Yesterday morning I woke up with my phone lying on my chest, presumably after having fallen asleep mid-Whatsapp/Instagram scroll/Twitter session. I also felt pretty rubbish – lethargic, slow, and with zero inclination to get out of bed. I ended up oversleeping, and my whole day suffered as a result.
Sleep is one of the most important factors for human brain function, and not getting enough affects your judgement, productivity, and memory. You probably already know all of this – yet when you spend the vast majority of your day working, the temptation is to extend the precious few hours you have left to unwind in the evening, by staying up late and sleeping less instead. But falling asleep to an episode of Stranger Things is not the way to a good night’s sleep, or a productive mindset the following day.
A few months ago, Arianna Huffington published a book called The Sleep Revolution, which in part aims to dispel the glamour around the myth of the sleep-deprived #girlboss, and takes aim at a modern culture that has positioned sacrificing sleep for work as some sort of perverse badge of honour. An ‘always-on’ working culture that increasingly expects people to be available around the clock, and the constant presence of tech devices in every arena of our lives, means the quantity – and quality – of sleep we’re all getting seems to be on the decline.
In my case I realised yesterday that a serious case of jetlag about a month ago, combined with a couple of late nights with friends, has left my sleeping patterns totally wrecked, and affected my productivity accordingly. So with that in mind, I’ve made a commitment to improving my sleep hygiene (that’s what the experts call it) over the next few months – and you can too. Here’s how.
THIRTY MINUTE WIND-DOWN
Set aside half an hour before bed (or an hour if you can manage it) to 'wind down' into your bedtime routine, whether that’s by reading a book, meditating, or listening to some chilled music – whatever helps your brain slow down after a hectic day. This wind-down period should also be a totally screen-free zone, as exposure to blue light immediately before bed significantly affects your sleep quality, preventing your body from releasing the chemical that helps you sleep. So put your phone on silent before bed, and leave it outside your bedroom along with your laptop.
MAKE YOUR BEDROOM A SANCTUARY
Your bedroom should be a source of sanity not stress, which means making it a work-free zone – no answering emails or doing a quick bit of online banking in bed. Leaving your work at the door will also help your mind associate your bedroom with relaxation, and get into sleep mode more easily.
Another important route to a better quality of sleep is making your actual bed as comfortable as humanly possible. I once had a roommate whose bed was so damn luxurious I’d sometimes sneak into her bedroom when she was out (sorry Nicola), for the sole purpose of a satisfying nap. Her secret? Down-filled mattress toppers. So upgrade your mattress, get better quality pillows, make sure your duvet is the right weight for the time of year… whatever it takes. Spending money on improving your sleeping environment isn’t an indulgence, it’s an investment.
CUT THE BOOZE
If you’ve ever woken up at 4am after a heavy night, simultaneously exhausted and yet unable to sleep, you’ll know intuitively that drinking alcohol before bed really affects the quality of your sleep. Alcohol reduces your ability to drift into REM sleep (the deeper stage of sleep you need to feel more restored), so try cutting back, or at least avoiding it in the three hours before bed.
SHOWER BEFORE BED
Taking a warm bath or shower before bed is scientifically proven to help you fall asleep faster. When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises – and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you. Personally, I also get a real psychological boost from the symbolism of washing off the dirt and grime of the day before getting into bed. If I’ve had a long or stressful day and know I’m going to struggle to get to sleep that night, a shower before bed tends to sort me out.
WAKING UP AT NIGHT
If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check what time it is. It’s tempting to see how many hours you’ve got left until the dreaded sound of your alarm, but you’ll drift back into sleep more quickly and easily if you don’t feel the pressure of trying to force it because you’ve “only got three hours left before work”. Someone told me this great little trick a few years ago, and it’s served me well ever since.