Updated: Oct 5, 2020
This is the second part of a two-part series on how you can use time planning and sleep to help you be the best you that you can be.
In the first article we made a statement that the better we sleep, the more productive we are. But does sleep really play a role in our productivity? There is a common misconception that sleep is a waste of time and that the harder we work, the more successful we will become. Lets look what research say.
Based on a survey of 7400 individuals, indications are that we work more and sleep less. The problem is that this sleep deprivation costs companies an average of $2 280 or about 11 days of productivity a year
Sleep deprivation costs companies an average of $2 280 or about 11 days of productivity a year
In fact, insufficient sleep costs most nations more than 2% of their GDP. To put this into perspective: 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) is the total cost of some countries’ military costs. 
In fact, insufficient sleep costs most nations more than 2% of their GDP.
The big question remains: How do I improve my sleep to be a better “me”.
If we remember part one of this series, we realised that our biological clocks are set in roughly 24 hours. That is one day and one night cycle. This is called our circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is a natural process within us that regulates our sleep-wake cycle within
24 hours. This regulation of our sleep-wake cycle works in the form of what we call “exogenous zeitgebers” or external time-givers. What this means is that our bodies react on these time-givers to give us a “cue” for one it is time to be awake and when it is time to be asleep. Examples of exogenous zeitgebers are light, temperature, and eating and drinking patterns. Our circadian rhythm is a process that helps us to sleep and to be awake. In the sleep health industry, we call the circadian rhythm Process C. Another process that helps us to be asleep and to be awake is called our homeostatic sleep drive.
Our homeostatic sleep drive (or process S) is a process within us that increases our drive to sleep. It is influenced by our duration of wakefulness and our activities during the day. In other words, the longer we stay awake, the bigger is our drive to sleep.
Now it is time to make something clear. During my years of practicing sleep health consulting, this is a matter that keeps popping up at least once every day. People who struggle to sleep usually complain that they have tried everything to sleep and nothing seems to work. There are a few issues in this statement that I want to rectify:
- Never use “something” or “everything” as a “sleeping pill” whether it is meditation, yoga, reading, watching tv, having sex, cannabis or whatever to fall asleep. Use it for its intended purposes: TV and reading for entertainment, Meditation for relaxation, yoga to bring the body closer to nature and a “higher consciousness of self”. And so forth.
- Know that you can sleep without any “sleep aids” mentioned above. And that include sleeping pills. The chances that you will fall sleep naturally are extremely high. And this will happen sooner rather than later. The world record for staying awake is 264 hours (11 days) by a high school student called Randy Gardner. The chances that you will fall asleep within a week are highly likely. Therefore: Never try to sleep – It will happen all by itself.
Never try to sleep – It will happen all by itself.
- Remember that what you do in your waking hours, will influence your sleep. Your daily and nightly activities will have a direct impact on your circadian rhythm and your homeostatic sleep drive (Process C and Process S). The challenge lies in matching and synchronising these processes during the time of the day that it will promote sleep.
Let’s get straight to business and talk about how you plan your day for better sleep.
Things to remember here are the following:
- Remember that what we do during the day and night will influence our quality and quantity of sleep.
- We are focussing on “priming” both processes (circadian and homeostatic) to work together “in the same direction” to promote sleep.
- Get your focus right. Focus on what you must do, not on results. The results will happen all on its own.
- Be open minded. Think positive. Remember that it is the combination of actions of both processes that need to work together.
- Remember: Do not try to sleep. Sleep is like breathing – it will happen. What we are doing here is to “time” sleep so that you can be productive during a certain part of the day and sleeping during another part of the day – effortlessly.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. NOTHING else. This is particularly important if you struggle to sleep.
- If you cannot sleep, do not stay in bed, rolling around and trying to sleep. Break out, get up and go to another room if you can. Do not waste your time by staying in bed, trying to sleep. Remember, it is just your sleep processes that are not in tune.
- Exercise and stay active during the day. This will help increasing your homeostatic sleep drive (Process S).
- Do not nap during the day if you struggle to sleep unless it is a safety matter. By preventing napping during the day, you help increasing your homeostatic sleep drive.
Know that you can sleep without any sleeping aid
Now that the preparation is done, here are action steps that you can take to improve your sleep.
Set a get up time: Determine what time you must get out of bed to be on time for all your daily activities. Getting up the same time every day, you help “priming” your circadian rhythm (Process C). Most of our clients who we have helped to improve their sleep wakes up at the same time every day, refreshed, without an alarm clock. The goal here is to wake up and to have “feet on the ground” within 5 minutes.
Stick to this time: This get up time must be the same time every day, including weekends, off days and holidays. By getting up the same time every day, you help “priming” your circadian rhythm (Process C). . This must happen even if you had a terrible night without sleeping. This will help increasing your homeostatic sleep drive and will help you fall asleep easier that following night.
Count backwards: Count 6 – 8 hours back from your wake-up time and calculate a bedtime. Go to bed during that time and not before.
Buffer zone: From your bedtime, count back another hour. This hour is what we call a buffer zone. During this time, you prepare to go to sleep. A buffer zone is the time of the day where you switch of all electronics, switch of lights (this will help “prime” your circadian rhythm to go to sleep).
Your buffer zone is also a good time to write all your thoughts in a journal. This will prevent you from taking your worries and problems to bed. It will also help you to get a new perspective on how you see your problems and open a gateway to new solutions to your problems.
You can also plan and prepare for your next day during the buffer zone. This will prevent you from running around like a headless chicken the next morning, trying to get ready on time.
During the buffer zone you can also take a hot shower shortly before bedtime. The temperature drop after the shower acts like “zeitgeber” of your circadian rhythm as a “cue” to induce sleep.
Let’s look at a practical example of Jane Doe.
Jane has to get up at 05:30 every morning to be on time for work. She knows she needs about 7 hours of sleep. She counts back 7 hours and calculate a bed time of 22:30. After calculating a bedtime she counts back another hour and calculates a buffer zone between 21:30 and 22:30. Her diary inputs and time planning look like this:
05:30: Get up
05:35: Morning routine, praying, preparing for family for the day
07:00: Leaving for work
08:30 - 10:00: Work or daily responsibilities
10:00 – 10:15: Get sum sunlight: Take a walk around the office complex. The important thing is to get sunlight. This will again “prime” your circadian rhythm (process C) to send out “zeitgebers”. The extra exercise will also help increase your homeostatic sleep drive (process S)
10:15 – 13:00: Work
13:00 – 13:30: Take lunch or at least get sunlight again and get active.
13:30 - 16:00: Work. Beware of this time. We naturally feel lethargic and lazy between 13:00 and 15:00. This is normal.
16:00 – 21:30: Travel home. Take care of domestic and family responsibilities.
21:30: Buffer Zone: Switch of lights and electronics, switch of your computer. Meditate, journalise, plan the next day. Relax, read. No tv. No cell phone. This is time for Jane where Jane spends time on caring for Jane.
22:30: Bedtime: Lights of and sleep.
Additional important points.
If you realise that you are not going to fall asleep with the next 30 minutes, get out of bed and if possible, go to a different room. This is your “cozy nest. Your cozy nest is your safe place. In there you can do anything mildly stimulating like reading a magazine, praying, meditating, reading a book. Remember to keep the lights as dark as you possibly can. After about 30 minutes or when you feel tired, not bored, get into bed and try again. Repeat this process as often as needed. The key here is to repeat the "cozy nest" procedure as often as necessary, and still keep getting up at you calculated wake up time, even if the night was particularly bad. Remember that we are “priming” your circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive. Also, it is very important to keep to your calculated bedtime and wake up time. After a while your brain and body will automatically prepare to got to sleep and you will effortlessly drift of into a peacefull and restorative sleep.
Second to last, a word of motivation: It is important that you practice every single piece of advice. As you may have realised, every piece of information acts on either your homeostatic sleep drive or your circadian rhythm. And as mentioned, you need both these processes to sleep. Therefore you cannot leave out any piece of advise because you “don’t feel like it” or you think it will not work. Any single piece of advice will not work on its own. It will only work in combination with the other pieces of information.
Then lastly, and this is very important. The advice in this article is not a solution for curing insomnia, or any sleep illness. If you think you suffer from insomnia, you may follow the advice, but be aware that it may not be enough to help you. Please get in contact with our rooms to get expert help with any sleep problem you may have.
The advice in this article is not a solution for curing insomnia.
I trust that this article will help you be the best you that you can be and that you will have lots of fun putting it into practice and reaping the rewards.
We are an interactive sleep health practice and we welcome any comments or questions you may have.