31 May 6 Ways To Sleep Smarter and Faster If You Sleep 6 Hours or Less
We all know the importance of getting enough sleep. So I don’t want to bore you with another article on the benefits of sleep, and why you should be sleeping more. Because in the real world, almost everyone I know – family, friends, clients and colleagues – sleeps less than they should.
For most people I know who don’t sleep enough, it’s not because they’re bingeing on Netflix (although some do!), it’s because they’ve got a lot to do. I saw this first hand growing up watching my mum build her business while looking after the family, waking up at 3-4 am daily just because she needed those extra hours awake.
For others, especially in the corporate world, staying late at work is seen as a necessity (even if they’re not being productive), and it’s completely out of their control as to when they can leave. Which is why the advice of ‘just go to sleep earlier’ isn’t always sensible.
If this sounds like you, then you need to learn how to sleep faster and maximise the time you do spend on a pillow.
Sleep is important, so if you want to improve your training results and overall well being on less than optimal sleep, then try out some of the strategies listed below.
1. Wake Up At The Same Time Everyday
This makes such a difference in how you feel throughout the day that it should be the first thing you implement.
What time you make this is individual, and it doesn’t really matter too much. What’s important is that it’s a time that you can stick to every day, even on weekends or your days off work. That’s the real key.
I’ve recently been experimenting recently with a wake up time of 6am, and so far it’s working great. I used to wake up at between 4 and 5am, but it became unrealistic to follow on the weekend, which would then throw off my sleep cycle for the whole week again.
In the military, everyone has to wake up at 5am, no matter what. And from reading deeper into this, it seems to take 21 days or so for your body to adjust and make it automatic. Since starting this experiment, I’d agree with that timeframe.
2. DON’T HIT SNOOZE!
I know how tempting it can be to snooze your alarm. When I was training clients from 7am in the City (with an hour commute) I had no choice of snoozing as if I woke up late, I’d lose business. But now I train clients in the afternoon and evenings only, it can be more tempting.
So what I do, and have done for years now, is keep my alarm clock on the other side of the room and make the sound so loud that if it stays on for longer than a few seconds, everyone in the house will wake up too.
This will force you to get up fast, both because your alarm is across the room, and because you don’t want to be responsible for waking everyone else up!
Now, once you’ve switched your alarm off, you’ve got to avoid temptation to go back. Because remember, what snoozing will do is make waking up eventually even more difficult.
By falling back to sleep, your brain is now back at the start of your sleep cycle, making it the worst possible time to wake up.
This will be hard to begin with, but your body will adapt. It always does.
And if you need more sleep, take naps during the day instead. Or sleep earlier if it’s within your control.
3. Do Something Physical When You Wake Up
Having a morning routine is powerful. The problem with many of the articles on morning routines out there is that they’re just not realistic to maintain day in, day out.
One thing I think everyone reading this will benefit from implementing is to do something physical when you wake up.
This can be anything from weight training, mobility work or your cardio.
There’s a lot of discussion between whether it makes a difference doing your cardio in a fed or fasted cardio. Metabolically speaking, there’s none. But I think there’s more to it.
I love doing my cardio fasted because it wakes me up, allows me to have time to myself when it’s quiet outside, and sets the tone for the day.
It’s amazing what fresh air and sunlight can do to your mood, energy and productivity in the morning.
By doing something physical, and getting outside early in your day, it’ll help regulate your body clock too and let your body ‘know’ that it’s the time of the day to have more energy. Meaning, when it comes to bedtime, you’ll fall asleep easier and have deeper, higher quality sleep.
Loads of successful people do this, including The Rock, who’s repeatedly said that everyday at 4am he’ll wake up, have a coffee and do his cardio.
And for anyone who doesn’t believe him, I remember seeing him train at Genesis Gym at 6am for two weeks straight while he was filming Fast and Furious, having already done his cardio at 4am that same day.
What if I can only weight train in the evening?
For many people, the only time they can train is in the evening. This is better than not going at all, so what I would recommend is to stay away from stimulants, avoid going to failure too much, keep the reps a little higher and don’t ‘psych up’ for your lifts.
The key here is to not stress your nervous system out so much that you’re too wired to sleep when you get into bed at night.
4. Avoid Caffeine 10 Hours Before Bed
This could be a tough one for many of you who are reliant on caffeine to get you through the day, but it’s a simple way to immediately improve the sleep you get.
Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours, meaning if you drink a cup of coffee at 1pm (containing 200mg caffeine), you’ll still have 50mg in your system at 11pm.
I try tell clients to limit their coffee consumption to 2 cups a day, and if they’re drinking 8-10 cups (not uncommon in the City especially), then to gradually reduce this by 1 cup every few days to wean themselves off it slowly.
The best times to have caffeine is in the morning, and if you time the dose just before a training or cardio session, you’ll be able to put the extra energy and metabolic stimulus to good use.
I personally use caffeine pre fasted cardio (the best time to use it), and then again pre workout around midday. After this, I stop all caffeine till the next day.
5. Limit Electronics
In the hyper-connected world we live in, this is a tricky one. The combination of emails, social media, texts and calls can make it difficult to switch off late at night.
In an ideal world, if you can switch off all electronics an hour before bed, you’ll sleep much better for it. For many, myself included, even if this is pushing it. So what I do is try get at least 20-30 minutes of ‘nothing’ before bed.
Even this small window makes a difference, and I think everyone, no matter what job you’ve got, can implement this ‘electronic fast’ for better sleep.
This is usually the time people recommend reading fiction, writing a gratitude journal, meditating, stretching or taking a bath/shower. They all work. I think as long as you’re off electronics, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s relaxing.
The reason electronics are an issue is that the blue light emitted acts as artificial sunlight and makes it difficult for the body to sleep, through disrupting its body clock.
The blue light makes the body think it’s daytime, and so inhibits melatonin production (what regulates your sleep cycle).
If you do find yourself using electronics or working till late, I recommend downloading f.lux for your computer, and activating ‘Night Shift’ on your iPhone or iPad. It works by automatically adjusting the colour temperature of your screen and attempts to match the light of your screen to the natural light outside.
6. Nutrition and Supplementation
There’s a number of ways we can manipulate our diets to maximise sleep quality. Something which helps many clients is to set aside some of your daily carb intake to be consumed before bed.
The theory here is that the serotonin release from the carbs will help relax the body for sleep. For many clients, this works really well.
Besides this, there are a few supplements that work in varying strengths. I’m not a big supplement guy, so besides magnesium, I wouldn’t recommend using the others on a frequent basis. And I also think you should try all of the above options discussed first before trying the stronger options.
– Magnesium – 200-400mg (Citrate, or any ending in ‘ate’. Not Oxide or Chloride – the latter is a laxative!). This is the first ‘go-to’ supplement for better sleep, and I know many clients and colleagues that use this religiously to knock them out.
– Melatonin – 3-5mg (Not legal to sell in the UK). This is the most potent supplement you can take. It works by regulating circadian rhythms and telling your body it’s time to sleep.
– 5-HTP – 300-500mg. It works as a serotonin pre-cursor, helping your body ‘relax’.
– Phenibut – 300-500mg. It’s an anti-anxiety drug that has sedative effects in high doses. Do not use this daily as it can become very addictive.
The best way to implement the advice in this article is to take it step-by-step and monitor your body’s response. Implement one habit, assess how your sleep is over the next few weeks, and then add another, and so on.
If you know of anyone who struggles with their sleep quality, and needs to sleep smarter and faster, please share it with them.