It’s Friday and Zara is feeling very tired after a stressful week at work and not enough sleep each night. She’s happy that tomorrow she will be able to have a lie-in, but not before a few drinks after work. After all, it’s Friday right?
She gets home at 1am…After a few too many vodkas, she falls asleep straight away. Unfortunately, she wakes up again at 7am and cannot get back to sleep.
She spends Saturday recovering with a hangover and then finally gets a reasonable 9 hour sleep on Saturday night. She’s starting to feel refreshed on Sunday so goes out for a few drinks with friends while she looks ahead to the coming week with a little trepidation.
The Weekly Cycle
Does this sound at all familiar to you? From my experience it seems to be a common way of life in most cities like London. Work hard, play hard type of thing. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got to have a little play and hard work, but too much of anything will have consequences.
The Sleep Bank
Think of the time you spend sleeping as adding to your bank account. Let’s say that you’ve been good and your bank balance is at zero. You’ve no debt. Now let’s assume that you need about 8 hours sleep a night. How many people are getting that? Let’s assume you sleep 7 hours per night Mon-Thurs. So come Friday you are -4 hours sleep. That means on Friday and Saturday nights you need to sleep 10 hours per night to make it back up…
Most people have some alcohol at the weekend which usually interferes with sleeping patterns. So the chances of getting 10 hours a night is unlikely. Seems like a little bit of a waste of time, too, doesn’t it? 10 hours!
The Sleep Deficit
So after a week you are more likely to be negative 6 hours or so. This doesn’t seem uncommon to me. That on its own wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but this cycle continues for weeks and months at a time. Maybe even years. You get used to the feeling of being tired so that’s your new ‘normal’ feeling.
When you do get the odd night or two where you get a very good night’s sleep, it’s usually just a one off.
Paying Back the Debt
Paying back any kind of debt isn’t easy and it certainly takes time. The same is true of sleep debt. The odd night or two here and there aren’t going to pay back those 10’s of hours sleep deprivation that you have accumulated over weeks.
You need to get regular, consistent good nights of sleep. And over time you will pay it back and feel much better for it.
Ways to Sleep Better
I thought I would list out some ideas for how you can improve your sleep. Try to add one of these ways each week, just making small changes to enhance your shut eye time one night at a time. I found this post recently which has some great tips on it.
Read – Instead of watching the TV before you hit the sack, read a book. It should help you to relax and get to sleep more easily.
Breathe – Try doing some breathing exercises and a body scan. Check out these free audio resources for Mindfulness based exercises. The take just a few minutes but work wonders.
Mindfulness – This is becoming a very popular technique to practice and I can see why. It has all the benefits of meditation, but is also based in science and has been proven to help reduce stress and lower anxiety. I’m a firm believer that this will also help you sleep better. Check out this ultimate guide to mindfulness for free exercises to do.
Exercise – Make sure that you don’t exercise too close to when you want to sleep. At least a few hours before would be ideal so that you are relaxed by the time you want to sleep. Check out some of my Instagram workouts if you want a quick, before shower workout if you’re not hitting the gym.
Black out curtains – Easy to do because you can just buy them. Making your room dark is critical to getting good sleep. Especially in the summer when the sun rises very early.
Lights out – this includes all the TV, Sky and any other electrical chargers you may have with a small light on them. Unplug them to save some energy and make your room dark.
Phone Silence – Turn your phone off, put it into airplane mode or at least turn off all wi-fi and 4G so you don’t get any notifications. In an ideal world you wouldn’t use the phone for an hour before you want to go to bed.
Sleep Earlier – I know it’s an obvious one, but going to bed just 30 mins earlier each night is going to add up over the week. Do that from Sun-Thurs and it’s an extra 2.5 hours a week.
Our bodies have a natural tendency to want to sleep when it gets dark and wake when it gets light. Up until fairly recently in terms of our lifetime here on Earth, that’s what happened. We went to sleep not long after darkness fell and rose when it was light again.
Check out WebMD, The Sleep Foundation and NHS UK’s sites for some excellent sleep tips, too.
Let me know what tricks you use in order to improve your quality of sleep.