There is absolutely no shortage when it comes to health hacks, supplements, and “weird tricks” for helping you feel and perform your very best. In fact, it’s impossible to spend more than a few minutes on social media without being promised some method to flatten your abs, improve your skin, or help you live longer!
Some of these methods are effective, some are essentially scams. But the problem is that no one is talking about the most powerful and life-changing health trick of all: sleep!
Sleep just isn’t sexy. Primarily, that’s because you can’t sell sleep. But be that as it may, sleep has the ability to completely transform health, fitness, performance, beauty, intelligence, mood, and much more. Sleep might not cure all your problems, but there are very few aspects of health and wellbeing that aren’t at least impacted by your sleep.
And unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting enough of it. The recommendation is that we sleep for 8 hours per night. However, the average American only gets 6.8 hours of sleep. The result? Worse cognitive performance, worse mood, headaches, poor skin, bags under the eyes, physical weakness, impaired immune system… the list goes on.
Want more proof that sleep is absolutely essential to health and performance? Just ask Roger Fedorer. Roger reportedly gets no less than 12 hours per day1 which has enabled him to come back from numerous injuries and even to seemingly beat old age!
On one occasion, Fedorer went to sleep, woke up, and 35 minutes later broke a world record!
And Fedorer is not the only one either. Reportedly Usain Bolt would sleep for nine to ten hours a night, and then take additional naps strategically throughout the day!
The problem is that too many of us fail to get the sleep we want. That’s often because we don’t have the time, and often because we don’t know how to drift off into a deep and restful sleep after a busy day.
Keep reading then, and we’ll share some amazing strategies you can use to sleep easier, longer, better, and more deeply.
CBT is “cognitive behavioral therapy.” This is a psychotherapeutic approach to mental health that teaches clients and patients to better understand the contents of their own thoughts, and then to address and alter their thoughts to be more conducive to a happy, healthy, and productive lifestyle.
In this case, we are going to try and use CBT to reprogram beliefs around sleep: such that we can fall asleep more easily and quickly.
The issue is that many of us will place too much pressure on ourselves to sleep. In other words, we tell ourselves that we need to get to sleep in X amount of time, and that if we don’t achieve this, we will feel terrible the next day.
This has the exact opposite effect to what you’re trying to achieve! When you pile pressure on like this, all you will accomplish is making yourself stressed. That means an elevated heartrate, increased cortisol production, tensed muscles, and a host of physiological changes that will make it nearly impossible to get to sleep.
You will use CBT to replace these negative thoughts with ones that help you to relax and rest. For example:
“I am enjoying relaxing here. There is no pressure to get to sleep – just this rest is helping me to recover.”
This now gives you permission to enjoy lying still, and as soon as you can do that, you’ll find you drift off quickly.
After all, what is more relaxing than simply being able to lie in a comfortable position for hours without worrying about having to do anything pressing or important?
Meditation is a fantastic tool to help you cope with getting less sleep AND to help you drift off to sleep much more easily. The basic aim with meditation is to focus your mind. Often we think that meditation is about emptying thoughts, but this is just one type of meditation. Other meditation strategies have you focussing on a particular mantra (a word or sound), or focussing on your breathing.
Whatever the case, when you focus your mind, you are able to take control over your thoughts and to remove distracting and anxiety-causing thoughts. This is a useful trick when trying to sleep as it puts you ready in a calm state of mind. It’s also a useful trick to use throughout the day to train yourself to be better at controlling your thoughts when you need to. And of course, it is a useful trick that you can use to feel relaxed and to catch up on missed sleep at any point.
Take a Warm Bath
A warm bath has a number of very beneficial effects on the body to help with sleep. For one, a warm bath will help to relax the muscles and release tension. This makes you feel much more comfortable and relaxed, and can thereby help you to drift off to sleep easier when you hit the bed.
A warm bath can also help by encouraging the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. It also helps that the bath itself is naturally a relaxing activity that can help prep you for sleep – especially if you bath every night before bed at which point it can create a night-time routine that you associate with drifting off.
Block Out All Light Sources
When light enters through the eye, the brain responds by producing neurotransmitters designed to keep us awake – such as cortisol and nitric oxide. This is because we are meant to be awake during daylight hours, and the body has therefore evolved to keep us that way.
Conversely, when it gets dark, our brain produces more melatonin to help slow down chatter and help us to drift off.
So while you might be able to get to sleep with that bright LED on your clock, your brain’s chemical cocktail won’t be as conducive to that sleep as it could be – so it’s a good idea to block those out.
You don’t need to throw out your clock either: you can just stand something like a book in front of it!
Likewise, if you are heading to the toilet in the night, be careful not to turn on the hall light!
Invest in a High Quality Mattress
There are countless gadgets, hacks, and tricks that promise to help you sleep better at night. But while all of these have some merit, the simplest solutions are still often the best. In this case, that means sleeping on the best mattress you can find. It’s a logical starting point, and it can make a HUGE difference.
Calculate Your Chronotype
The time of day you sleep is almost as important as where and how you sleep. That’s because our body is wired to take cues from the environment (called “external zeitgebers”) as well as from our internal biology (called the “internal pacemaker”) in order to know when best to sleep.
But what may surprise you, is that the ideal time to sleep is different from one person to the next. This is referred to as a chronotype, and reportedly sleeping at the right time of day for you can have a HUGE impact on just how refreshed you feel the next morning.
Not only that, but this can even affect your productivity and your mood the following day2.
Open the Window
One of the very best things you can do for your sleep is to open the window at night. The reason is firstly that we actually sleep better when the room is slightly cool, and secondly that we use the ambient temperature outside as an important cue to fall asleep and wake up3.
Looking at hunter gatherers and the way they sleep, scientists expected to see that they would sleep consistently in-keeping with the rising and the falling of the sun. With no smartphones or artificial light sources, their body would be perfectly in-sync with nature.
But this wasn’t what turned out to be true. Instead, it was found that hunter gatherers would stay up past dark very often, and wake up at different times. They had chronotypes just like us, and they would burn the candle at both ends!
The one thing that was consistent though, was that their sleeping would get deeper as it got colder, and they would begin waking up again after the coldest point!
Finally, understand that your body is wired to like patterns and cycles. You sleep best when the signals from your body (such as adenosine build-up in the brain) match signals from outside (darkness). The only way to get this to occur on a regular basis, is to make the effort to go to sleep at the same time every single day. If you can do that, then you will fall into a natural rhythm that will help you to start feeling drowsy right when it’s time to hit the sack!
Of course, there will be times when you’re forced to push things a bit. But wherever possible, try to stick to a routine – just as you would encourage a young child to do!
- Roger Federer sleeps 12 hours a day, says neuroscientist
- The Power of When by Michael Breus
- What You Can Learn From Hunter-Gatherers’ Sleeping Patterns