Let's talk about sleep

· thoughtshealthsleep

If you know me you know I love to talk — and I do it a lot. The only thing I do more than that is... think! On a serious note there are millions of thoughts revolving in my head (I’ll dedicate another post to that later) and I tend to keep them in my head rather than ‘offload’ into a notepad or a Notion-like app. On top of that I am more of an owl person, meaning I wake up later and am more active and productive later in the day.

What this results in is spending in average 0.5-1.5 hours every night thinking about different things before falling asleep.

What not having enough sleep results in is permanent tiredness, worse physical shape and fitness results (which leads to gaining extra weight), increased stress and irritability and a whole bunch of negative consequences.

Not having enough sleep?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels

To cut a long story short sleep is important and vital in your overall mental and physical health.

Sleep awareness

People are different (night owls vs. early birds) and actually can change over time. Some constraints like early workout or teething of a baby can also change sleep patterns. In order to become aware of your sleep routines and patterns it makes sense to introduce tracking which can come in different shapes and forms:

  • smartphone apps
  • sleep tracking mats Withings
  • smart watches (Apple / Garmin / others) or bracelets (Fitbit)
  • Oura ring
  • simple paper notebook

Introducing tracking gives you insights into how you’re sleeping. So the next step is to act upon the results.

What affects your sleep?

Having the sleep data in front of you puts you in control — now you can analyze which activities affect your sleep quality and tweak your lifestyle to improve your sleep. Here are the most common reasons for sleep problems and ways to address those:

  • Alcohol: might help to fall asleep, but affects sleep quality.
  • Caffeine (eg. coffee, tea) past mid-afternoon. In fact there’s a caffeine absorption gene CYP1A2 which tells if your body breaks down caffeine fast and you theoretically can have more coffee than an average person and have no issues falling asleep.
  • Diet: avoid heavy foods at night.
  • Suspense movie before sleep can get your mind racing.
  • Blue light emerged by screens: try to avoid using screens 1-2 hours before sleep or enable blue light filters (natively or 3rd party software like Flux or Twilight will help).
  • Overthinking: write what’s on your mind (might be handy to have a small notepad by your bed) so you can unload the brain, practice body awareness meditation.

Tips and tools to improve sleep

These are the tips I've collected over time from various resources, conversations and personal experience. Some of them might work for you and some of them won't — key is to finding something that works for you and something that'll stick.

  • Consistency: try to go to bed and wake up at the same time over a minimum of 3-4 weeks, weekends included.
  • Diet & drinks: chamomile tea and Lemon Balm tea (Melissa officinalis) are great for calming down. Foods that are rich in tryptophan like peanut butter and hummus are good dinner or pre-bedtime snack options.
  • Light:
    • Go preferably for dark or complete dark in the bedroom.
    • A sleep mask will help block both lights and distractions.
    • As mentioned earlier, avoid blue lights coming from screens in the 1-2 hours that precede bedtime.
  • Exercise gets mixed feedback: while it’s recommended not to exercise close to bedtime as it raises cortisol levels, a few push-ups before sleep might help knock you out.
  • Hot showers / baths will help drop the core temperature of your body, which helps fall asleep. A cool room temperature also helps.
  • Reading, preferably a “physical” book or on your phone with nighttime reading mode activated. You can also try a low-energy activity that will bore you to sleep, based on what works for you (eg. scientific videos, reading the dictionary).
  • Mindfulness practice:
    • Progressive Muscle Relaxation to relax and disconnect from thoughts
    • Meditation apps like Headspace or Calm have chapters on sleep, bedtime stories that help relax.
  • Bed and bedroom setup:
    • Alarm clock with a sunrise & sunset feature
    • Memory foam pillow. It doesn't work for everyone so try it out first.
    • Blackout curtains

My conclusion — Take One

I've had several sporadic attempts to monitor, analyze and improve my sleep which kind of resulted in some enhancements I've taken up like avoiding using my phone or laptop before sleep, reading physical books, not drinking coffee after 3pm. Key here is some.

With the arrival of the baby sleep patterns change, sleep becomes unpredictable and frankly you're feeling accumulated exhaustion every day.

Don’t take sleep for granted! Be intentional about sleep.

Having said this my plan is to start a journey of improving my sleep and researching more into the topic. Stay tuned if you'd like to join me on this fun ride! We'll kick off with the resources below 👇