Sleep. So many of us have a love/hate relationship with sleep. To some, it’s something you have to do not want to do and yet to others, they seem to sleep their life away.
Ironically, it’s the one thing we do every day more than about anything else except work. Yet most of us are really bad at it. Seriously, how do you suck at sleep?
I go through phases where I get to bed later on the road for business but have a quiet morning when I’m more consistent with my bedtime at home but the house is up and moving earlier.
And it’s a challenge if you’re in a different hotel bed from one night to the other, dealing with foreign noises and light.
As a preface, I was an over-achiever who had a knack at stealing precious sleep hours so these 10 simple ways to wreck a good night of sleep come from a doctorate-level of personal experience. How many of them are true of you? (By the way, more is NOT better for you over-achievers). Are you ready?
8 Simple Ways to Wreck a Good Night of Sleep on the Road
1) Don’t Value Sleep
Make sleep a necessary evil. Do it only when you absolutely have to. After all, aren’t you there on this business trip to work every possible moment?!
Just get to it when you get to it. Ironically, we would never say we don’t value sleep but our actions or our sleep proves otherwise.
The truth is you know to make sleep a priority. It’s just a matter of doing it.
High quality sleep fortifies your immune system, balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases your physical energy, and improves the function of your brain.
Holy Shut-eye. Batman, that’s a lot of benefits!
But sleep must matter to you. It has become a bigger deal in your life to move your energy needle.
Don’t fall for the lie that you can gain more time by stealing from sleep.
Being awake is catabolic (breaks you down) and being asleep is anabolic (builds you up) and heightens the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. Basically, sleep rebuilds you and keeps you youthful.
Research shows that after just 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there is an overall reduction of 6% in glucose reaching the brain. Simple translation: you get dumber – more dumber.
This is also why you crave candy, chips, doughnuts, and other starchy, sugary things when you’re tired. Your body is trying to compel you to get that glucose back to your brain as soon as possible.
Your partial love and the prefrontal cortex actually lose 12 to 14% of their glucose when you don’t sleep. These are the areas of the brain we most need for thinking, for distinguishing between ideas, for social control, and for being able to tell the difference between right and wrong. Have you ever made a poor decision late at night and wouldn’t have made normally. You ask yourself, what was I thinking?
When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re setting up what Shawn Stevenson calls a “steel cage match between your willpower and your biology.” The deck is stacked against you.
You think you need more time when you actually need more energy and that starts with sleep. If I’m rested, I’m more likely to make better eating choices, workout, and feel better about my day. So, start by making it a priority and applying as many of these ideas.
2) Give Me Light and Make Me Warm
After all, light before bed and while I sleep doesn’t matter. It sure hasn’t so far, right? On the road, you may be so tired that you fall asleep with the lights on.
Actually, you’re in the dark on this one.
Sleeping in complete darkness is so significant that nighttime light has been called “light pollution” and refers to any adverse effects of artificial light.
One of the most devastating impacts of this light pollution is its effect on the production of melatonin. Studies show that exposure to room light during sleep hours surprises melatonin levels by more than 50%. And a Harvard Medical School study found that exposure to light at night throws the body’s biological clock out of whack. Again, not good.
The truth is we need a blackout to optimize our sleep.
Secondly, Make Me Warm!
Most people are completely unaware of how temperate effects our sleep.
When it’s time for your body to rest, there’s an automatic drop in your core body temperature to help initiate sleep. If the temperature in your environment stays too high, then it can a challenge for your body to get into the ideal state for restful sleep.
Now, just because you’re sleeping, doesn’t mean the quality of your sleep is great.
Studies show the optimal temperature range for sleep is between 60-67 degrees. The truth is you need a much lower temperature in your room than you realize.
1. Dark the room out – curtains/alarm clocks – I use a clip to keep the hotel curtains shut and wash clothes / electrical tape (I bring with me) for those annoying little lights in a hotel room.
2. Start slowly dropping the temperature in your room at night – I actually start the moment I walk into my hotel room then drop it even further a few minutes before bed. Check out this excellent article for more detail HERE.
3) Work from a Screen or Watch a Screen Right Up to Bed
Be on your computer, phone, tablet, or watch TV and you’re killing this one. And if you want extra points, do them all at the same time. This is SO easy to do with business travel.
Now, this is a guarantee to jack up your sleep – and it was totally me. I was constantly up late, TV on, working on my computer, stadium lights on (violating #2) right up to bed. Then wondered why I couldn’t fall asleep right away and my quality of sleep was horrible.
Why does it matter if you’re on a screen or not before bed?
There is an artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens that trigger your body to produce more daytime hormones and disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep. You don’t even realize how these blue wavelengths affect your sleep let alone keep your mind active. This one change made a huge difference for me. Tough but worth it.
It’s hard to notice this blue light when you’re up close and personal to what you’re watching. But if you were to step way back you’ll notice. I especially notice it when you drive by someone’s house at night and the tv is on and the house is filled with this glowing and captivating blue light.
Mariana Figueiro, PhD of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY and her team’ research showed that just 2 hours of computer screen time before bed was enough to significantly suppress people’s nighttime release of melatonin. When your melatonin secretion is thrown off, it will intrinsically throw off your normal sleep time. And continual use could lead to chronic disruption of circadian rhythms. And this could increase your odds of serious health issues.
Why is this hard? Dopamine is extracted as we search and seek, and find “that next thing”. It gives us a mini high and keeps us alert and dopamine is tied to motivation and alertness. Not good.
We need serotonin which is tied to contentment and relaxation.
Cutting back on your screen time at night is likely the number one thing you can do to improve the quality of your sleep immediately.
Your body and mind need to prepare for sleep and this one step could possibly be the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately. Start by unplugging incrementally by 15 minutes, then 30, 45, and eventually 60 minutes and see how much better you sleep.
4) Sleep Random Amounts Every Single Night
Make sure you are as inconsistent as possible. 6 hours one night. 8 hours one night. 5 hours another night.
If you find yourself with two nights of consistency, this should scare you.
The truth is you need to go old school on your bedtime.
Old School eh?
Renowned neurologist, Kulreet Chadhary, MD says, “Timing your sleep is like timing an investment in the stock market – it doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.”
In order for you to get your ideal hours of sleep, you need to get your body on a schedule to get to bed at a preset time as often as possible. When you line your body up with its natural secretion of the hormone, your sleep benefits dramatically increase as well. Money sleep time is between 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. so the more you get rest during that window, serious bonus points. You actually feel more rested from sleep during that time. This will also allow your body’s circadian rhythm to get back on track.
According to the book Sleep Smarter, around 10 pm, your body goes through a transformation following the natural rise in melatonin. The purpose of this transformation is to increase internal metabolic energy to repair, strengthen, and rejuvenate your body. If you’re asleep as normal during this phase, all is well. However, if you’re up when 10:00 p.m. hits, that in case in metabolic energy can be experienced as a “Second Wind.”
It’s important to understand that your body’s ability to repair itself, remove free radicals, and maximize hormonal output is greatly inhibited when you allow yourself to stay up and move into that second wind.
Schedule it. Set a time (or a short window) and dude, stick to it! Set an alarm for bedtime just like you do to get up. Then begin increasing that time by 15 minutes until you feel rested. I know that every night on the road could be unpredictable but I know I have more control than I care to admit and it’s usually one night, two tops, that I don’t have control of my bedtime if I really wanted.
5) Do Whatever You Feel Like Close to Bed Time
Eat late, lights on everywhere in the room. And if you can watch something then plop into bed.
And the reality is most of simply don’t make any correlation between our activity before bed and why we can’t sleep. Imagine that.
I was SO guilty of this one. I had no consistency except being inconsistent added on with stimulus overload, then wondered why I couldn’t fall asleep. Thank you Captain Obvious.
The truth is we need an evening bedtime routine to prepare our bodies to sleep.
Once you know your ideal bedtime, you can back up what is required in your evening. The idea is setting a routine that will allow your body AND your mind to transition to sleep.
But most of us just stop working or turn off the tv, fall into bed, and wonder why we’re not sleeping with our mind still racing.
Choose to do something, anything but watch a screen. Your body and mind can be trained and need to have the consistency to prepare for its recharge and repair time.
Start by choosing activities that prepare you for bed: planning for tomorrow, turning down lights, putting things away from today and out for tomorrow, putting on your bed clothes (whatever THAT may be), brushing your teeth, etc. Anything that can become a routine to get you to prepare your body and mind for sleep.
6) Have Caffeine Whenever You Want Since It Doesn’t Affect Your Sleep
Most people actually believe that caffeine consumption even late in the day or before bed doesn’t affect their sleep.
One reason is that they drink caffeine ALL the time. Another reason is they don’t know what sleep is like WITHOUT caffeine in their system.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine by Dr. Drake, said, “drinking a big cup of coffee on the way home from work can lead to negative effects on sleep, just as if someone were to consume caffeine closer to bedtime.”
The study gave participants caffeine at three different times:
- Immediately before bed
- 3 hours before bed
- 6 hours before bed
And do you know what the results showed? ALL showed measurable disruptions in their sleep.
I used to be a Mountain Dew addict and would have it before bed along with something salty. Little did I know what this caffeine was doing to my sleep.
The truth is many of us need to check into caffeine rehab.
The primary effects that caffeine has on sleep are to lengthen the time it takes to fall asleep and to decrease the total amount of sleep obtained. Not cool. Most people are simply not aware of its effects because they’re drinking caffeine almost all of the time. Check into caffeine rehab and see the difference for yourself.
Have a caffeine curfew. Limit caffeine in your system at least from dinner on with the ultimate goal of six hours before bed. Why? Because caffeine stays in your system at least that long and will linger to affect you in negative ways. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
7) Move as Little As Possible Throughout the Day
Sit sit sit. Get up late so you don’t work out. Sit in the airport, car, meetings, office, meals, couch before bed.
The truth is there is a direct correlation between being active and sleeping quickly and soundly. You gotta move, man!
The more you move, the more your body wants and needs restorative sleep.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that patients with primary insomnia had a massive improvement in sleep quality when they added in a consistent exercise regimen. Here were the results:
- A 55% improvement in sleep onset latency (they fell asleep faster)
- A 30% decrease in the total wake tie during the test
- An 18% increase in total sleep time during the test
- A 13% increase in sleep efficiency (improved the quality of their sleep)
All this from exercise. Not sleeping pills, alcohol, rubbing a magic sleep lamp but exercise.
If you workout, this is Go Time for your body to repair itself and transform the way you want it too. But even more walking and movement will help.
The earlier you work out the better, but movement and exercise is still king for a killer night of sleep. You will fall asleep fast and improve the quality of sleep the more you up your game and move!
Start by doing whatever you can to add more movement into your say. Stand when you can. Park further away. Take the stairs. Add push-ups or jumping jacks. Anything! Ideally, balance between cardio and strength training and your sleep will dramatically improve!
8) Have a Night Cap Drink or Three
Nothing beats a little sauce close to bedtime. After all, it usually knocks me right out so it has to be good for my sleep, right?
The truth is alcohol may make you sleepy and knock you out quickly but the quality of your sleep is dramatically affected.
You won’t fall into deeper, consistent levels of REM sleep, and your brain and body won’t be able to fully rejuvenate. This is why people generally don’t feel that great after waking up from an alcohol-laced sleep. (Not to mention the kind or quantity you had to drink)
Quality of overall sleep is more important than falling asleep quickly or that “one more drink” mindset.
This is such a challenge and temptation for many on the road. I claimed it was “part of the job” but between us girls, I leveraged this as an excuse to extend it further into the evening that was truly necessary “for business sake.”
Start with limiting or eliminating alcohol after dinner. I’m all for a glass or two of wine with dinner, but then step away from the bottle (and of course not every night! – note to self). Be aware of the true affect alcohol plays in your actual rest. Three hours before bed is a good rule. Another role is one glass of water with one alcoholic drink.
Just how many of the 8 are reflective of you? In the end, it’s easier than you think to wreck your sleep.
Now, the challenge is to apply the start here suggestions and make some necessary changes to improve your sleep and watch your waking hours dramatically improve for the better on the road.
So, what now? Here are two suggestions:
1. Choose one of the ten to change on your next trip – something was obvious and stood out to you big time – change it tonight
2. Raise your awareness – you may not realize you’re doing some of the other ones- take note and change thy ways!
I challenge you to really focus on what could be wrecking your sleep and begin to make adjustments to gain an energy edge in your work and home life. Sleep on it.