From a health perspective, sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Without sufficient sleep we are not as productive, efficient or focused as we should be – pretty important considerations for office workers. Long term sleep deficiency can have serious health implications, something that not even the strongest cup of coffee can rectify.
From what I can tell, there are two types of people in this world. Those that take some time to get to sleep and may sometimes have more serious issues sleeping, and those that can fall asleep whenever they want. Those that fall in to the latter bracket are the envy of the rest of us and probably don’t need to read this blog!!! For the remainder, I’ve decided to consolidate the top recommendations from expert sleep therapists in one place i.e. this article. I’ve also supplemented that information with details of my own routine as well as some advice for people with more serious sleep problems. Let me know if you find it beneficial!
The general consensus seems to be that we should be sleeping somewhere between 7 and 9 hours per night, depending on the individual. If you are sleeping 7 hours a night and still feeling tired by day then you probably need a little more sleep each night. If however you are sleeping 9 hours per night and are still feeling tired then it may be time to speak to a medical professional to figure out the underlying cause.
A regular routine is oft cited as being really important in order to develop good sleeping habits. Try and go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even at weekends).
Avoid stimulants late at night. You shouldn’t drink alcohol or caffeine or smoke close to bed time (actually you shouldn’t be smoking any time of the day!). I would also add that you should avoid (or at least minimise) liquids of any kind close to bed time as this can lead to interrupted sleep with repeated trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Similar to the stimulants above, you should avoid large meals late at night. If absolutely necessary, eat light snacks but avoid sugar or sweet options.
The last thing I want to do is tell people not to exercise but unfortunately strenuous exercise too close to bed time is not good for helping you go to sleep so try and schedule your exercise for a little earlier in the day.
Your bed should be for sleeping and sex only. Don’t use your bed for watching TV or for eating.
Make your bedroom a peaceful, relaxing and comfortable place to be. Eliminate noise and light from your bedroom as much as is possible at night time.
Prepare a to-do list for the next day (whether for work or whatever else you have planned) well in advance of bed time so the tasks won’t be playing on your mind when you try to go to sleep.
My Own Routine
I'm not a bad sleeper but certainly not the type of person that can sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow either. My biggest issue is probably when my mind is racing with ideas or problems that I need to take care of the following day. I'm afraid I don’t have a perfect formula for eliminating this completely from my schedule but taking on board the advice above and adhering to the following routine usually helps me more often than not. This is a typical routine for me on a work night:
- I’ll leave the bedroom window open during the day (depending on the weather) so the room isn’t stuffy come evening time
- I prepare for the morning by having clothes laid out, laptop bag ready, gym gear lined up etc.
- I switch off (or stop fidgeting with) all devices such as TV, laptop, phone at least 30 minutes prior to bed
- I’ll read some fiction or an article, anything once it’s not too taxing on the brain and is completely unrelated to work
- Relaxing before bed is important so no matter what I've been doing that day I’ll set aside a short amount of time (at least 5 minutes) to do absolutely nothing before going to bed. Some people like to mediate around this time, this is something I haven’t tried properly but really want to give it a go.
- I started using an eye mask (think I got it on a plane!) about a year ago and I have had the deepest sleeps I ever had with it. I'm in complete darkness with this bad boy and no light changes to the room can affect me unless I remove the mask.
- Last but not least I always make sure to give myself enough time in bed to reach my personal target of 8 hours sleep each night. For me this usually means going to bed 9 hours before my alarm goes off. I’ve added the slack to allow for a) the time it takes me to go to sleep and b) the amount of time my baby daughter will keep me awake during the night! Even with the slack added I may not always get the full 8 hours but the routine is working for me overall and I haven’t had any issues with tiredness or fatigue as a result of this approach.
If you need to catch up on sleep then a power nap is an excellent way to do this. This may not be an option while you are at the office but certainly is something you could do at the weekend. JFK and Maggie Thatcher are a few of the people I've read about that swore by short (10-20 minute) power naps to recharge their batteries before the next appointment. Be careful not to nap too late in the evening time though as this could affect your sleep pattern for when you’re settling down for the night.
If you are having issues sleeping but don’t consider them serious enough to speak to a professional then there’s an app that might be able to help. Somnology provide a mobile app that acts as a personalised sleep assistant. You can enter in your personal details as well as the problems you’re having sleeping and the app will make certain suggestions and recommendations tailored to the individual. Even if you don’t have serious sleep problems you can still use the “Soundscapes” in the app which are a bit like meditation podcasts and can assist in relaxation and in releasing anxiety before bed time.
This happens to me quite a lot and I often have trouble getting back to sleep. The key is to try and “stay out of your head” and not to worry if you can’t get back to sleep. You may not be getting a full night’s sleep but you are completely at rest and relaxing which is still a great benefit. If you need to use the bathroom when you wake then don’t switch on any main lights, use the light from your phone or a flash light to guide you. A full bright light is a subconscious way of telling your brain it’s daytime and not what you want in the middle of the night.
I hope the above tips and advice prove useful. As always, if you are having persistent serious issues with sleep then don’t wait any longer – contact a doctor straight away. The solution may be more straightforward than you think.
Yours in health,
P.S I love talking about wellness so feel free to drop me a line to discuss any of the above. Contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Low Down
Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant specialising in the design, improvement and auditing of wellness initiatives for Irish businesses. He is the founder of Office Worker Health, a platform dedicated to promoting health and wellbeing to the working population.
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