…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
Have you ever thought about what makes a good day for you?
I actively pondered this recently, rather than just assume I know, and what I realised was; it’s largely down to how I choose to start and end each day.
What goes on during the day might be somewhat out of my control – work commitments are varied, the weather changeable, I can’t always predict which friends I might meet and chat to, and family might call on me for something with little notice.
While these things may be out of my control, how I approach them is up to me. I don’t have to make every day like this – it’s good to have days off from a routine – but a healthy routine that you can return to can help you feel more balanced.
I’ve known for a long time that getting a good night’s sleep is the first step to having a ‘good’ day because how you wake up to the day will largely dictate how you approach that day (and the people and things you encounter), and getting a good night’s sleep begins with how you go to bed.
If I wake up with a “can’t be bothered” attitude then something is already wrong and the finger can perhaps be pointed at the night before. I chat to many people online from around the world and time-and-again I encounter people who are “keeping” themselves awake well into silly-o’clock, and if I ask them why they don’t go to bed they say that they’re simply not tired. I’ve experienced this too and some people suffer from more serious sleep issues for which there is a lot of help and advice out there.
Here’s the #1 reason (I’m sure) in the modern age for this inability to sleep: staring at a screen; a computer/phone/tablet screen will keep you awake – the light in your eyes, all those colourful pixels, they are fooling your brain into thinking it’s still day time and no time for sleeping – sitting in a brightly lit room will have a similar effect, as will stimulating music, not to mention stimulating foods and caffeinated drinks (although tea can be calming).
How I spend the last hour before bed is key, although I admit to not always sticking to this routine. Sitting in bed with a book for that last hour of each day works well for me – the body relaxes and my eyes calmly wander across the pages – I have heard that the e-ink screens of e-readers actually make the eyes more tired than traditional paper. My mind doesn’t always oblige this calming process – sometimes it can still be busy churning over the day it has experienced, or planning for the next, sometimes my eyes are tired before the rest of me feels so.
Here is where my pre-pre-bedtime routine comes into play:
I have a bowl of porridge to ensure I don’t get hungry in the night, and to help provide some fuel for my cycling the next day. Then, before getting into bed I do some exercises: some press-ups, sit-ups and leg and back stretches (basically reaching for my toes and taking in some deep breathes while I sit on my bedroom floor). I find these especially useful now the weather is colder because they warm me up before I hit the cold sheets. For me these exercises are pretty gentle and as soon as I step into bed my body seems to thank me for it by switching off.
Then comes the morning.
There has been a lot said about sleep patterns and REM sleep, which apparently lasts for 45 minute segments, and how waking ourselves up at the end of such a segment is the best approach, rather than in the middle of one, but I’m not convinced – I can’t predict how quickly I might fall asleep so I can’t plan my alarm call accordingly for one of these segments. On mornings where I’ve woken up too early I’ve tried setting my alarm for 45 or 90 minutes later, for example, without feeling any benefit. One thing I do know is that if I’ve had a busy day previously, particularly if I’ve done a lot of cycling, then I will fall asleep quicker and need more sleep, than if I’d had a lazy day – I think this says a lot about the people who struggle with not feeling tired at bed time; I suspect they’ve had a lazy day, although one can’t judge all of course, but my point is, if your body really isn’t tired then perhaps that’s its way of telling you it wants to do more.
Due to my relaxed work-life I often don’t need to worry about setting my alarm; sometimes I can leave it off, or set it for later in the morning just in case. Waking up naturally can really help to set the day off well, but sometimes we can feel like we’ve had too much sleep; we can be left feeling in a lazy mood all day, or it can lead to us not being tired when it comes to our next bed time. There are lots of permutations and perhaps the best way of finding an alarm time that works well is to keep as many of the other things in our day under our control; planning when we go to bed, and how we go to bed, keeping our activity levels similar each day (even on our days off) and then gradually fine-tuning that alarm time all work together. Shaving off or adding five minutes a day perhaps wont allow for daily differences; I find adjusting my alarm on one day each week by 15 or 30 minutes or so is best; adding some time if I’ve been struggling to wake up when it goes off, or shaving some time off if I’ve been waking up before it. It’s a lovely feeling to wake up naturally just before my alarm goes off.
To me, sleeping is largely about dreaming – they’re something I look forward to; giving me an inside into my inner world. Whenever I remember my dreams I’m keen to write them down and think about and research their meanings. How I wake up often dictates if or how well I can recall my dreams; if my alarm startles me then I can find my ability to recall a dream is greatly hindered, but sometimes I seem to wake up too calmly and I miss that momentary thought that clings on to dream memories, and they drift away before I can pull them into consciousness and write them down.
The epiphany that really spurred me on to write this topic was jogging.
I thought about what really sets me off for a good day, beyond getting a good night’s sleep (something that I feel I’m usually on track with). My answer was “going for a run”. To be honest (and you may have heard me say this before) I have struggled with getting into the routine of running – I’m a cyclist by nature and it took me a long time to add running to my repertoire, to get to the point where I didn’t hurt my feet in a way that required I have a week off from running in order for them to recover. When I took up running, and I’ll be honest, I don’t usually run far (I just go out on a route that takes me 20 minutes, but it’s enough) I learned quickly that running after eating wasn’t good (I’d get ‘stitch’ in my stomach), therefore, running before breakfast was the ideal time (failing that, I would ‘have to’ go out later in the day before lunch and that seems to take more mental effort – by running before breakfast I got my run out of the way, and by achieving that one thing I didn’t really have much enthusiasm for, I felt better about myself.
Having things to do each day, even on days off from work, count as achievements, therefore if I can get out of bed and go for a quick run, then I’ve already achieved something. I think it’s important to have things planned, even if it’s some chores, but things to look forward to ideally. These all give us reason for being, and for getting out of bed.
To end my morning routine I can’t go without having breakfast. For some people this is a morning ritual they can’t get into, the routine of partaking in breakfast eating, but it’s called break-fast for a reason, and I really do think it’s a very important meal; nothing too sweet or artificial; more porridge for me and a cup of tea. And while I chow down I have a volume of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia open on my lap – achievement number two is to keep myself on track with reading one of these volumes a year, but some people like a newspaper, magazine or a novel they can dip into. I used to watch the news on TV but I started avoiding that a number of years ago; something positive and enlightening is best.
A good night’s sleep
Avoid the bright screen before bed
A calming last hour
The alarm call