These pictures were taken the same week of the year, four years apart. The first showing the sleep data pulled from my FitBit worn in 2015, and the second showing those same 7 days also with FitBit data in 2019. Now yes we could question the accuracy and sensitivity of the activity trackers but in my opinion everything is relative. Same equipment, same user, relative results.
For as long as I can remember, I have not been a good sleeper. In the early days of high school I remember the ticking of my clock keeping me up at night so I started using ear plugs. I needed multiple layers of blinds and curtains to try and block out as much light as possible. As soon as the sun was up I was up, if not before.
A bad nights sleep (4 hours or less) was generally triggered by stress – physical, mental or emotional. I have a tendency to squash a lot on my plate in regards to workload, training volume and commitments so the hours spent laying in bed before falling asleep would be spent making lists, worrying I would forget things or people or promises…probably just worrying in general.
I have been trying to improve my quality and quantity of sleep for the past couple of years due to the obvious benefits: less fatigue, better recovery, better focus and mental clarity etc. But I heard a podcast with sleep guru Matthew Walker and it blew my mind…not in a good way.
Did you know that sleeping 6 hours or less a night will result in:
- The level of sex hormones to be LESS then someone 10 years your senior.
- A 40% reduction in your ability to learn new things and make new memories
- 24% increased risk of a heart attack in that day following the sleep loss.
- 70% decreased function of your immune system (get sick often?)
- 70% increased risk of cancer (night time shift work has now been classified by the World Health Organisation as a carcinogen)
SHORT SLEEP = SHORT LIFE
So in order to prolong my life and my mental capacity, drastic action needed to be taken. Prior to the podcast revelation, I was already using blue light blocker glasses. Yep I’m one of those weirdos with the red glasses. But I can confirm that when I started wearing the glasses a couple of years ago, I did start cutting back on the time it took me to physically fall asleep. I didn’t feel like my eyes had to work as hard and there was less strain.
I have also used a natural sleep supplement. I started on Restorem as advised to me by the one and only Kim Bunney from Mindset Nutrition. I found that it helped me fall asleep. I recently ventured to the US and while there I did a bit of a compare and contrast with their Melatonin (2.5mg) and Restorem and I found them to work the same. Melatonin being a lot easy to access on a platform such as iHerb, is the supplement I am going to continue with and try and slowly lower the dose.
But then it was time to kick it up a gear. Strategies I have since implemented include:
- Ending work related correspondence at 7pm.
- Turning my phone to flight mode at 8pm. This limits the mindless scrolling and multitasking and starts me trying to focus on one task at a time. It helps me slow my brain down.
- As things come to me, I write a list of things I will do tomorrow so I don’t have to worry about forgetting things.
- At least half an hour before bed I turn off all the lights in the house expect for one lamp to allow my body to start to realise its night time and start that melatonin production.
- As soon as I arrive home from work or at 6pm if I am home at that time, I start diffusing Lavender in the living area. Lavender is suggested to help with insomnia, restlessness and anxiety.
- Reading for 15-20 mins. This reduces the stimulation to my brain right before bed by reducing the input down to one sensory system doing the work.
- I get ready for bed at 8.30pm. Or as close to as I can. This means that by the time I am in bed and have done my 15-20mins of reading, lights are out by 9pm. Yep I know that’s early. But I either have alarms set for a 5am wake up for work, or I still wake with the sunrise. So to allow myself the opportunity to get 8 hours of sleep, knowing 30-50mins of my time in bed I will be awake, I need to go to sleep as early into the night time as possible. After all, that is what our bodies were designed to do, go to sleep at night fall and wake up at sunrise.
It has taken work, routine, consistency and commitment, which sometimes means that I leave social functions earlier. But I would rather get the sleep my body needs and feel good in my body, function effectively and productively the next day, than be tired and groggy and be a couple of steps behind for the next few days. My mental, physical and psychological wellbeing is far more important to me than staying out late. So if you see me leaving the function at 8.30 you see me putting my health above all else.
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Allow yourself more than the recommended 8 hours in bed where possible. As you will spend some of that time awake
- Reduce light, particularly blue light in the hour before bed
- Reduce incoming information during this time (switch off social media).
- Find what works for you to calm down your nervous system, be it reading, diffuse a nice smell, cuddling your puppa…
Figure it out. Your life depends on it.