The Best Habit Of All
What if I told you there was a habit you could develop that could
- improve your health;
- help you lose weight;
- make it less likely that you have an accident, a heart attack or a stroke;
- improve your productivity;
- increase your concentration;
- improve your mental health; and,
- possibly reduce the risk of you suffering from depression?
Wouldn’t you want to know what it was? And no, it does not need separate habits to achieve all this. They are all by-products of the single, one and only same habit that you can develop for free. There’s no catch, no membership fee, no place you have to go.
So What Is This Wonder Habit?
If you haven’t guessed already, this amazing habit is “getting a good night’s sleep, all night, every night”.
“What?” I hear you shout, “You’re trying to tell me that getting enough sleep could help me lose weight, make a heart attack less likely and perhaps reduce my risk of depression? I don’t believe you. That’s too easy! How could getting enough sleep do all that? Don’t you know I NEED to stay up late to get my work finished?”
Did YOU know that most adults in the Western world are sleep deprived? And that sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute DIRECTLY to ill health, low productivity and accidents?
“So What?” I hear you say. Or perhaps you’re saying that you
- need to relax in the evening after a hard day’s work;
- want to go out and party;
- need some “me” time;
- it’s the only time you have to play your sport / practise your hobby?
Those Are Just Excuses!
All of those are just habits and we use them as excuses to stay up late. I know an 11 year-old who hates going to bed because she is frightened of missing something interesting. Even as adults, we allow our inner child to whine and keep us up late in case something new and interesting comes along! It’s often the same reason we keep our cell phones on, in case a friend wants us to come over and party! It is said that we are creatures of habit, more than we are creatures of change (A J Darkholme). Whether we have good habits or bad, whatever we say or do is often the product of those habits that have made a groove in our minds, through years of repetition. And our lives at this very moment, are probably a mirror image of our daily habits, whether those include being a gym bunny or a couch potato, a reader or TV watcher, a healthy eater or a junk food addict. No matter what habits we have, our lives will show them, one way or another, in our health, our skin, our posture, even in our clumsiness or the number of accidents we have at work or driving.
Habits Are Powerful Forces For Good Or Ill.
A habit is something we do regularly, maybe every day, maybe several times a day and it is something we do not need to think about, it’s automatic. Our habits become second nature, hard wired into us. If you exercise your muscles over and over, they get bigger and stronger and exactly the same is true for the connections in your brain – including those connected to habits. If you practise an action regularly, you build a stronger connection in your brain, making it easier to repeat that action until it becomes an automatic habit.
Our habits are so ingrained as part of our being, that changing poor habits for better ones may not be an easy task. But developing a good habit is something that will benefit us for the rest of our lives. What habits do we already have? Check out your own habits, developed from childhood and through adulthood, like brushing your teeth before bed, or checking your reflection before going out through the door. There will be many of them. Some may be annual, like the habits developed around the holidays you celebrate, others will be daily habits, like changing out of work clothes as soon as you get home. Some may even be bad or undesirable habits, ones you might like to stop, such as nail biting.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. (Will Durant, paraphrasing Aristotle). That means we can develop a habit of excellence by building up all the small habits that contribute to the larger pursuit of excellence.
Good Sleeping Habits
The recommended amount of sleep nightly for an adult is about 8 hours. It can vary between 7 and 9 hours and the quality of sleep is important too.
The amount and quality of sleep you get can depend on several things, including of course,
- the time you go to bed and get up;
- whether you wake during the night;
- how long it takes to go to sleep and get back to sleep if you wake;
- whether you have sleep apnea;
- your partner’s behavior or snoring;
- room temperature, amount of light and noise in your environment;
- what you ate and drank especially just before bed,
- what you did during the evening; and,
How To Get Better Sleep
What you do during the day and the evening before bedtime will affect the amount and quality of your sleep. If you want to get better sleep, there are some fairly minor tweaks you can make that can help.
Get To Sleep
- Decide on the time you want to go to bed and get up, for example, 11pm to 7am and stick to that, even at the weekend. This is a habit that can be learned and which will become automatic.
- Turn off all electronic media 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual for instance, try to stay in an area with less bright lighting and perhaps do something soothing or relaxing, even clearing away the dishes!
FOR INSOMNIA SUFFERERS
FOR INSOMNIA SUFFERERS
- Turn off your phone. Some phones can make noises when searching for texts and this can disturb your sleep, even if you don’t think you hear it. It also removes the temptation to “just check” your texts or play a game;
- Get some exercise during the day. Vigorous exercise is best but not during the evening; that might stimulate you into staying awake;
- Make sure your environment is comfortable (no light, comfy bed and pillows, not too hot) and free from noise, including a snoring sleep partner;
- If you are not sleeping well, you may have a degree of sleep apnea. If you think your sleep is being disturbed by this, check with your medical adviser.
- Avoid daytime naps. If you HAVE to have a sleep during the day, then make it a power nap (less than 20 minutes);
- Avoid caffeine in the evening. This includes tea, coffee, cola and chocolate. Some people may need to avoid caffeine from even earlier in the day.
- Avoid alcohol, heavy meals and a lot of liquid. Get your liquid intake in during the day.
Get Back To Sleep
- If you need to wake during the night, say for a bathroom break or to deal with a restless child, try to develop a routine or ritual to get back to sleep, for instance a relaxation exercise or a continuing story you tell yourself.
It’s Not Working
- If you are finding it hard to develop the habit of sleeping well, then try the following:
- keep a sleep diary. Check all the items above and write down your evening routines, whether you slept during the day and what you ate and drank;
- keep a journal of your sleeping habits. Create a tick sheet of what you need to do to sleep well and check off whether you did this;
- For some people, white noise (like that produced by a vacuum cleaner) may be helpful;
- Relaxation sounds like pouring rain, waves at the ocean or a cat purring can help and can be played, (even on an MP3 player if these would disturb your partner);
- Relaxation exercises and spoken relaxation scripts can be downloaded from the internet, some free, some paid for.
Good Sleep Habits
A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Research shows that lack of sufficient, good quality sleep can have a negative effect on your hormones, exercise performance and brain function. For both adults and children, it can also cause weight gain and an increased risk of serious illnesses, like diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
In contrast, good sleep can help you eat less, exercise better and be healthier.