Sleep. Elusive for some, seemingly effortless for others. Growing up, sleep wasn’t something that came easy to me. A hyper-active mind coupled with a fear of the dark and almost constant nightmares meant that bed-time was something I would approach with absolute dread. This “dislike” of sleep followed me all the way into University, where late night gaming sessions and staying up into the early hours of the morning became the norm (I’m pretty sure this period alone has created a 20+ year sleep debt to this day).
Fast forward to the present and now that my physical and mental health have become a priority, so too has sleep. The benefits of good sleep habits have been proven time and time again, as well as the consequences of poor ones, so I won’t go into those here. It suffices to say that if you want to feel better, look better and generally live a better quality of life then getting your sleep in order should be a priority.
1. Get a routine
Your body works off of a rhythm, and the more constant you keep things the easier it will be for your body to fall asleep. This means both going to sleep at a similar time every night and having a routine to wind down or “prepare” yourself for sleep.
2. Get away from blue light sources half an hour to an hour before bed
Blue light suppresses your body’s natural production of Melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy. If you absolutely must use a computer, phone or tablet before bed, download Flux for your devices. It gives your screen a red tint based on the rising and setting of the sun and minimises the harmful effects of looking at a screen.
This might seem like a simple one, but far too many people don’t put some sort of time aside every night to properly relax. And I don’t mean sit on the sofa watching Gogglebox “relax”. I mean physically relax. My go to way is to give myself a deep tissue massage (and no, not that kind), using my foam roller. Imagine how you feel when after you’ve been to a chiropractor, or when you go for a sports massage. Got that? Good. That’s how I feel every night after a good foam rolling session. I’ve also started doing something called “gut smashing” which is about as delicate and pleasant as it sounds. However, somewhat ironically, it actually stimulates the Vagus Nerve, which in turn stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System and elicits the relaxation response (in other words, it chills you the fuck out).
4. Sleep in a dark room
And when I say dark, I mean DARK. Like, “I can’t tell if my eyes are open or closed” kind of dark. Obviously that’s easier said than done in the modern age, but there are some solutions:
a. Buy blackout curtains
b. Tape bin liners over your windows (some people genuinely do this while traveling and staying in hotels).
c. Buy an eye mask. I use this one as it wraps over your ears and is a lot more comfortable than your typical eye mask.
5. Eat correctly and supplement
I try and stay away from artificial ways of falling asleep as much as possible. If I’m supplementing, I want to recreate my body falling asleep naturally as much as possible to avoid any side-effects, and because natural supplements tend to have other benefits that roll on to day-to-day life. These include:
Magnesium – This is a big one. Magnesium helps your muscles relax and decreases cortisol (the stress hormone).
Zinc – Zinc is involved in so many processes within the body they’d be too numerous to mention here. However, when it comes to sleep, it is essential for the metabolism of melatonin, which as we’ve said above is the hormone necessary for healthy sleep.
Melatonin – When all else fails and I absolutely cannot seem to wind down, I cut straight to the chase and take some pure Melatonin. You only need 1g, and I only use it when I absolutely have to, as long-term use can mess with your body’s ability to produce it naturally.
Eggs (personal opinion) – This one is based purely off of my own experience. I’ve quite often noticed that if I eat eggs before bed, my sleep tends to be amazing. I don’t have any scientific literature to back this up yet, but my guess is similar to the above, in that having protein and fat before bed helps keep your blood sugar stable, thereby stopping you from waking up in the middle of the night.
With all of the above in mind, below is my current sleep routine to help you piece everything together…
1. Magnesium (500mg), zinc tablet, 200mg Theanine, 1-5g Taurine
2. Foam rolling (5-10 minutes)
3. Gut smashing (5-10 minutes)
4. Meditation (10 minutes minimum)
So in total the routine takes me around 30 minutes, (a bit more if I’m really in the zone with the meditation) and has so far given me some of my best sleep in a long time. Give it a try and let me know how you get on!