There’s nothing worse than waking up tired. It means starting your day already on the backfoot which, when you consider how busy the day is likely to be, makes it feel impossible to get through.
You can probably handle a night here and there of poor sleep, but what happens if it becomes a common problem? This is a reality that one in three adults face.
Whether it’s because you’re trying to squeeze more awake time into your day by cutting into sleep hours or just having regularly restless sleep, a lack of sleep will really begin to add up over time and take its toll on your health.
So what can you do about it?
Here are four hacks to help you get on top of your sleep challenges.
1. GO TO BED WHEN YOU’RE TIRED
Okay, this may sound like an eye roll worthy suggestion but hear us out. We each have our own unique biological sleep clock. If you pay attention, it will signal to you when you’ve got enough melatonin (sleep hormone) to tip you over into LaLa land and when it’s worn off enough for you to get up and start the day. Yet most of us have lost touch with our own natural rhythm. We will push past our body’s nudges that its bedtime (just one more episode!) then rely on an alarm clock to wake us up in the morning. When we do this, it can be much harder for us to fall asleep as we literally may have missed our ideal window.
So give it a go; try going to bed when you get that first wave of tiredness and see if it helps.
2. LEARN TO WAKE UP WITHOUT AN ALARM
If you’re a shift worker this obviously won’t work for you, but the flipside to going to bed when you’re tired is learning to wake up naturally. Because we don’t get enough sleep, or we sleep fitfully, most of us will use an alarm to wake up in the morning. But this unnatural awakening could be contributing to morning grogginess.
If you get back in touch with your innate sleep clock, you’ll find that you begin to fall into a rhythm of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day and you won’t need to shock yourself awake with an alarm. You will likely find you have to go to sleep a little bit earlier in the evening—especially if you do have to be up at a particular time to get ready for work. It’s also good to note this probably won’t happen immediately and you may have to give your body a few weeks or a couple of months to find its rhythm again.
3. AVOID SCREENS TWO HOURS BEFORE SLEEP
We don’t want to be the screen police but there’s actual science behind this. All of our devices use blue light to produce their brightness—and blue light tricks the body into thinking it’s still daytime and destroys melatonin. Historically, before humans got all clever and invented electricity, we would only have the light of fire through the night. The light that comes from fire has a red undertone and so avoiding too much blue light in the evening (particularly two hours before bed) can prevent the disruption of your body’s sleep hormone production. You may also like to keep your lighting dim once the sun goes down and use warm globes to mimic the softer light of fire.
4. CULTIVATE SOME CALM
If you regularly feel stressed or anxious, this could be at the heart of your sleep struggles. When your nervous system is on high alert, your body won’t want you to drop off into a deep, undisturbed sleep. This is because historically, stress was only ever a physical thing—if you felt stressed, it was because your body was in immediate physical danger. You were being hunted by a bear, for example, or a neighbouring tribe attacked your village. In these instances, of course you wouldn’t want to sleep deeply (if at all) because you may need to get yourself out of danger quickly.
These days, our stress is more psychological—we feel it in response to the things we have to do in our day, not because our lives are actually in danger. To your body though, it’s all the same. And so it might be that you need to get a handle on stress or anxiety before your body will allow you to sleep restoratively.
Seeking out the help of a health professional is a great starting point if stress and/or anxiety are an ongoing issue for you. Other things that help to calm the nervous system include meditation, breathwork and acupuncture.