How To Get A Good Night Sleep

By Azzy Aslam

Performance & Change Coach. Helping you create new habits and turning them into your superpower!

25 Aug, 2018

We all know what it feels like the next day when we didn’t get a good night’s sleep. That tired, fatigued feeling. The heavy eyelids that just want to close. Concentration levels not quite what they usually are and motivation seems to have gone walkabout. If you have read one or two other articles of mine, you will know that I am fascinated with the science (neuroscience) of “why we do what we do” and part of getting a good night’s sleep, or not, revolves around the habits that have become embedded in your brain! We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep. There are good reasons too, even though we are not completely sure of all the reasons. Some of the more deeper inner workings of the brain needs more research. We certainly know what it feels like the next day when we haven’t had enough or good quality sleep. Have a read below and hope the tips help you to get that bright eyed feeling each day!

Your Sleeping Routine

It is vitally important to understand what contributes to your “sleeping routine”. The following, I believe, contributes to getting to sleep, the quality of sleep and how refreshed you feel in the morning:
    How was your day
    What Time Did You Get To Sleep
    The Quality of Sleep
    What time You Woke up
    What Time you Got UP!
One more thing that you need to know, or find out, is how much sleep do your need each night. The following approach and steps will help you build a great routine (and habits) to get you ready for sleep, increase the chances of a good night’s sleep, waking up fresh and ready to go.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
It’s really a good idea to work out how much sleep you need particulalrly if you are intending to shift to an earlier start each day. You probably have some idea what you need. Most adults need anything between 6 to 9 hours each night. And of course, there are a few exceptions who can survive on less (Winston Churchill – 5 hrs, Benjamin Franklin 4-5 hrs), or need at least 10 hours (Albert Einstein – 10 hrs, Calvin Coolidge – 10-11 hrs). Interesting thing about Albert Einstein is that when he was working on some tough problems he would sleep 11 hours, saying that dreaming helped with his problem solving! Seems sleep is not only very important for our well being but can help with solving those tough problems that arise in the day! The best time to work out just how much sleep you need is when you take a break from work for a week or so. First thing is to dump the alarm clock!  After you have chilled out for a few days and released the stresses you will start to fall in to a routine for the day. On day 3 or 4 go to sleep when you are tired – don’t force yourself to stay away. Check the time as you about to settle down. The next day when you wake up, without an alarm, check the time. If you feel refreshed and want to get up then you can work out the amount of sleep you need. Do this for a few days and you will get an idea of how much sleep you need on a typical night. This is not perfect, but it does give you a starting point. I followed this method a few years ago and found that I need a solid 7.5 hours sleep each night. I could manage with 7 hours and occasionally went to 6.5 hours for a few days. Interestingly, if I sleep for more than 8 hours I tend to feel a little groggy and sluggish for a good part of the day. This is something to do with sleep cycles which I will explore in another article. If you need an alarm clock to get you up in the morning, then try different periods of sleep and see what works for you.
Have A Great Day
How you spend your day and how you “feel” during and at the end of the day will have an effect on how well you sleep. Think back to a couple times that come to mind: 1. When you had a great day. The day that you felt good, smiled a lot, things went your way, you got through the things you wanted to get done. How did you feel at the end of the day? How did you sleep that night?  I am guessing the sleep was probably good. A good positive day tends to preceded a good restful sleep 2. When your day didn’t go quite as you would’ve liked. Perhaps the day started off well enough. Then something unexpected happened, it made you a little anxious, you had to try to reschedule work, things didn’t go to plan, a few things were left unfinished, perhaps you didn’t get to go for that long walk or missed your training session. How did you feel that day? If you had lots of thoughts rolling around in your mind and didn’t feel great, how did you sleep? For most people, this would affect their sleep and even the next day. How your day works out will have an effect on your mood, your thoughts, and your sleep. However, you are in control! Plan you day for success and celebrate the successes, even on a tough day. Calm your mind before going to sleep and remember tomorrow is another day which you can change!
Get Ready For Sleep
Following on from the previous point, you can control your whole process of getting ready for sleep, regardless of how the day turned out and particularly if it didn’t go as well as you would have liked. The key thing is routine. If you have figured out how much sleep you need from the earlier step and you know what time you want to be get up you can work out what time to get to sleep. As I need 7.5 hours each night and I aim to get up at 06:30 in the morning then it means I need to be asleep by 23:00 (11pm). IMPORTANT: Let me repeat what I just said  – I need to be asleep by 23:00 (11pm). The first thing is to have a routine that prepares your body and particularly your mind in knowing it is time to prepare for sleep.  For me this starts around an hour (22:00) before I fall asleep – there are a few more tips in the next section that you may find useful to determine what works for you. During the working week I do have a short alarm that goes off at 22:00 that tells me it’s time for sleep, just in case I am engrossed in some TV programme. At this point my routine looks like this:
  • The TV gets turned off, or if I was doing some work (it happpens!), I finish and turn off my laptop/desk PC. I am sure you have read about the “blue light” from our TV, Laptop and phone screens.
  • I take a look at my next day and spend about 5 minutes writing down any ideas, actions, thoughts that are rattling around in my mind. Helps to calm the the mind.
  • I have a bit of a clear up – tidy my notebooks/diary ready for tomorrow.
  • Get changed, brush teeth etc.
  • Check the alarm
  • I will read for about 20 minutes – nothing too heavy or mind jarring
Then it’s lights off and I usually fall asleep after within a few minutes. Everyone is different and so the routine will be different. The key things are to have a time when you start to prepare for sleep and stick to it each day as well as the routine. Soon it will become a positive habit.
Help The Quality Of Your Sleep
The one big factor is having a routine or sequence of habits that prepare the mind and body for sleep as mentioned above. In addition, you can help improve your quality of sleep by taking other actions: Reduce your caffeine intake during the day and aim to have you last cup of coffee/tea no later than 3 or 4 pm. Caffeine is a stimulant and takes about 6 hours to eliminate half of the caffeine intake, so the fewer cups and the earlier you stop will help. Have your last meal/snack of the day around 3-4 hours before you plan to be asleep. And don’t make it heavy – remember the saying “Breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, dine like a Pauper”. Having a lighter evening meal will not overwork your digestive system over night and help with a restful sleep. In addition, you are more likely to get up on time in the morning as you will be hungry for a good breakfast! Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow. Go and check out some new mattresses (and pillows) and compare the difference with the one you have. A good supportive mattress and pillows can make a huge difference on how well you sleep. Since we spend nearly a third of our day and lives sleeping then a good mattress is essential for a refreshing sleep. Excercise on a regular basis. We all know this and I will leave it to you to decide what exercise works best you. Similar to eating, avoid exercising too close to your sleep time. Allow 2-3 hours for your body to stabalise before heading to sleep. Make your bedroom sleep friendly. You can do this by: 1. Having good curtains/blinds (or both) for your windows to create a dark room with little and ideally no light 2. Keep the room cool. A cool room is far better for sleeping than a warm room. It is much better to have a cool room and stay warm with a good duvet and or blankets – there’s also some people get comfort with heavy blankets/covers that also improves their sleep. 3. Keep the bedroom tidy and comfortable. When rooms (particularly bedrooms) are untidy the mind makes notes of what needs to be done and doesn’t switch off immediately, which does not bode well for a good nights sleep. Keeping the bedroom tidy helps in quietening the mind! Think of the times you go into a room that is cluttered and how makes you feel – overwhelmed? Turn off the notifications! The chances are you will have your phone and probably use it as an alarm clock. Remember to turn off the notification so you don’t get the pings and flashing lights during the night when you get an email. Most phones have a “Do Not Disturb” mode which you should use from the time you start your bedtime and a little while after you get up.
Wake Up - Get UP!
It is too easy to hit the snooze button and doze off for that extra 5 or 10 minutes. The problem is that when you play the “snooze game” you are building a habit. The more often you do this the stronger the habit becomes. In fact, you may not even wake up properly when the alarm rings, but the “snooze game” habit will kick in and your arm will reach out out to hit snooze! If you have to be up at 7am then set your alarm for 7 am and get up. When you set the alarm for 6.30am knowing you don’t really have to be up until 7am this encourages the brain to start creating the snoozing habit.  Another downside is you have just lost 30 minutes of sleep! Create a morning routine. You probably already have a routine, however, be more deliberate about your morning routine in the same way as the night routine. The routine may only need to be 5-10 minutes, the key is to get you out of bed and to be fully awake. Include in the routine positive thoughts to start the day – even a simple ” I got up at the time I said ” and smile broadly because that’s the first achievement of the day!

Keep A Sleep Log/Diary

To help me work out how to improve my sleep and get up earlier, I kept a brief log each day so I could see what was going on with my sleep pattern. What helped me get a good night sleep and be up bright and early and fulled rested. Or what impacted my sleep so I either got up but wasn’t firing on all cylinders or I ended up sleeping a little longer and then was groggy all morning! What I wrote down were things such as:
  • What happened that made me feel positive and alive and/or what happened that made feel stressed
  • How was I feeling when I headed to sleep – was I positive, relaxed, or did I feel stressed, things on my mind etc.
  • What time (roughly) I fell asleep
  • How did I feel I had slept
  • What time I woke up
  • What time I got up – which wasn’t always the same time as I woke up! For me, this made a dfference. I tended to have a better day when I got up as soon as I woke up.
  • How I felt when I woke up
  • How I was feeling about the day ahead
You don’t have to note all the points above, just note the ones you feel you need. Over time, I found the information I had logged started to give me insights on what helped me get a good night sleep and what I could change and try different approaches!

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