How to get better sleep
Like many people, I oftentimes go through bouts of not being able to get to sleep. This usually happens during times of stress and year 13 brought me some of the toughest challenges with regards to sleep I’d ever faced (the year before university). If you’ve found yourself in the same position, this post if for you, as I aim to share some tips that have helped me fight the battle against a crumbling sleep routine.
Implement a consistent night routine.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I believe habits are a cheat code to life and so James Clear has always been a go-to person for when I want to explore the strategies to combat a sleep schedule that is falling apart. He has written a great article on this topic https://jamesclear.com/better-sleep.
One of the most effective tips I found from him was to build a night routine and this doesn’t have to be complex, but it should satisfy the following criteria (as with any other habit) – make it:
- Obvious (with a cue)
- Attractive (create a craving)
- Easy (to carry out)
- Satisfying (include a reward)
For example, you could initiate your routine by filling up your water bottle ahead of the next day. Drinking a bottle of water first thing when you wake up does wonders at overcoming the morning slump if you suffer from that.
Then, once your water bottle is filled up, you could grab a sheet of paper and plan tomorrow by noting your reminders, priorities, setting alarms to remind you of meetings or seminars you need to attend. Planning tomorrow today helps you separate the worries of tomorrow as you go to sleep.
After you jot the final reminder, you may want to implement the habit of reading. Remember to make this obvious, for example by placing the book on your pillow. Also, don’t overwhelm yourself -sometimes you’ll be too tired to read, so just set yourself the goal of reading 1 page a day. You may laugh at this, but usually, once you’ve read 1 page, you’ll carry on reading for a few more pages due to inertia. Reading, especially if fiction (although I often opt for non-fiction), helps tone down thoughts of stress as you wind down.
Next, you may want to add ‘brushing your teeth’ to the list, before a final, deeper activity like prayer or meditation. These reflective activities do not only include prayer and meditation. For instance, in the book “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant”, Ravikant talks about how meditation is simply turning off society and listening to yourself, which only works when done for its own sake:
- Hiking is walking meditation.
- Journaling is writing meditation.
- Showering is accidental meditation.
- Sitting quietly is direct meditation
I also recommend having a habit tracker to help you maintain this as a consistent habit, as it then becomes effortless to implement (James Clear offers one for free pdf online) .
Get up and try again
But once you have a good night routine, you need contingencies in place and the biggest challenge I sometimes face is what to do when you keep tossing and turning to no avail.
When you can’t sleep, I recommend getting out of bed and changing the environment. If possible, go downstairs, make a small snack (I opt for a small bowl of porridge usually) and considering you’re not in a rush to be anywhere, take it slow. Be thorough and meticulous when preparing the snack, play something that relaxes you (Ludovico Einaudi has some great instrumental tunes) and sit down to watch a series that takes you away from the stresses of life.
The biggest trap is to get stressed about the persistence of sleeplessness. Avoid this by busying yourself. Clean the bowl you just ate the porridge out of and again, do it slowly, without rushing. Our brains do not fare well when dwelling over a challenge. Keep it busy through distraction and then repeat the process of changing the environment and heading up when you feel like trying to sleep again.
Although this technique of getting up after not being able to sleep doesn’t work 100% of the time, it has been a game-changer for me. But for those nights when the noise around you is keeping you up, which is outside of your control, take comfort in that we can operate on very little sleep, as Clear talks about in the article I included the link for above.
Moreover, don’t be disheartened when the first few weeks of a night routine isn’t making as much difference as you’d hoped – 1% improvements compound so that the results look more like an exponential graph and therefore takes time before dramatic increments can be seen.