There is More to Sleep Than Getting to Bed on Time…

Last week I started a series, for Women’s Month about my Journey to Health, that I have been working on at Sport Science for the last eighteen months. Last weeks post was all about meal planning and the food that I eat right now… This week I am writing about my old nemesis… Sleep. Turns out sleep is becoming less and less of an enemy and something that I am starting to welcome into my life. For years and years sleep was honestly something I had to do, because one does have to sleep, but I never looked forward to it and I never welcomed it and I never saw it as anything other than an interruption to my otherwise busy days… I slept as little as humanly possible and hoped for the best. For the last eighteen months, getting good sleep has been one of my top priorities and it is finally starting to pay off… I have more energy than my kids do… just saying. Sleep is the key!!!

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A Sleep Day in the Life

In a perfect world I would be in bed by ten… this isn’t a perfect world, I have eight kids, we homeschool and I am a blogger and not to mention… five of those kids are teenagers, which means they don’t sleep at night (the sweet reward for surviving sleepless toddlers is wide awake teenagers who want to chat at midnight).

I actually head for bed at 10:30 and I am asleep by 10:45 most nights, and 11:00 at the very latest. Four days a week I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, the other three mornings a week I sleep late, until 7:00. It’s working for me, most nights.

I have found that the more I sleep correctly, the less I am able to sleep poorly. In other words when I was sleeping really badly a year or two ago, and I had more than a few nights in a row of absolutely minimal sleep, and we won’t talk about all-nighters at all, it was easier to stay up then than it is now. The harder my workouts and the better I eat (less caffeine, sugar and so on)… the harder it is for me to sleep poorly. I simply cannot stay awake after eleven anymore, and I can forget about doing any work after nine at night.


My Personal Sleep Journey

When I began working with Sport Science, about a year and a half ago, I was shocked to discover just how bad my sleep habits were. I knew they were bad, but I didn’t realise just how bad. A sleep diary and a sleep tracker quickly gave me objective proof that I had to do something about my sleep situation. To be honest, I didn’t know enough about sleep, to value it as the great healing and restorative force that it is in our lives. Sleep is a gift that I am really only just starting to embrace.

As a kid, and all the way through varsity I slept fine, in fact I was in bed most nights by ten and up and out the door, as an early bird, most days… and then motherhood hit me. My first child was a poor sleeper, and then we had a couple more kids… and basically between nursing and night time interruptions associated with little people I just stopped sleeping properly and as our mind typically does, I thought I was fine. I have since learnt that I was literally a time bomb of medical problems… one or two nights of interrupted sleep is one thing, but chronic poor sleep is dangerous.

I thought the hardest part of starting the healthy weight programme would be the workouts, how wrong I was… then I thought it would be the 5:30 am wake up, to get to gym on time. Still wrong… the hardest part was staying awake throughout the day, after my morning workouts. The first week was fine, the heady excitement and all that, but by the second week I knew I couldn’t sustain it and I need a radical sleep fix. After that, I got to bed by 10 PM every night for a weeks, even months… this was harder than it sounds.

Anyway, slowly but surely I started to catch up on all my sleep debt, but as I felt better and better, so I would reward myself (see I love rewards!!!) with a late night here and there and by the end of last year I had crept back to way too little sleep for all that I was doing in the day. So I had a little intervention, the father person bought me a Fitbit… just to show me how poor my sleep habits were. A fitbit is a device, that looks like a watch, but it is so much more. While you can use it to track your workouts and so on, I got it primarily to track my sleep… shock again… I was getting less than five hours sleep a night. This is really not enough for a human person. So rather than trying to get seven hours sleep a night, every single night, I started to work on my sleep hygiene… correcting poor habits around my sleep time. I made sure that I read everything I could about sleep, I have attended every single sleep workshop at Sport Science (they have lots of them, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to get notified), as well as worked through SSiSA’s fantastic online sleep course, Optimise Your Sleep. Knowledge is power… and for so many reasons I have almost worked my way back up to a consistent seven hours a night sleep. I am averaging… 6h45minutes a week at the moment, which means that there are quite a few nights a week that I am getting my goal of se7en hours a week…

The thing is that the better I sleep, the more fantastic I feel… and there is a great downside: I just can’t function under slept anymore. My body has gotten used to that well slept feeling and I cannot get through the day without it anymore… In fact, I really have no idea how I functioned with no sleep for years and years and years.


Online Learning With Sport Science: Optimise Your Sleep

Of all the resources that I have looked into by far and away the best resource is the Sport Science Optimise Your Sleep Online Course… and no they don’t pay me to say that. But they did give me a place on the course to work through… and it is fabulous. Fabulous. For someone like myself, who doesn’t have an actual sleep disorder, my sleep problem was simply atrocious habits that had settled into stay… this course is out of this world and packed with tips. If however if you do suspect that you have a bigger sleep problem then this Course will give you the tools that you need to investigate further.

The course has six modules, and each module has about half an hour to forty five minutes of video to watch, as well as printables to go with the videos and other downloads that you might need for the course. It doesn’t sound like a lot… but there is a massive amount of information packed into each module and it takes at least a week if not two for the information to settle in your mind. They begin by teaching you about your sleep architecture… how your sleep should look, and then they look at problems you might have with sleep. Then they teach you how to assess your own sleep, with relevant charts and questionnaires to fill in. They move on to give you tons of practical and helpful tips to help you get the best possible quality sleep… and some of their hints might seem obvious, but the practical ways that we can implement them makes this course superb.


Se7en Sleep Hygiene Tips That I Learnt on the Course

  1. No Caffeine After Lunch: To get to my sleep sweet spot I really need to get to sleep by 10:30 in the evening. But to achieve that I need to start feeling tired, really tired by about 10:00. Having a cup of coffee in the evening, in fact a cup of coffee after lunch affects my deep sleep, and I need that for physical recovery after all the exercise I put myself through during the day. It is quite simple, if I have coffee I have it in the morning. Otherwise I just don’t have it.
  2. Lose the Naps: Again I need to be really tired at about 10 o’clock, in order to get to sleep by 10:30. A nap can give me that extra boost, that makes me stay up just a little bit later… and then a little bit more. I have always been a great advocator of the nap, for survival purposes one sometimes has to… but if you are getting all the sleep you need at night then you won’t need daytime naps as well.
  3. No Screens or Bright Lights At Night: When you shine blue light from your devices in your eyes at night it affects the release of melatonin… that is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy at night, and can disturb your circadian rhythm, which is controlled by the part of the brain that says: sleep at night, be awake in the day. My husband has installed an app on all our screens that tones the light down on our screens in the evening. And I never take my phone or any screen into my bedroom. Ever. Never have, never will… if people need to call me, then they can call me in the morning.
  4. Beds are for Sleeping: Not for projects, not for folding laundry… just sleeping. In fact I have to say, I don’t even read in bed, I prefer to sit on the couch and read and get most of my reading done earlier in the day. Reading in bed has never been comfortable for me and the thought of a bedside table stacked high with books waiting to be read seems a little stressful to me, especially since a lot of the books I read are for reviewing… reading is great, but it is work for me and so I don’t read in my bedroom.
  5. Going to Bed Timeously is Adult Sleeping In: My sleep goal is seven hours a night, and I have to get up at 5:30 four mornings a week for gym. The only way I am going to get the sleep I need is to head for bed earlier than my teenagers go to bed. That has been a little weird for me, when your kids are small you wait eagerly for them to get to bed, breath a sigh of relief and have some time to yourself… well let me just say, teenagers have a natural sleep lag… they go to bed later and they sleep much later than I can in the mornings. To get the sleep I need I have to say goodnight and go to bed… it does feel a little weird going to sleep before my older kids… but it feels so much better in the morning when I can get up and get to gym, knowing they will all still be sleeping while I am working out. (And no I do not leave them home alone, the father person is with them in the mornings while I am out).
  6. Create a Sleep Haven: They have a whole video on how to create a sleep haven… create the bedroom that you need to sleep in… lose the pile of clutter in the corner, now already. You know how you toss stuff behind the bedroom door… every time you have visitors. Stop it already, get the clutter out. Invest in yourself and get fresh sheets. I actually did this, and got a blanket that I love, that hasn’t been dragged around the house by kids and definitely hasn’t been used for forts or picnics or any other such-like antics. Bedding on my bed is just that, fresh, crisp, and right now in the heart of winter… cosy.
  7. Ask for Help: This is my number one parenting fail, I never asked for help when it came to sleep. There will be times when you are so tired that you just can’t stay awake, you nay have a work deadline, you may have sick kids… I never ever asked for help from folk to sit with my kids while I took a nap, instead I soldiered on. Now on days when I am just too tired, my kids are old enough for me to say I have to go to sleep, or some evenings just go to bed early to catch up on sleep. Don’t wait twenty years and have a sleep crisis… you can totally ask for help long before that, and I certainly should have.

The truth of it is… sleep is part of a lifestyle. You can’t fix all your bad habits over night, but little by little you can make small changes that will make a big difference to the sleep that you get. Only when you start to get good sleep will you realise what you have been missing out on. My goal on my journey to healthy living was to get moving… I never ever thought that would mean that I would have to sleep better. Sleeping has been an added bonus to the whole process, it isn’t easy to make the necessary changes… but it is so worth it. That well slept feeling makes it all so worth it.

As the Brand Ambassador for the Healthy Weight Programme at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa I receive free access to the gym and their programme, however this is not a sponsored post and all opinions are truly my own.

2 Replies to “There is More to Sleep Than Getting to Bed on Time…”

  1. Thank you, thank you for this and all the information! I have seen articles about how needing less sleep is a sign of greater intelligence, and have so often felt inferior in some way for not being able to stay up late. Gosh, adulting101 – be myself and do what makes me function with energy!!

  2. Hay Debbie… you can safely toss the idea that super clever people need very little sleep out the window!!! Because we all need sleep and lots of it… we live in a world of under slept and over stressed people. What can I say but a million well done’s to you for just getting the sleep that you need!!!

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