Realistic ways to sleep better tonight without giving up on the things you enjoy.
When I was struggling to get a good night’s sleep I already knew the basics of what I should be doing to sleep better, I just couldn’t seem to make the required lifestyle changes. I thought it required giving too much up.
So I was constantly operating at a sleep deficit, and everything felt just so. damn. hard.
Being productive at work was hard because I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't solve problems, struggled to coherently argue my case with bosses and colleagues.
Exercising was hard because either I couldn't motivate myself to get started, or if I did manage to get moving the workout was pretty useless. I couldn't push myself and felt like I’d already gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson after 5 minutes.
Losing weight was hard because my metabolism was slower, and my hunger signals were all out of whack. This meant I felt snacky when I didn't actually need any more calories and I ate more as a result, gaining weight.
Even though I knew my lack of sleep was making life difficult, I just couldn’t seem to build the right habits to change things long-term. I needed to research what I could realistically do during the day and at bedtime to sleep better, without giving up on the things I enjoyed doing.
My Problem With Most Advice on How to Sleep Better
The issue with looking for ways to get a good night’s sleep online is that the authors seem to be living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. When I did a quick Google search, I got (and I’m obviously paraphrasing here):
“Basically live like a monk, get up at dawn and go to bed at 8 pm. Give up booze and coffee. Ignore your phone and TV all night, avoid rich food, and never stay out late …. Oh and eat your almonds”.
Wow. Sounds like fun!
This just isn’t realistic long-term. Yes, learning how to sleep better is important, but surely life should be semi-enjoyable in the process?
I had coffee to drink, friends to meet, craft beers to try, and an ever-increasing number of Netflix shows to watch. I decided to work out how to balance doing these things with trying to follow some of the advice on how to sleep better, to see whether I could have my cake and eat it. Or have my cake and sleep better - well, you get the drift!
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep the Easy Way
I’m going to cover how to get a good night’s sleep in two parts - simple things you should do during the day, and easy steps to take as bedtime approaches to set yourself up for some long, deep sleep.
During the Day
Food and Exercise
What you do and what you eat/drink during the day affects your ability to get to sleep later that night.
Moderate-intensity exercise and getting some fresh air and Vitamin D during the day sets us up well for nodding off easily later on. A simple way to combine both is to get a brisk walk during your lunch break or after dinner before the sun goes down.
Tougher workouts are also great obviously, as they will tire your body out even more, but beware of higher intensity workouts too close to bedtime. It can be hard to get your heart rate down again by bedtime and you can still feel pumped as you lie in bed willing yourself to fall asleep.
And there you have a perfect recipe for insomnia.
Caffeine is another thing that can be counterproductive to getting a good night’s sleep, I would really rather not give up my two cups per day just to sleep better. They are part of my daily routine, and Green Tea just doesn’t cut it!
The good news is that we don’t have to give up coffee completely, we just need to be sensible about it. As long as you have your last cup by early afternoon the caffeine will be out of your system by bedtime and you’ll be golden.
Our ‘Sleep Environment’ refers to what we do just before bedtime, our actions, and our surroundings.
If you’re anything like me most evenings involve watching TV or messing around on your phone until you realise how late it is. Then you plod off upstairs to bed and hope to fall asleep quickly.
It’s widely known now that the light from screens can stop our bodies from producing the melatonin we need to fall asleep, hence the advice to Stay Off Your Phone in the evenings. Again in practice, this is unrealistic, there are just too many memes and sports articles for me to look at (!).
But if we can think ahead to the time we intend to go to bed and then put down the phone and switch off the TV half an hour beforehand, then that gives the body enough time to start producing melatonin again. This means we won’t feel so wired when we get into bed.
The Evening Comfort Beer
As a proud Irishman, I enjoy the odd Guinness in the evening, and I like some salty snacks at the same time. As with caffeine, I’d really rather not give up occasional booze and snacks just to improve my sleep.
And the good news is that we don’t have to, we just need to be smart about it. Leaving a good 2-3 hours between booze/rich foods and going to bed allows the body to process them in time for our sleep to be unaffected. Win!
Having a Life while also Thriving in Life
You can see that the key to getting a good night’s sleep without giving up the things you enjoy is timing things correctly.
Coffee, booze, rich food, and time spent staring gormlessly at your phones are all fine. But those things will stop you from falling asleep and/or getting into a deep sleep unless you cut back on them at the appropriate times during the day and evening.
By simply timing things correctly you can avoid the sleep deficit that holds you back from achieving what you want in life. Whether that’s achieving more at work, getting fitter, or losing weight, regularly getting a good night’s sleep fixes everything - and you don’t have to give up as much as you think to achieve it!