5 Simple Steps to Improve Your Sleep

Here is how you can use sleep as a performance enhancer

Photo Credit: kstonematheson on Unsplash

I used to consider sleep as a sign of laziness. I believed sleeping less was better for us. That changed after I started taking training (BJJ) more seriously. I realized that sleep and recovery is just as important as training, learning and improving. 

I don’t only mean physical recovery, our brain needs to properly recover too. The most effective recovery happens when we sleep, and the best part is it’s totally free. Most of us don’t realize how powerful sleep is, and we don’t appreciate the fact that it’s free. 

We should all get a certain amount of sleep each night. However, the quality of your sleep is more important than the amount of sleep you get. I have friends who sleep for 8-9 hours, but they feel tired when they wake up and during the day as well. There might be different reasons for that, but I believe the main one is their quality of sleep. I would say the reason is probably low testosterone, which is also directly correlated to the sleep quality. I don’t remember who said it, but there is a quote about sleep that I always refer to, “If sleep was a drug, it would be illegal to use in sports.” This quote itself sums it all up. 

Sleep is one of my biggest priorities. Of course there is still room to improve, but I’m trying my best when it comes to sleep. I realized how important sleep is once I started taking it seriously. I don’t remember the last time I felt tired after I woke up. Even if I had a hard practice the night before, I always wake up well rested. That wasn’t always the case for me. Ever since I started doing the following steps, I’ve been getting the most out of my sleeps as everyone else should too. 

Here is the list of simple things you should do to get a better quality of sleep:

  1. Use iPhone’s Bedtime or Do Not Disturb
  2. Night shift/Blue light blocking
  3. Dark bedroom/Eye mask
  4. Don’t eat heavy foods prior to bed
  5. No caffeine 12 hours before bed

Bedtime/Do Not Disturb

For the last 3 years, I’ve been turning on Do Not Disturb on my phone before I go to sleep. That way, I’m not getting any notifications or calls. Even though I always keep my phone in vibrate mode, I turn on Do Not Disturb because I don’t want my sleep to get affected in the slightest. 

After I updated my iPhone, I started using Bedtime. How that works is, you select a time frame, I believe mine is from 10:00 PM to 6:30 AM, and your iPhone automatically turns Do Not Disturb on and locks itself. 

It’s different for everyone, but I currently like to go to bed at around 10:30 PM and wake up at around 6:30 AM. So every single night at 9:54 PM, the bedtime reminder is activated on my phone, which means that I should wind down and get ready for bed. I have friends who complain about the phone calls they are getting at night when they are sleeping. I’ve been telling them to turn the Do Not Disturb on, or put the phone on airplane mode but they don’t listen even though it’s very easy to do. If you value your health and your sleep, I think you should do so. 

Blue Light Blocking/Night Shift

Screens are a huge part of our lives. Most of us look at screens almost all the time, whether for work, to study, or to entertain ourselves. I’m not going to say you should reduce your screen time, because I don’t know what you’re using it for and I’m not going to reduce mine. I like being in front of the screen most of my time. But I also realize that it has an affect on my eyes, and on my sleep as well. So I’m doing the best I can to minimize the effects on my eyes. 

At a certain time at night, at around 8 PM, Night Shift gets activated both on my phone and my computer. It basically turns your device’s display warmer, yellowish, to minimize the blue lights. I’m not sure about how bad the effects of blue lights are to the eyes, but if it affects my sleep even a bit, I want to prevent it. So I’ve been using the night shift on my devices at night. Also, my eyeglasses have blue light blocking, I also put them on when I’m on my computer. 

Lastly, I reduce my phone’s brightness all the way down when I go to bed. Ideally I shouldn’t look at my phone right before I sleep. I sometimes check social media or watch YouTube on my phone, but since the brightness is too low, it doesn’t hurt my eyes at all. 

Dark Room/Eye Mask

In order to get the most out of our sleep, we need melatonin hormone to be produced. It’s a strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and an immune booster. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, that’s why we need darkness for melatonin to be produced. So ideally, we should sleep in a dark room. If for some reasons we’re unable to do that, we can use a sleep mask, that works too.  

Not Eating Heavy Before Bed

I don’t think eating before bed is necessarily bad. According to researchers, this is a controversial topic. However, we can all agree on eating heavy before bed might affect your body and your sleep. The effects would probably be different for everyone. Some might have reflux, they would get heartburn during sleep if they eat heavy before bed. Some might have slow digestion so they would gain weight, and while their body is too busy trying to digest the food, they might not get the proper rest they needed. Even though we probably don’t feel that, this would happen to most of us if we eat heavy. Once again, I don’t want my sleep to be affected at all, so I try to avoid heavy foods before bed, and I think you should too. 

No Caffeine 12 Hours Prior to Bed

12 hours sounds too much, I felt the same when I first read this in Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep. He argues that trying to cut caffeine off somewhere between 12 to 14 hours before you expect to go to bed is a fantastic rule of thumb.

I used to drink coffee in the morning, during the day and at night. I even remember drinking coffee at 12 AM to study for the exam that I was going to take the next day. Right after I finished my cup, I went straight to sleep. I don’t physically feel the effects of caffeine on my sleep, but I know it affects my sleep by blocking the adenosine receptors in my brain. Adenosine is basically a sleep promoting chemical. I want more adenosine to build up later in the day to get a better sleep. So I try to drink my last cup of coffee at 12 PM. 

I’m a huge believer in putting myself and my health before anything else. If I don’t prioritize my health and my sleep, no one will do that for me. So I’m trying the best I can to put my body and my brain in a good place, whether by working out regularly, or eating healthy, or in this case, with prioritizing my sleep. 

Doing these makes me feel good both mentally and physically. I think everyone should start from somewhere, and sleep is probably the easiest one. So if you really love yourself like I do, do these five steps if you haven’t done them already, and you will thank yourself later.

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