Your Best Sleep: A step-by-step guide to help you run your day effectively and ensure you sleep well
Sleep is crucial to optimum health, fitness, stress management, good mood, weight management and a positive outlook on life.
So how can you guarantee you sleep well and for the right length of time every night?
Making sure you get a good night's sleep begins from the moment you wake up in the morning. Everything you eat, drink, do and think each day will have an effect on your sleep patterns later on, so managing your energy and keeping your system calm is crucial.
Here’s an example of what a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle could look like. You can adapt the ideas to suit your schedule. You may need to shift the whole routine forwards or backwards a bit and flex some of the timings to suit your preference for mornings or evenings and the specific requirements of your day, but the fundamentals are consistent for all of us.
Once you have the timing framework that suits your life, you can begin experimenting with specific meals and snacks to find the options that you like best. 0645
Wake up at a regular time and start the day with a glass of water or a cup of warm water with lemon
This is the beginning of a well-hydrated day. Proper hydration improves focus, prevents irritability and leads to eating well, so this is an easy way to get your day off to a great start. Think about this every day - the first thing you consume each day can set the tone for the rest of the day so begin as you mean to go on. 0700
Breakfast on porridge, oatmeal or muesli or fruit and yoghurt with seeds
Oats in porridge or muesli release energy slowly which keeps you calm throughout the morning. Fruit can release sugars into the bloodstream quickly but combining them with a protein such as yoghurt and seeds slows down the digestion of your breakfast.
Avoid sugary cereals which cause a quick rise in blood sugar followed by a quick drop which leaves you craving more sugar as this pattern will then repeat itself throughout the day. Climbing aboard this sugar rollercoaster leaves you feeling moody, running on adrenalin and makes it tough to wind down at the end of the day.
Set the tone for an active day
Get some fresh air and activity. Whether you’re getting only yourself to work or also sorting out other family members and children, aim to squeeze at least 1000 steps into your morning routine before arriving at work. Some of you will use this slot for your daily exercise. If you're working from home and don't have kids to get to school, try inserting a fake commute to the home office so you can get some movement and fresh air to clear your head and move gently into work mode.
Plan your day
Decide on your top 3 priorities and tackle the most important, challenging, daunting one right away. Drink water or herbal tea to aid hydration, energy levels and concentration.
Pause for thought
It aids good sleep if you avoid ploughing through each day continually challenging your busy brain without allowing any time to process, review and absorb what’s going on. Give yourself regular breaks to assess your day so far, refocus on priorities and plan the next small chunk of time. Operating this way will make your entire day more efficient and leave you feeling calmer.
A little pick me up
Drinking caffeine is like taking a quick injection of stress hormones. Tea, coffee and fizzy drinks should be kept to a minimum and for most people, cutting back here isn’t too much of a problem. Usually, you enjoy one or two. The third and fourth might not feel quite so satisfying and any more than that won't leave you feeling great.
Focus on quality rather than the quantity with your caffeine intake and you won’t feel deprived. Then, when you’ve had your fix, switch to herbal, green or Rooibos (Redbush) tea. These usually have no caffeine, taste great and leave you feeling calm and focused. Ideally, avoid caffeine after midday and allow your body to rid its effects from your body in time for bed. 1100
This can be pineapple, kiwi or banana with sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts or pecan nuts. These are all high in serotonin, which helps to regulate frustration, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep and appetite. Sesame seeds are a particularly good source of zinc, which is an essential component of an effective immune system which is vital for dealing well with stressful situations. Keep a small bag of these on your desk at work so you can have a handful a day.
For 2 minutes take a break to think, review, hydrate, plan
Clear your head with some activity and fresh air. If your schedule allows, and it works for you, use this point of the day to shift lunch back a little and fit in your daily workout.
Should be salad-based as the leaves help to calm the nerves. Adding fish or turkey provides you with a helping of tryptophan – the essential amino acid that increases brain levels of serotonin to keep you calm. At this stage, you’re well into your day feeling calm, focused, effective and energised. You've grazed well throughout the morning and restricted your caffeine intake - so far, everything is on track for a calm day and great sleep at the end.
For 2 minutes take a break to think, review, hydrate, plan
If you can, step outside for a few moments of fresh air and daylight
Your afternoon snack should be fruit that’s high in vitamin C as this helps to reduce any stress.
Top Tip - Eat a couple of oatcakes or a handful of nuts at the same time to slow the release of the fruit sugars into your system.
Review your day and make a list of top line priorities for the morning. 1730 - 1830
Exercise / Dinner. For those who prefer evening exercise, now is the time to get active and clear out the day, mentally and physically, and prepare yourself for a relaxing evening.
Choose an evening meal that contains a small amount of brown rice which is a good source of B-Vitamins to keep your system running calmly and smoothly. Combine this with grilled salmon or tuna steak and some green vegetables. Oily fish will give you another burst of tryptophan and the green vegetables contain magnesium to help calm you through the evening. A lack of magnesium can leave you feeling jumpy so top-up on your greens. A glass of wine with dinner? If you like to have an alcoholic drink in the evening, have it with your meal as this will limit any drastic impact on your blood sugar levels that could cause disrupted sleep later on. And stick to one or two drinks maximum. The same rule applies here as with the caffeinated drinks earlier in the day – enjoy the first and then ask yourself do you really want any more or would you rather have a good night’s sleep?
1900 - 2200 Enjoy your down time
Plan this section of your evening carefully setting some guidelines around TV, family activities, household chores. The more you plan and prepare in advance, the calmer each evening will be. The earlier part of your evening could also include finalising plans for the next day to save time in the morning. Some of you may prefer to complete your workout during this slot but finish in good time to cool down and calm down before bed.
Make sure you complete any stimulating activities, either on a computer, tablet or smartphone, in good time to allow your brain to ‘turn down the lights’ well in advance of your chosen sleep time.
2030 A little treat at the end of the day?
If you have a sweet tooth and like chocolate then choose a couple of squares of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids for a burst of feel-good chemicals followed by lowering blood sugar to calm you through the evening.
2200 A nightcap
A quality hot chocolate can be a good choice as the calcium in the milk helps to calm your mind while the drink will cause your body temperature to be raised slightly and then it will cool. This temperature cooling simulates what happens when you sleep and can help you to drop off smoothly.
Prepare for bed
Read, listen to something relaxing, close down the day.