstimulation
Don’t drink caffeine at least six hours before sleeping—it takes about that long for it to leave your system. Try to avoid responding to emails and messages before sleep, or risk a potentially stressful situation keeping your mind ticking all night. Communicate that you’re not available 24/7 or will only check emails three times a day. People will understand and can always SMS you if it’s urgent. Or, ask a virtual assistant to monitor your emails and send you a WhatsApp message about anything urgent. Leave the high-octane video games and action movies in HD surround sound until the weekend. Remove any stimulation from your bedroom like clutter, thriller novels, loud paintings, or work material.
I have certainly taken most of this to heart. Occasionally I work late because I have to meet a deadline, but for the most part I have an evening ritual. I only drink coffee in the mornings (although far too much) and then tend to “power down” and spend the last hour before my 10pm “departure” without active technology or work emails or spreadsheets. I generally avoid anything that gets my mind racing about the stresses and strains of work, preferring to listen to the radio or music or watch a mini-series. I don’t subscribe to James’s ‘not available’ email though because I actually don’t think people will understand.
6. Have an evening routine
A low-impact evening activity like swimming helps clear your mind after a chaotic day. Dim the lights in your home. Opt for less powerful lamps or candles. Download your thoughts from the day by writing them on a “what’s on your mind” list. Take this opportunity to write your to-do list for the next day, or write down three things you’re grateful for. Pack your bag, so you don’t have to do it in the morning. Maybe iron your clothes, prepare your lunch, or clean the house—remove any niggling thoughts that might wake you during the night. Meditation is great for this, too.
As John Lennon sang “Whatever gets you through the night ‘salright, ‘salright” , so you have to find out what works for you . For me, the ‘power down’ nightly routine helps settle my mind and reduce my stress, but really it’s the 10pm curfew which is the ‘non-negotiable’. With it I can then enjoy 7 hours sleep before waking up at 5am to turn off my alarm clock before it sings. I do recommend Martin Seligman’s WWW suggestion though – writing down “What’s Working Well” from today in glorious positive reaffirmation.
7. Perfect your sleeping cave
Humans sleep deeper in a dark environment. Our ancestors woke, worked, and slept based on the sun, back in the age where you couldn’t do much in total darkness except sleep. Having any light sources in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep patterns, so eliminate your alarm clock if it has a digital screen, or get an alarm clock with a dimmer. Put black electrical tape over bright LEDs. Get blackout roller blinds. Attach blackout material with fasteners to windows, or wear a sleep mask. Keep your room at an optimal 60 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit/15-18 Centigrade
Some good suggestions from James, although because I love waking up with the sunrise and the birds, my cave is a light one. I do sleep better with the window open though this can get seriously cold in the winter months.
8. Be obsessed with cleanliness
A bit of fair warning: make sure you’re not eating as you read this. Dust mites live in clothing, carpets, and bedding. They like warm environments, and they eat your dead skin. You could be sleeping on a surface full of their feces, which cause allergies and can wake you up. It’s nasty, but true. The solution? Have minimal furniture in your bedroom. Wash your sheets at least once a week. Wipe down all surfaces with antibacterial wipes. A HEPA filter that emits no light or sound and removes dust mites is also a good investment.
There’s no better feeling than fresh sheets and no dust so I subscribe to James’s suggestions here.
In summary, developing good sleep habits and securing a regular good night’s sleep has become an important foundation stone for me to improve tomorrow’s performance, enjoyment and stress management. I would highly recommend experimenting with routines and rituals that provide you with the sleep you need.
View James Swannick full article and 12 habits
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