I’m an official delegate for World Sleep Day this year so I’ve committed to creating a post to promote the benefits and strategies for good sleep. I’ve been interested in the power of sleep for a long time and have just finished writing my next well-being book for teenagers, The Awesome Power of Sleep. So I’m extra-delighted to support World Sleep Day.
I have two things to offer you in this post. First, an exercise to see what your current “sleep hygiene” is like. “Sleep hygiene” describes our behaviours in the 1-2 hours before bed and it makes a huge difference to how easily we fall asleep. Adults need to know this as well as young people. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve helped adults break shocking sleep habits!
Check your sleep hygiene
Below are two lists: sleep positives and sleep negatives. Think about yesterday evening, focusing on the 1-2 hours before you switched your light off. Score one point for everything you did from the positives list. Then deduct a point for everything you did from the negatives list.
- Make your room dark by closing curtains or blinds
- Switch off all screens (exception can be an ebook reader not connected to internet/wifi)
- A shower or bath
- Soft, slow music
- Lavender oil – this can be a few drops in a bath, or in a tea-light burner, or on a pillow
- Smooth your bedclothes so that you’ll be comfortable
- Do some stretches or a few minutes of gentle yoga
- A light snack if you are hungry – good examples would be a small sandwich, cheese and apple, some hummus on oatcakes, a few nuts. And/or a small milky drink or herbal tea
- Get organized for the morning
- Tidy your room a bit – at least put your clothes away
- Get into your sleeping clothes at least 45 minutes before getting into bed
- Read a book (not for work unless it’s also genuine enjoyment) once you’re in bed. Other good activities in bed are writing a diary (or writing anything for pleasure), doodling or doing a puzzle (not on an internet-connected screen)
- Daylight in your bedroom – from outside and from screens
- Caffeine – coffee and tea (unless decaf or herbal/fruit), cola
- Arguments – can be hard to avoid but you’ll do yourself a big favour if you do!
- Screens (apart from ebook readers)
- Physical exercise that raises your heart rate
- A large meal
- Loud, fast music
- An untidy bedroom
What did you score?!
The highest possible score is 12 but anything above 8 is good.
Ideally, you have no negatives at all. In many ways it’s more important to have had no negatives than to have had lots of positives.
FIVE STEPS TO BUILDING A GREAT NIGHT’S SLEEP
This might not work on the first night but do it a few times and you’ll quickly see the difference.
First, work out your desired sleep time and your winding-down time of 1.5 hours before that
- My alarm is set for:……..
- I’m aiming for approximately …….. hours of sleep (anything between 7 and 9 to suit you – closer to 9 if you’re aged 11-20)
- So I hope to fall asleep at around …….
- I will turn off my light 15-20 minutes before this, at ……..
- Therefore, I should start my winding-down period of 1.5 hours at ..……
Second, control your sleeping space
The ideal sleeping space is:
- Quiet enough – anything you can do to minimise noise? Ear-plugs?
- Cool enough – not too cold but slightly cooler than comfortable if you were out of bed
- Dark enough – remove daylight (including the light from screens); perhaps sleep with an eye mask? Use dim bedside lights and no LED bulbs
Third, control your sleep negatives and sleep positives
We need to know all the things to avoid (sleep negatives) and things that are good to include (positives) in that crucial 1.5 hours before we turn our light off and close our eyes. Read quickly through those lists above, making sure you will have none of the negatives and as many of the positives as you like.
This has a bigger effect on ability to fall asleep than most people imagine. The Awesome Power of Sleep explains all the reasons for this but for now just take my word for it!
A simple routine can quickly become such a strong habit that the very start of the routine triggers the brain to do the thing it expects: prepare for sleep. In other words, if for a few days in a row you do A, E, C, D and B in the same order at the same time and then switch your light off and close your eyes, the brain will recognise ‘A’ as being the beginning of this routine that ends in sleep.
How to create this routine
It has to be your routine, chosen by you, but here are some important rules:
- Select a few (I suggest 4-6) things from the ‘sleep positives’ list
- The first one must be creating darkness, including switching off screens.
- You can add other things you think would be restful and calming – such as giving yourself a foot or hand massage, writing a couple of sentences of a sleep diary, writing three good things about the day or three things you hope for tomorrow.
- Put them in an order that makes sense – eg the snack has to come before doing your teeth! Write them down.
Now, start the routine for the beginning of your winding-down period.
Finally, do the right things when you’re in bed!
- Don’t think about sleep. You won’t get to sleep by trying to go to sleep.
- Don’t look at your clock after you’ve turned your light out. It won’t help.
- Focus on loosening your muscles and sinking into the bed. Soften each set of muscles from your toes up to your head and face.
- Slow your breathing, with your muscles softening even more with each out breath.
- Let your mind drift – don’t worry where your thoughts go at first.
- Try not to think of any of those things too firmly or rigidly – relax!
There’s every chance that within around 20 minutes you’ll fall asleep. But if your mind is racing and sleep feels nowhere near after that amount of time, it’s time for some different strategies, which I’ll share over the next weeks. Meanwhile, focus on thinking of your favourite things.
I will have lots of free info in the lead up to publication of The Awesome Power of Sleep. If you’re a school, do keep your eyes open (not when you’re trying to sleep!) for offers and ideas.
My motto is sleep well, feel well, do well. And it’s easier than you might think. The most important (though not always easy) thing is that, when you do have one of those bad nights where sleep feels ages away, you need to not worry. It won’t make you feel terrible in the morning. You will survive and all will be well.
You will sleep.