Being able to manage your sleep and understand how or why your sleep may be off is extremely important for everyone. Whether you are an athlete coming up to a big game, you have a really busy week at work or an important deadline to meet, or the kids are sick and you have been up all night. It is important to have some ‘go-to’ habits when things go wrong.
The starting point is to know the (ideal) number of hours of sleep you need to function optimally – and adjust your bedtime accordingly.
Some people may be fine with six hours, others need a good nine hours. Now, reflect on a time when you felt really energised and clear, waking up feeling refreshed. Look at the patterns surrounding your sleep, how many hours did you get? Were there patterns around a particular time you went to bed? Did you wake up at the same time?
The next step is to get into the habit of looking at the week, looking at what you have on and assessing if there is anything that may keep you from going to bed at a reasonable hour? Maybe you have a big match, or a dinner, or you have to be up early for a work meeting. You want to be able to adjust your bedtime and your wake-up time accordingly.
So, you’ve got a 7am meeting in the city, and you know that you need 7.5 hours sleep to be at your best… you need to wake up at 5.30am to leave by 6.15am so work back from that. So, the night before you need to go to bed at 9.30pm, so that you’re asleep around about 10pm so that you can get your 7.5 hours of sleep in.
Working your sleep this way, around your weekly and daily schedule means you will have awareness. You have awareness of what you’ve got on in the morning, what you might have on that night. Knowing how much sleep you need and then adjusting accordingly is a habit in itself.
You do not need to do this every night. Adjust it accordingly when you need it, when the pressure is on and you’re not sleeping well. For when you’re out of routine.
Our mind is wired through our survival mechanism to look at the things it perceives as bad… or threatening. So when you are lying in bed at night with nothing else to do, your mind is going to replay everything that you did wrong the day before or the week before, the year before. Everything that you’ve got coming up and all that could possibly go wrong. All the things that are on your ‘to do’ list and all the things that might trip you up. Your mind wants to run those stories because, hey, in the middle of the night, it’s got nothing better to do!
When your mind is in this state, your mind is triggering the fight or flight response. Tight shoulders, racy heart, laser focus.
If a caveman was faced by a tiger and a caveman was getting ready to physically fight that tiger or run away from that tiger, there is no way the tiger could drop to the ground and curl up in a ball and go into a deep sleep. It doesn’t work. And that’s the same as what’s happening to you at night-time.
In order to shift this, we need to turn off the stress response. You can do that by getting out of bed. Going into another room. Get that journal that you have next to your bed and write in it. Brain dump everything that is whirling around in your mind. What you have to do, make a list, a plan and dump it down.
Doing this makes your mind think, ‘I’ve got a plan’. She knows the bad things that could happen and has been made aware of it. Now you should be able to go to bed and actually go to sleep. That brain dump is playing with brain science to help switch off that stress response.
Another great tool to use can be sleep meditations, there are many available online. All of them work the same way in that they’re taking your attention off the bad stories and distracting it with a different, more calming story.
Productive sleep is about figuring out what works for you, but when you know the science of what’s going on in your mind, and why you’re not sleeping well, then it’s far easier to put habits in place that help you. So, you know your ideal sleep hours, work out bedtime and wake up time accordingly. Get out of bed and brain dump, stand up, get out of bed, make your plan, get back into bed, use this sleep meditations to help fall asleep.