As business owners, we often find ourselves burning the candle at both ends. We strive to pack more and more into our day, then when it is finally time to get some rest, we are wired. It’s hard to shut down, and when we do fall asleep, we are restless and often wake with our brains going around in circles.
We lay there thinking about all the things we did during the day (or didn’t do!) and what is on the cards for the next 24 hours and beyond. We suddenly remember that we need to make that appointment, that the kids need a costume for an assembly item or we really need to email our subscriber list ASAP…. And the chatter goes on.
As well-meaning as we try to be, breaking this cycle can be tough. We may nail it one evening, having a relaxing bath, writing our journal and switching off early – only to get back to old habits and deprioritising the importance of sleep the next day. There is too much to do, we need extra work time when the house is quiet, or we choose late at night to be our ‘me time’ and end up binging on reality TV with a side of Cadbury.
Do yourself a favour, and take a leaf out of your teenager’s book. Prioritise sleep once again!
Why is sleep important?
I’m sure you are all acutely aware that none of us functions at our best when we are tired, yet we too often live in denial and stumble through the day adding coffee after coffee to get through.
What we forget is that EVERY body system relies on appropriate rest to not only recover, but thrive. Sleep regulates all metabolic activity, including growth, hunger, repair, blood sugar and waste disposal. Sleep is also crucial to our immunity. You may have experienced for yourself the tendency to get sick when we are feeling run down and tired for extended periods.
Within our bodies are numerous, cleverly-evolved ‘clocks’ that regulate our day-to-day functioning. They are pre-programmed to upregulate (speed up) or downregulate (slow down) processes throughout the day and night. The well-known circadian rhythm is one, but our heart, lungs, kidneys and other body tissues have their own peripheral clocks. What modern life has done, unfortunately, is mess up these clocks with strange routines (or lack of), artificial light and an overscheduled mental load. We find ourselves eating at odd times, sitting in what our body perceives as broad daylight at 10pm, and firing up our nervous systems with stressors at all hours. No wonder we reach for the coffee pot ASAP in the morning!
Taking ownership of your sleep quality and really understanding the importance of sleep to your wellbeing is vital. Not only will you feel better (and who doesn’t want that?!) but you will think better and have greater overall health. You will be able to perform at your peak in your business and reach your goals faster. The key to success is not how hard you push, but how well you recover. Your body is designed to work and rest – not work and work, and work, and work….
How to improve sleep quality
While there is no way to guarantee longer sleep hours, you can reprogram your body and mind by building good sleep practices. When you allow yourself to properly wind down, you encourage better quality sleep, longer hours in the land of nod and real recovery where it is needed.
The best way to build these sleep practices is to start with nighttime rituals.This signals to your brain that it is time to calm down and reduce the stress hormones floating around that trigger the alertness you have been chasing all day.
Here are five tips for building into your own nighttime ritual and improving your sleep – and your life.
1. Be aware of your exposure to light
Aim to get adequate exposure to light in the earlier part of the day, especially when you first wake up. This signals to your body that it is time to rise and shine and kickstarts our internal clocks into day mode.
Reversely, come evening, keep the lights dimmed. We have all heard the advice to switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Still, few of us actually do this (bedtime reading of the latest online news, some late-night shopping or mindless scrolling through social media?). However – it does make a difference to your ability to settle into sleep and stay there. Even if an hour is not realistic for you, try 20 minutes or even 15 to let your brain and body know it is dark outside.
2. Water therapy
At the end of the day, jumping in a hot shower or magnesium-enriched bath is a wonderful way to wash it all off. Let the stress float away, clean yourself of hostile, negative or nagging thoughts and start your evening routine fresh and calm. Even if you only have a few minutes to stand under the water, take some deep breaths and help your mind transition from work to rest smoothly.
Alternatively, do the same thing on dry land – take five minutes to sit or lay quietly and take some deep belly breaths. Become aware only of your body and the space around it, and gently push the days stresses off into the atmosphere.
3. Writing things down
For some people, journaling is easy, natural, and a welcome way to end the day. For others, it is another chore; they don’t know what they should be writing and it ends up becoming counterproductive. Don’t make it counterproductive. If long-winded journal entries and ‘Dear Diary’ pages are not your thing, you can still reap the benefits of journaling in just a few minutes. Use your paper and pen as a brain dump, a list of reminders for the next day or to reinforce your goals. This gets all this ‘stuff’ out of your head, so you are more likely to let it go and relax.
Journaling is often done at bedtime but make it earlier if that works best for you. Grab a cup of tea and a few moments to yourself when you finish work for the day, or while the kids are watching TV before their own nighttime ritual.
4. Make your bedroom inviting, calm, quiet and relaxing
Keep your bedroom free of study and work materials – that is not the place for it. Keep light-emitting devices turned off or covered, and invest in blackout blinds (especially if you live in an area with bright street lights). In your sanctuary, your nighttime ritual may include things like a light stretch, reading an entertaining book or drawing for a little while. Do whatever it takes to push pause on being a business owner, entrepreneur, parent and all-round overachiever.
5. Watch your nighttime consumption
Large meals late at night can disturb your sleep, so aim for smaller portions come evening. A balance of slow-digesting carbs (think wholegrain) with lean protein and healthy fats will keep you satisfied until morning. Overly sweet desserts, chocolate and alcohol are incredibly tempting come nighttime but resist the urge to overdo it or your sleep quality may suffer.
These are just some ideas, you need to find what works for YOU. The key is to keep it consistent. That way your body intuitively knows just by your actions that it is time to slow down and your ritual will become less forced. Embrace sleep, it is the most amazing part of the day!