“I can’t fall asleep because my mind just can’t stop racing.”
“I do fall asleep fast, but I wake up at 2 am and can’t fall back asleep.”
“I try to sleep for 8 hours and still I wake up feeling tired.”
“I’m too busy, I’ll sleep more when this project is finished.”
… Yup, most of us have used at least one of these statements in the past year. And yet, you don’t immediately think of taking consistent action, changing your habits, optimizing your bedroom, really taking the right steps to improve sleep quality.
Why is it that diet and exercise are the first things we think about when wanting to feel more energized and healthy, but we don’t take a hard look at our sleep schedule? Or maybe we do, but we lack the right tools to sleep better apart from some sleeping pills?
Or listen to the podcast version on your way to work!
Why is improving sleep quality important?
Sleep deprivation will affect your health and well-being in so many ways:
First of all, research shows that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your brain and body as being drunk
Emotionally, you feel more cranky, grumpy, agitated and you can’t have a broader view or positive outlook on life
Physically, your body doesn’t get the chance to repair. At night, your body cleans out cells, hormones, and toxins. If you don’t sleep well and you keep piling up the trash in your body, it’s going to explode at some point and cause chronic disease.
Mentally, you can’t focus properly and your productivity goes down significantly. The effect? You’ll beat yourself up for not getting stuff done and making more mistakes.
If you want to feel calmer, healthier, energized, and positive about life, I’d say the very first thing you need to work on is to fix your sleep schedule.
I created a FREE 4-Step Bedtime Routine for you that only takes up 15 minutes of your time right before you go to bed. You’ll see you’ll fall asleep quickly and you’ll sleep better. Try it out tonight!
The 4-Step Bedtime Routine
Try out this bedtime routine tonight to prime your body and mind for great quality sleep.
Before you go to sleep, what do you do? Is it one of these?
You’re still working on a project
You’re on social media or chatting with friends
You’re swiping on Tinder
You’re watching Netflix
You’re out dancing
You’re reading a book with interesting information (aka studying)
Hey Maya, I do all of these things, what’s wrong with that?
Let me give you a little bit of a theory lesson about cortisol levels and the nervous system before we go into the practical bits of your night routine for better sleep.
Cortisol is what we call the get-up-and-go or stress hormone. It’s what helps you wake up in the morning and be productive. As you can see in the graphic below, cortisol should be high in the morning so you can get going with your day, but then it should go down in the evening so that your body can get ready for sleep. When cortisol is high, you are operating in your sympathetic nervous system, also called our fight-or-flight system. This is why you should prepare your brain for sleep.
Melatonin, the red line in the graphic below, is your sleep hormone. You can stimulate this hormone by relaxing and disconnecting. You’ll enter the other side of the coin of your nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system, also called: rest-and-digest. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low. When melatonin is high, cortisol is low.
Bottom line: if you’re doing a bunch of activities that give you excitement, adrenaline or stress, cortisol will be up and you won’t have enough sleep hormone (melatonin) to have good sleep quality.
If you’re processing information like informative books, chat conversations, your social media feed, movies, impulses from outside activities … Your brain has a lot to think about, to interpret, to process, and you can’t enter a state of true relaxation.
A classic symptom of high cortisol and low melatonin at night is when you wake up at 2 am and you just can’t seem to fall back asleep until 4-5 am. This is because you literally don’t have enough sleep hormone to stay asleep.
And so with that theory lesson, let’s see how we can balance our hormones, balance our daily rhythm, and sleep like a baby, shall we?
Before you download my FREE 4-Step Bedtime Routine, I’d like to bring your attention to 5 key aspects to fix your sleep schedule:
Yes, did you know that getting sunlight in (even just by watching out the window) will increase cortisol levels which will actually help you have LOWER cortisol levels in the evening so you can sleep better? Your morning routine will affect your sleep of that day, so let’s start there.
I know most of you don’t have the time to take an hour for yoga, meditation, journaling and feeling grateful for this new day. You don’t have to take it that far. A morning routine can be very short and simple. There are just a couple of aspects you need to have in mind:
You need to create a sequence that’s the same every day so that you don’t have to think about it anymore. This way your brain can wake up slowly and you can use your brain energy for truly important mental tasks.
You need to get some sunlight in, even if it’s just watching out the window from your living room for 2 minutes while you’re having your cup of coffee.
Your brain needs to be in a state of calmness so that you can prime your brain for the rest of the day. If you wake up rushing to work, your whole day feels kind of off, doesn’t it? That’s because the first 20 minutes of the day, your brain is going from the calm delta brain waves to beta or even gamma: high alertness and productivity. During this transition, it’s important you don’t feel scattered and rushed, but calm, balanced and positive.
In my 8-week program From Clutter To Calm, I help you completely restructure your days while keeping enough flexibility so that you can feel more calm and clear-headed. Check out the full overview right here!
2 - Turn Off Your Social Media
By now you’ll know why I’m telling you why you shouldn’t use social media in your night routine. There’s too much information on the feed and in messages for your brain to process late in the evening. Your brain has done enough work for the day and you deserve to disconnect. Disconnecting will feel weird at first when you have the habit of being available all the time, but you’ll soon start enjoying the lack of interruptions from notifications and fully engage in something that truly relaxes you.
Apart from your brain feeling scattered, the blue light of your screen literally blocks melatonin production and increases cortisol. Not something you want to be doing before going to sleep. If you really need to check your phone, install a blue light filter so that your screen looks a bit red-ish and it doesn’t affect your hormones that much.
3 - Optimize Your Bedroom
Your brain associates places and situations with habits and feelings. That’s just the way it works, so you should use this in your advantage.
Your bed should only be for sleep and sex. Nothing else. No movies, no phone, no working on your laptop, no reading … If you like to read in your bedroom, have a separate cozy chair as your reading spot, so that your brain can associate that spot with reading and processing information.
If you can’t fall asleep, just get up, go to the living room, and try again after 15 minutes. This way, you can train your brain that once you enter the bed, it’s time for sleep.
You also want to check the sleep conditions of your bedroom: is it dark enough? Is the temperature right? Is it not too humid? (If it is, consider buying an air filter), are your bedsheets of good quality so that your body can breathe? Did you invest in a good-quality mattress?
4 - Fix Your Sleep Schedule
Training your internal clock and sticking to a sleep schedule will also help your body and your brain to fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling well-rested. Even when you go out and sleep quite late, try to wake up at the same time every day so your body can create the habit of getting ready to tackle the day. It’s better to wake up early and do a little siesta in the afternoon, than to sleep until noon.
If you’re not sure what your sleep schedule should look like, take the Power of When Quiz and see if your sleep chronotype resonates with you. There’s also tons of interesting information on when to exercise, or when to drink alcohol or coffee.
5 - Lower Your Stress Levels
My last KEY aspect to improve sleep quality shouldn’t surprise you: actively bring down cortisol by lowering your stress levels.
The more you engage in relaxation techniques, the more your whole system will be trained to quickly switch from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest. Look at it as some sort of switch that you can train to be stronger and make the switch more easily.
If you can’t sleep because you’re feeling very stressed or you find yourself overthinking, definitely have a look at the Give Your Brain A Break audio series to learn different relaxation techniques that will help you feel more relaxed in just 5 minutes a day, or download the Overthinking Emergency Kit and follow the 10 steps to stop overthinking right away.
Take action - As you go through the other key aspects of this blog post, start with one change, schedule a moment for it, and truly commit
Personalize - Then, ask yourself: how did that feel? How can I personalize this to make it mine?
Make it a habit - Decide when it can naturally fit into your day and do it every single day, even if it’s just for 1 minute so that your brain can create the habit and automatically engage in this activity even when you’re having a busy day.