2012
11.10

What a revelation this challenge has been. I tend to stick pretty close the the “You can’t manage what you don’t measure mantra” and use an app called Sleepcycle which is great for tracking the hours you’ve slept and also the quality of your sleep.

The nightmare

Leading in to this challenge, over 122 sleeps, I had an average sleep time of 6:24 hours with an average sleep quality of 67%. Not bad you might think but that 6:24 hours was more like 5:00 hours during the week and much much more on the weekends.

A disastrous cycle of sleep deprivation during the week, huge chunks of catch up sleep on the weekend and then recovering from self imposed “weekend jetlag” through the start of the week. Crazy. Not that I knew it. This has been my sleeping pattern for so long, I knew nothing else. It felt normal.

“Sleep is the best meditation.” Dalai Lama

The dream

The last 30 days have been huge. I’ve increased my average sleep time by 24% to 7:55 hours, my sleep quality by 14% to 76% and have moved from a continual yet largely ignorant state of sleep deprivation to being rested, alert, more focused and happier.

Getting to sleep after the weekend is no longer a struggle because I haven’t needed to spend 10 – 12 hours over the weekend catching up on the sleep I didn’t get during the week and thereby giving myself weekend jetlag.

I have noticed that I’ve gotten less done during the weekday evenings because of my earlier bed time but this has been more than made up for by additional time on the weekend and far greater productivity generally during the day.

Habitual

I’ve written previously about habit loops and how to create and modify them and am very happy that a regular bed time has now become habitual—something I’m absolutely going to continue with in the future.

I’ve also learnt a ton about sleep while I’ve been doing this challenge and have some great tips for improving your sleep.

If you read this far, you should follow me on Twitter.

2012
11.03

Not sleeping well? Constantly tired? Follow these tips for the best sleep of your life.

Alcohol is lying to you

While Alcohol can help you fall asleep, it actually affects the quality of the sleep that follows. When asleep, your body works to break down the alcohol in your bloodstream which in turn can cause you to frequently, but briefly, wake up. This means that even though you may get a full nights sleep, you’re not getting the deep restorative sleep you need and are likely to wake up tired.

Avoid coffee, especially if you’re a morning person

Coffee works primarily by inhibiting the absorption of adenosine, a nucleotide whose role involves the slowing down of nerve connections and the promotion of sleep. There is great variance in the speed at which people clear caffeine from their bodies therefore making it difficult to be able to simply say “avoid coffee in the evening / afternoon”. In addition to this, there is now research tying caffeine to chronotypes that suggests morning people are more affected by caffeine than night owls are.

“We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive.” David K. Randall

Like clockwork

Your circadian rhythm changes your general level of alertness and body temperature depending on the time of day. Most people tend to be fully awake from around 9am until 2pm at which point they start to experience an afternoon slump. This is followed by another cycle of alertness from circa 6pm until 10pm. Giving yourself a bedtime in line with these hours is going to work much better than trying to fight your body clock by going to bed at 3am one night and 9pm the next.

Regulate the light in your life

Behind your circadian rhythm lays a hormone called melatonin which is produced by the pineal gland which is in turn regulated by a tiny cluster of cells behind the eyes call the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. The pineal gland receives messages from the SCN letting it know when the eyes see light and if it’s dark for a time, the pineal gland will release melatonin throughout the body to induce sleep. Any light over 180 lux (approximately the output of a 100w lamp) is enough to reset your body’s clock and disrupt this process.

Because of the direct impact that light has on the body’s circadian rhythm, getting enough daylight during the day and avoiding electric light in the evening (including light from TVs and laptops) will help you get to sleep. Once in a dark room and safely asleep, use an eye mask to keep it that way.

“Sleep isn’t a break from our lives. It’s the missing third of the puzzle of what it means to be living.” David K. Randall

Tune out

Use earplugs.

Assist your body with it’s cooling process

When entering sleep the body’s core temperature drops, and to facilitate this drop, the temperature of the hands and feet increases. Do you like to fall asleep with your feet sticking out from underneath the covers? This cooling process is why.

Anything you can do to assist the body with this cooling will help. Keep the temperature of your room between 16 – 19 degrees Celsius (60 – 66 ℉) with pyjamas and at least one sheet or 30 – 32 degrees Celsius (86 – 80 ℉) without. Taking a cold shower before bed, while extreme, has also been proven to aid falling asleep and also improve the overall quality of sleep.

Track your progress

Because of sleep’s very nature, it’s extremely difficult to objectively know how long you’ve been asleep and also know what the quality of that sleep is like. This makes it difficult to then make changes (e.g: giving up coffee) and see what affect that change has. Tracking your sleep gets around this and there’s a number of tools out there that can help:

Relaxing is a skill

Give yourself some time to work at this. Read something before bed that isn’t related to or reminds you of your work. Try meditation. Find something that helps you disengage from your life just before bed.

Love thy nap

If all else fails and you’re still tired the next day, take a nap. Even as little at 15 minutes has been proven to markedly improve cognitive performance.

Have you got any tips I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below. Also, if you read this far, you should follow me on Twitter.

Yawning Leopard