It’s important – Don’t’ sleep on it.

10th March 2022

It’s funny, we all love our sleep yet we normally don’t get enough of it. A good night’s sleep is probably one of the most underrated and important things in life; that sounds very cliché but hear me out.

I’m not a sleep expert, nor am I here to patronise you on why you should be sleeping more if you aren’t getting enough hours at night. Everyone’s sleep routine is different; take a parent who has just had a new born child and compare them to someone like myself – It’s a lot easier for me to get over at night as well as sleep through the night compared to wakening up for that night feed or to sooth a child who is teething. 

If you fall into a category where children or other external factors aren’t an issue then I’m here to give you some tips, facts and help to make sure those hours at night are being used properly and to highlight the importance of sleep itself. 

How many of us wake up in the morning and you are so tired that you say to yourself ‘I’m 100% going to be early tonight’ yet come 11.00pm of that night we are 50 TikTok’s deep and watching some guys build a swimming pool in the heart of the amazon rainforest. A lot of our problems with sleep come from things we can fix ourselves whether that’s with routine, your room condition or simply what we do throughout the day.

I used to be one of those people tossing and turning at 12.30am at night and wondering why its so hard to sleep; That same person was drinking 2/3 cups of coffee per day. I love coffee, I still take 1-2 cups per day but I made a rule with myself that the last coffee of the day MUST come before 2.00pm. I was drinking cups at 6.00pm and thought nothing of it, then I got frustrated why I wasn’t sleeping. I got over to sleep late then woke up shattered, what do you drink when you’re shattered…coffee; the cycle went on and on until I started making some changes to my daily routine.

If you can relate to the above, then simply remove one coffee per day and make sure you drink it before 2.00pm. Most people feel that buzz in the first 15 to 45 minutes but it takes a long, long time for caffeine to completely leave your system. The side effects gradually wearing off as time passes and your body metabolises it. According neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Ajay Sampat, M.D., assistant clinical professor at UC Davis Health, about half of the caffeine is still in your system 4-6 hours after consumption. So, imagine drinking a coffee or any energy drink for that matter, at 6.00pm, it would still be in your system at midnight. If you can halt this intake but drink around 2.00pm instead then that leaves a lot of time for it to exit your system so your body is primed for sleep.

Despite my love for coffee, I have felt by cutting out one per day, I cherish the cups I have even more. Rather than just having one whenever I want, If I limit myself to a couple a day then it allows me to look forward to them.

Caffeine’s primary effect is that it makes it harder to fall asleep initially. Dr. Sampat says caffeine can also reduce your total sleep time by interrupting your sleep throughout the night. Caffeine can increase your arousal frequency which is how many times your brain wakes up each night. Dr. Sampat explains this makes your sleep less efficient and can make you feel less refreshed in the morning. Going back to what I said earlier in the article (it’s a vicious circle). 

I don’t want to feel like I’m some sort of sleep guru but I have definitely improved my sleep over the last 4/5 months by adding these next few tips to my lifestyle.

I try to do something everyday that will expend as much energy as possible. Thankfully I play football so I’m either training or in the Gym, consistently. I know the days I have training, or I Gym, I fall over to sleep a lot quicker than other days. On the days I don’t have those sessions, it takes me longer. Expending as much energy as I can throughout the day has been huge for me, but its only important now that I know the similarities and the connections between my sleep and my activity throughout the day. 

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about how I removed my phone from my bedroom. My New Year’s Resolution was to not take my phone into my room so I wouldn’t constantly scroll aimlessly at night when I could be using those minutes (...or hours) actually sleeping. So, what I done was bought a physical alarm clock to wake me up. I took my charger and phone and set it beside a socket close to my bathroom and leave it there for the night. 

When the alarm goes off in the morning it’s a lot easier to get up rather than hit snooze on my iPhone. Now that my phone is beside the bathroom, I get dressed, then wash and wake myself up in the bathroom before retrieving my phone.

This one is difficult and I would be lying if I said I’ve stuck to this every single night since bringing it into my lifestyle but I’m definitely a lot stricter on it and I’ve 100% seen the benefits of it. I’ve substituted it for reading and this brings me on to my next point. 

Reading has been a massive help for me in my mission for better sleep. If I read at night rather than being on my phone it almost certainly wipes me out to the point I sleep as soon as I put the bookmark in the book. Reading is a lot different than to being on your phone. Firstly, you are required to actively think when reading to understand what’s being said and by doing this for a set period of time, it actually tires you out. When you’re aimlessly scrolling at night your brain doesn’t need to think, its being spoon fed the information without having to do much work. I would read a chapter each night or read to the point where I feel my brain isn’t accepting anything because I’m getting tired, I know I’ve came to this stage as I’ll have to reread sentences over and over as they didn’t register or make sense the first time.

In May 2018 I attended Sports Psychologist Tom Herron. Tom is a lot more than a Sports Psychologist, he is a Lifestyle coach, a friend and a great mentor for myself. I have kept in touch with Tom regularly over the space of those 4 years and I have taken many different tricks and applied them to my daily life. One thing Tom got me to do on the first session I attended was to tape my mouth at night. Yes, you heard me, I tape my mouth closed at night. It’s very hard for me to explain the benefits I’ve received from this without sounding crazy but it transformed my sleep and overall health by a tenfold. I have been preaching to my family and friends about this and I’ve transformed a good few of them to do it. Every single person whom I’ve persuaded to try it has been doing it religiously since, that goes to show how beneficial it is. Since 2018, I could count the nights I haven’t taped my mouth with one hand. Caoimhe my girlfriend also does it and no matter if we are away on holidays or we are staying outside of our own homes, we take a roll of tape – that’s how much we depend on it now.

Taping your mouth closed at night takes mouth breathing out of the question, it makes you breathe nasally which in turn leads to a more restful nights sleep. Mouth Breathing and the negatives of it is a story for another day but if you’re still reading this, please give mouth taping a go. It feels weird at the start and some people might panic with having tape over your mouth but once you get used to it for the first night or two then you’re onto a winner. To save me going on and on about it I would love if you try and read up about it in your own spare time, you will see the number of benefits it provides. I will link the tape to use here.

My next blog is in 4 weeks, so until then, give a few of the tips above a try!