Today we’re going to wrap up our series on ‘How to Get Better Sleep’ by breaking down how you’d make decisions for yourself. Before we dive into the details, it’s important that you’ve read the prior posts as they provide the necessary foundation for our recommendations that follow. Find those previous posts here:
If this is the first time you’ve really formalized any process to be more aware of your sleep habits in an effort to make it better, your best bet is to start having conversations with friends and family around the benefits of sleep. This is a great audience to begin with because they will likely give you unfiltered feedback on why they can’t or won’t sleep more or take steps to sleep better. It’s feedback like this that helps shed light on your own reasons for not making conscious decisions that you benefit from.
Moving on, let’s assume that you’re beyond simply saying “I gotta just sleep more” and you’ve gone through the assessment with yourself. Here’s what to do next:
Start with Quality:
In this day and age, it is incredibly difficult to have someone simply ‘sleep more.’ When that prescription is provided, we are setting ourselves up to fail. What we’d rather do is give ourselves a (relatively) easy win. Why? Success breeds motivation, not the other way around. So we start by looking for areas to improve the quality of the sleep quantity we are currently getting. Things to explore:
- Temperature Decreases – start by dropping 2-3 degrees for two weeks
- Reduce Ambient Light – cover cable boxes, bright clocks, turn phones upside down, and the for the super-ambitious, use blackout curtains
- Adjust wind-down routine – allowing the brain to slip more easily into sleep mode can be done by removing mentally stimulating activities like phone and TV screens. I recommend you cut use of those within at least 60 minutes of their normal bed time. Reading a book can be a great replacement here too!
I provided several examples of different prescriptions in the previous section, but it’s important that you choose the best option based on what you know about yourself. Also, resist the urge to be overly enthusiastic by choosing three, four, or more of those directives. Start with one, allow a period of time for measurement and then mastery before adding the next one.
When it comes to personalizing your choices, it’s important to remember that each pillar should inform and influence the others. For instance:
- You should aim to decrease the intensity and complexity of workouts if sleep is not improving.
- If you have a big work deadline approaching, the ‘Manage’ pillar would take on a more prominent role. Perhaps you’d wind-down at night by journaling what tasks need to be accomplished the following day. This will allow the brain to “park” ongoing challenges and recover better during sleep.
Sleep is a leading metric, which means that it leads to improvements not immediately realized. You should take time to quantify the result you are striving for. For instance, maybe you are looking to have more energy in the afternoon:
- You work on quality sleep by personalizing your prescription of establishing a solid wind-down and wake-up routine
- Automate a text message to yourself at 2pm each day asking for your energy level on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best possible. Chart this progress somewhere easily accessible.
- At the 30/60/90 day marks, you look back and evaluate: “Did I have better energy levels at 2pm today vs 30/60/90 days ago?” Share with someone!
Refine and Repeat:
Not everything you choose to do will work. If you disagree and feel that all your choices are always successful, you just haven’t lived long enough! This is why it’s so important to measure what you are doing. In the previous example, let’s consider two possible scenarios:
- Your energy didn’t improve, or got worse, in the first 30 days
- Your energy improved steadily through day 47 but then leveled off after that at a score of 7.5/10.
(Regardless of whether the you adhered to the plan you came up with or not, the reality is that your job is to refine things over time.)
In scenario one, you would schedule time for some self reflection and acknowledge the need for a new prescription, identify possible outcomes, and set new expectations. It’s important that you are honest from Day 1 and understand that you are not choosing quick fixes, but rather long-term sustainable change. This first scenario also highlights an important reality -> if you are waiting more than 30 days to sit down and self-reflect, you are no doubt missing massive opportunities to refine your plan and keep yourself moving in a positive direction.
In scenario two, you are at the point where something that was leading to improvement simply isn’t any longer. This is ok! Provided your self-reflection didn’t uncover any reason for you to suspect your prescription should have kept working, it’s time to layer on a new habit. So perhaps in addition to your new wind-down and wake-up routines, you choose a temperature adjustment down 3 degrees. This does not mean you stop doing the first thing. You should also be aware that you may experience a bit of a backslide on your energy reporting. This is completely normal and simply due to a “new” stressor being put onto the body, but once the adaptation process occurs, the expectation is that you will move past your previous best.
So what should the sleep program look like for you? As with so many things, it depends. YOU are the one who knows you best! But I can tell you this, the right program:
- Starts with an assessment
- Includes a healthy dose (see what I did there?) of education from
- Is personalized
- Is measured against the result(s) you care about
- Is refined over time
Work on this pillar and not only will you get better results, but you’ll also have the ability to help your loved ones!