Welcome to the Unlock Yourself Blog. Thanks for stopping by - if you are reading this then you are awesome.
Over the last few years I've been on a mission to explore all the stuff that helps unlock our physical and mental health. Movement, recovery methods, breath-work, mindfulness, habit building etc have all brought me to a more balanced place. This is the space where I share my discoveries with you in more detail.
So how did you sleep last night?
This is the first question I want to ask you. Why? Sleep is our superpower. And without an effective dose of nightly slumber we are massively short-changing our physical, emotional and psychological well being.
Amongst other things, sleep is where we recover and restore ourselves from the stresses of daily life. Whether that be from training in the gym, or overcoming challenges in our work and personal lives - sleep is the medicine that fortifies and rejuvenates so we can handle more rounds of whatever stressors we face the following day.
In this article I'm going to share with you a quick summary of the reasons why it’s vital we prioritise this superpower, with a few caveats to be aware of. Then on to some suggestions to help you support your daily hibernation more effectively.
So how long should we aim to sleep every night?
A debated and very subjective topic. The research says 7-9 hours for most of us. Now I know you’ve probably seen those individuals on Instagram pushing the #teamnosleep message - boasting how they can ‘crush the day’ on 5 hours of sleep per night. It might sound cool, but sleep bravado is pretty douchey in my opinion and chances are you’ll be driving on a one way road to burn-out or even worse, adrenal fatigue. No bueno.
Unless you are in the 1% anomaly of researched participants, it’s unlikely that you will perform optimally on anything under 7 hours. So 8 hours seems to be the sweet spot for most people.
All sleep is not created equal. It’s not just about the duration, but also the quality. We travel through different stages of sleep when get a decent kip, and each stage has a range of benefits it brings.
I’ll not get all 'sciencey' here, but I just want to give you a quick intro to the stages of sleep which I'll do a deeper dive into in a later article. But essentially we have 4 main different stages of sleep that can be subdivided into light sleep stages 1 & 2, and deep sleep 3 & 4.
Each stage works its own kind of magic for us. The processing of memories and emotions, regulation of our metabolism, physical repair and restoration, problem solving and creative thinking abilities - different stages of sleep are responsible for attending to all these various processes. Therefore a decent dose of each stage is required to recover as optimally as possible for the day ahead and not miss out on any of the amazing benefits.
Sacrificing sleep has been proven to not only reduce your day-to-day performance but also reduce your life expectancy. A double-whammy of reasons for you to start making sleep a priority in your life.
So what can we do to help us get better at bedtime?
Before we jump into the actionable suggestions, I just want to cover a few important points that I feel necessary to mention…
You may have seen the rise of sleep related products such as apps, wearable sleep-tech, supplements etc in the last few years. While many of these products all come from a good place and look to help and support us in our journey to slumberland, they can often come at the consequence of becoming reliant on them. Or even obsessed and competitive with them - not traits you associate with going to bed. Even just the introduction of these options can bring with it an inherent pressure or anxiety that may only serve to exaggerate sleeplessness. So approach with caution - some of these products certainly can help when you are ready for them. But I'm going to strip everything back to the basics. If you are currently struggling with your sleep, try all of the following suggestions consistently first before forking out for any sleep-aids just yet.
OK, so the all-natural approach to sleep support…
Getting exercise or movement seems like an obvious one to start with, but it’s incredibly important. It doesn't have to be a massive gym session every day. Just make sure you're getting some movement in. Exercise will tire you out and it can also help flush out some anxiety in the process. Two things that will definitely help you drop-off.
Action - Aim to get some bare minimum movement every day at the very least. That could be a cycle to work, a walk around your nearest park in your lunch break or a swim after work. Just making sure you are moving your body each day.
2. STOP USING YOUR PHONE BEFORE BED
This is a big one that is very hard for most of us in the modern, over-stimulated era to grasp. The phone addiction is real for most of us and we need time away from it before bed to settle the mind. Our brains read the signal of blue light from the phone as daytime, which stimulates wakefulness hormones and disrupts our circadian rhythm before attempting to go to sleep. Also chances are you're looking at dog skateboarding videos which is fucking exciting - trust me I know. But hardly what you need to be viewing before trying to settle down for the night.
Action - Set an alarm on your phone that goes off 1-2 hours before bed. This alarm is to tell you to put your phone in airplane mode, set your alarm for the next morning, then leave it alone.
3. STOP EATING OR DRINKING FLUIDS BEFORE BED
Again this can be a toughie. The lure of the fridge creeps in when we are tired. But allowing the digestive system and blood sugar levels to settle after the final meal of the day will allow the body to focus more efficiently on dropping-off and moving into those all important stages of sleep.
Drinking fluids too late can also disrupt the night, as we might need to get up and go for a wizz.
Action - Start by stopping at least an hour before bed for both food and drink and monitor how you feel. Increase the time as you get more comfortable.
Break the chest-dominant, stress-breath breathing pattern most of us spend our time in. Get yourself out of 'fight or flight mode' with some nasal breathwork before bed to move us into a more 'rest and digest state'.
Action - Inhale slowly through the nose for 5-10 seconds. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale slowly for 5-10 seconds. Hold for 5 seconds. Visualise your body and mind softening with every slow exhalation you make. Repeat for 5 minutes.
5. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM A SANCTUARY
How you feel about your bedroom, and how it’s set up are two huge factors that could help unlock sleep quality for you. I’m not going to get all feng shui on you here, but how your room feels to you when you walk in it can play a massive part. Make it a calm and relaxing space to be in.
Actions - There are some important bases to cover here beyond clean, tidy and comfortable…
Hello darkness my old friend… Make your bedroom dark. Light has a profound impact on our sleep, so ensuring we are cancelling out as much of it as possible will help support our journey into sleep quicker, and keep us there for longer. Blackout blinds are a great fairly inexpensive option, of even a face mask to block out light for even cheaper - if you find it comfortable to wear.
Make it quiet. Sleep-stealing sounds such as home appliances, pets or neighbours can wake us up, or disrupt the transitions through each of the equally important stages of sleep. Switching everything off is a start. Ear plugs may be an option if you live in a built-up area.
6. READ A BOOK THAT RELAXES YOUR MIND
Reading is a tried and tested way to help us relax. I would also suggest choosing a genre like fiction, autobiography or true story over educational or business literature, which can be stimulating (for some). This will help slow down the mind-chatter by giving our busy brains a singular point of focus
Action - Once you are in bed, only leave one dimly lit reading light on. This will signal to your brain the light is gradually getting darker. Read your book of choice until you start to feel your eyelids get heavy. Then embrace the slumber.
7. PRIORITISE THE SHIT OUT OF IT
This is possibly the most obvious thing to say, but the most important point of all. It’s the one that underpins the whole deal. Until we make sleep a priority we can’t expect anything to change. That might mean pulling back on some social engagements, or setting new boundaries for when people can expect you to be contactable in the evening. It just depends on how much you want to help yourself. Instagram, emails, Youtube and Whatsapp will be there in the morning. Nothing will have changed. Take that moment in your evening to shut off the outside world and give yourself time to down-shift. Your mind, your body, your emotions, your overall performance and well-being as a human will improve if you make this a big priority in your life.
You don’t know how good you can feel until you feel it.
Thanks for reading. I love you x