If you are like me, the thought of the alarm clock ringing for the first day of school is becoming very unpleasant. You’ve enjoyed the summer vacation, you’ve (socially distantly) caught up with friends and family and even binged most things on your Netflix list.. and right about now your sleep hygiene is pretty much broken!
EVERYTHING you do, you do better on a good night of sleep, and so with one (very sleepy) eye on the return to school, let me help you take your hand away from the snooze button and present you with five tips to ease your way back to an early alarm call.
1. Set an alarm for bed time
My go-to sleep guru is Dr. Matthew Walker, author of one of the most amazing books I have ever read. In Why We Sleep, he suggests that we keep a regular sleep pattern – something that I’m guessing you haven’t been doing this summer. We should go to bed and wake at the same time each day and it is going to be difficult for you to return to a regular schedule once the school year starts. Dr. Walker suggests that it’s more important to set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up, but fail to do so when it’s time to go to sleep. Most phones now offer the ability to calculate what time you need to wake, and remind you when it’s time to go to bed.
If you think that the return to an early alarm call (mine is 4:45am!) will be too much, then start to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each day. This gradual shift in your circadian rhythm will help train your body to get back into a regular schedule…and resist the urge to watch one extra episode of that new binge-worthy show that you just discovered!
2. Show me the light
On second thoughts, don’t. Surely we all know now that the lights around our house, including those from TV and phone screens are major disruptors to our sleep patterns. Light suppresses our melatonin levels and melatonin is the hormone that rises when it gets dark to signal to our body it’s time for bed. In Arianna Huffington‘s book The Sleep Revolution she suggests that it takes just the light of an ordinary light bulb and only just twice that of a night-light, to disrupt our melatonin levels.
So consider using light in these two ways. Shut down screens at least 30 minutes in advance of bed time and if your phone is too much of a temptation get into the habit now of leaving it on charge downstairs and use one of these alarm clocks for your wake up.
You can also use light to your advantage in the morning. Light will shut off your melatonin levels and help you wake faster – so perhaps sleep with the curtains open at the start of the school year.
3. Keep it cool
It’s summer, and your room is hot at night, and that is guaranteed to keep you awake. Cooling of the body at night also triggers melatonin release and as such you need to set your thermostat to the ideal temperature of 65 degrees or else you are likely to be more restless. How do scientists know this? Sleep research is a quirky business, and scientists have found that if you gently warm the feet of sleeping rats (!) thus causing a lowering of their core body temperature, then they fall asleep quicker. You. of course, could try a warm footbath before bed, or wear bed socks.
A relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music should be part of your sleep hygiene and if you haven’t considered meditation, now might be the best time to do so. The first thing you NEED to do is download the Calm App which offers has a wealth of free resourcesfor you to check out (and even consider using with your students).
I have access to Calm Premium which offers:
- An original Daily Calm meditation every day.
- 100+ guided meditations covering anxiety, focus, stress, sleep, relationships, and more.
- An entire library of Sleep Stories, with new stories added weekly.
- Awesome music tracks for focus, relaxation and sleep.
- Monthly Calm masterclasses.
- Calm body programs, a blog and downloadable resources.
This is the app that I use at night to help me sleep and their pre-sleep relaxation meditations are their most popular. Calm also have a great book to accompany their app that is full of easy to implement ideas to make your life a calmer one. Check out this checklist from the free download and ask yourself – what hurts sleep for you?
Here’s an example of the soundscapes that I use to help me fall asleep. I also use the ‘nap stories’ to gently lull me into a 20 minute nap, waking me to the sound of birdsong. It works for me EVERY time!
5. Get out of bed
Yes, this fifth tip might seem counterintuitive but hear me out. As we come towards the end of the summer and the start of the school year I find my mind racing with thoughts of the year ahead. These aren’t thoughts of dread, these are thoughts of excitement. 25 years into my career and I’m still as excited to start back at school as I was when I first entered the profession. If, like me, you’ve tried the other tips above and you still can’t fall asleep, Dr Matthew Walker recommends that you get out of bed, leave the room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. You don’t want to associate wakefulness with your bed and this is the reason for going elsewhere to relax and become sleepy. In his AWESOME TED talk, Dr Walker finished with the following analogy – “you’d never sit at the dinner table, waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed, waiting to get sleepy? ”
Other resources you might like to check out:
Sites: CDC’s Tips For Better Sleep
Downloadable: Calm guidebook to help you sleep
Book: Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker
App: Calm. The awesome app incorporating sleep stories, sleep sounds and meditations. I use the desktop version for a daily morning meditation before school starts.
Blog post: ‘Teaching Sleep’ Read about some of the things that I do with my students when teaching them about the importance of sleep.
Hashtags: #YourDayBeginsWithSleep, #sleepbetter, #worldsleepday, #healthysleepchat