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The Importance of Sleep Cycles on Productivity (+ Tips to Improve Yours)

The Importance of Sleep Cycles on Productivity (+ Tips to Improve Yours)

Sleep is the best cure for most problems we encounter and affects our ability to face challenges head on and be more productive every day.

We know surprisingly little about our own sleep cycles, the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, or how we can hack and influence our sleep patterns to become more creative and productive.

In this article I’ll go deep on how sleep cycles work, how our sleep affects our productivity and provide 19 sleep hacks to help you increase your performance and productivity.

What are sleep cycles?

When it comes to our sleep, we pass through five different stages:

    These are Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 and REM (rapid eye movement). Many people think that a typical sleep cycle consists of only one cycle through the stages.

    However, the stages of sleep that we enjoy actually cycle throughout the night depending on our duration of sleep.

    Each stage is associated with different brain waves. When we successfully manage to pass through all the stages, we achieve a sleep cycle which happens typically within 90 minutes.

    I want to touch on each stage of the sleep cycle briefly below. I also wanted to answer the question I get quite often, “How long should it take to fall asleep?”

    The answer varies from person to person and situation to situation but it should take between 10 to 20 minutes ideally to fall asleep.

    Stage One

    This is your light sleep phase when you often drift in and out of sleep easily. As you have probably experienced, you can be awoken easily during this phase.

    We go through alpha and beta brainwaves and have almost dreamlike periods before we begin to fall asleep.

    Stage Two

    This stage often lasts for about 20 minutes as our brain produces short periods of rapid, rhythmic brain waves. Our body temperature drops and our heart rate begins to slow down.

    Stage Three

    This is the transitional phase between slight and very deep sleep. Deep, slow brain waves known as Delta Waves emerge during this third stage.

    After three full sleep cycles the body will cut out this stage.

    Stage Four

    Stage Four is your deep sleep period that lasts for about 30 minutes. Your body will typically go into Stage Four two times during a full 8 hours sleep cycle.

    It is essential not to wake up during the deep sleep stage as this leads to disorientation, foggy mind and will ensure you have a very unproductive day.

    REM Sleep

    This is the stage where most dreams happen. You will experience rapid eye movement and increased brain activity. Beta waves are generated. These waves are produced when we are focused in a mental activity.

    It is important to note here that our sleep does not progress through all of the stages in sequence.

    Our sleep starts with Stage One and then moves into stages two, three and four. After Stage Four’s deep sleep, Stages Three and then Two are repeated before going into REM Sleep.

    Once REM is complete, we usually return to Stage Two sleep.

    For context, 4-5 sleep cycles are optimal to get a good night’s sleep as each cycle takes around 90-120 minutes to complete.

    As I discussed previously in my article about the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, the optimal amount of sleep we should be getting is 8 hours a night.

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    But if you can’t get that 8 hours in, the least optimal period of sleep to wake up during is Stage Four.

    Have you ever had your alarm go off or been woken up and you get up with a headache and a feeling of grogginess? If you have, you would have been woken up from Stage Four of your sleep cycle.

    How understanding sleep cycles affect your productivity

    When we sleep, our brain goes through the different stages I’ve laid out above, with each full cycle (all four stages and REM) lasting 90 minutes.

    It makes sense then, that we will feel more refreshed and set ourselves up for a productive day, when we wake at the end of a full 90-minute sleep cycle.

    The next step is to decide when you want to wake up. If you want to wake at 6am then you will want to get five 90-minute sleep cycles in, or seven and a half hours, which means you should go to sleep at 10.30pm.

    To monitor your own sleep cycle, there are a number of apps on the market that can help you analyse the quality of your sleep.

    The Sleep Cycle app monitors the movement of your body whilst you sleep and can estimate the different sleep stages you’re in. This helps you ensure you activate your alarm at the right time to complete a full sleep cycle.

    Other products on the market are Pillow, Sleep Better, Twilight plus many more. Try a sleep tracker for a week to understand exactly how much sleep you’re getting and how much time you’re spending in each of the different stages.

    Once we fully understand how our sleep cycle works and how we actually sleep each night, there are many things we can do to ensure we get the best night’s sleep possible to increase our creativity and productivity.

    How to hack your sleep cycles and get well rested

    Below are 18 sleep hacks you can start using right now:

    1. Remove the technology

    Many of us keep our phone on a bedside table or at least in the bedroom. We check for notifications or respond to emails rather than just unplugging and winding down before sleep.

    If it’s not smart phones, many of us have a television in our room and we are catching up on the latest Netflix series before we switch off the light and go to sleep.

    Wakefulness is often triggered by blue light that emanates from a computer or smartphone screen which can affect the rhythm of your sleep.

    Avoid laptops, phones or tablets an hour before sleep. Or at least put your phone on airplane mode.

    Try this:

    Leave your smart phone or tablet in another room when you go to sleep. Decide on a time to stop emailing and being on social media before you go to sleep.

    2. Use the 90-minute sleep cycle rule

    If you know you are going to sleep later than normal or waking up earlier, then use your knowledge of your 90 minute cycles to optimise your sleep.

    You will more refreshed and closest to your waking state at the end of a cycle. This knowledge will help you create more productive days.

    If you need to get up at 4am, work back in 90-minute increments to figure out when you should go to sleep.

    3. Use an app to keep monitoring your sleep

    As I mentioned previously, it’s important to understand how you are sleeping by using an app. By tracking your sleep patterns, for at least a week, you have more of a sense of your sleep quality. And how it can be hacked to improve it.

    You want to wake at the top of a new sleep cycle to feel refreshed and ready for a productive day. Many of the apps can act as an alarm clock and wake you at the top of a sleep cycle rather than waking up in the middle of deep sleep.

    3. Don’t exercise two hours before sleep

    Unless you’re doing yoga or something similar, you shouldn’t exercise for at least two hours before going to sleep.

    Exercise build up energy, raises our cortisol levels and makes it a much longer process to fall asleep.

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    4. Take a hot bath

    This may seem counterintuitive but bear with me. A relaxing bath raises our body temperature slightly but when we get out, towel ourselves dry we cool down quickly and are in a much more relaxed state, ready for sleep.

    As we are relaxed, we often fall asleep quicker.

    5. Go to sleep before 11pm

    Sleep is an essential way of resting, recharging and nourishing our body and mind.

    Although it differs from person to person and during different seasons, we tend to naturally get tired between 10.45pm and 11pm as our biological clock is based around the circadian cycle.

    To avoid getting a second wind, we should fall asleep before 11pm, otherwise many people get an additional surge in energy that can keep them awake into the early hours.

    If you can stick close to the circadian cycle you will wake up feeling rested and productive.

    6. Create your optimal sleep environment

    Make going to sleep an experience that you really look forward to, rather than something you have to do.

    Investing in a new mattress will help you sleep better than a 10-year old mattress but there are some other simple, practical steps you can take.

    Have crisp, clean sheets on the bed. Burn some candles and dim the lights before going to sleep as you wind down.

    Many of us have a playlist for working out or running. Create a sleep playlist of relaxing, soothing music that will help calm the mind before sleep.

    Think of a time or place when you were most relaxed and think about how you can create that environment in your bedroom. Create that sleep experience.

    7. Keep your room at the right temperature

    Adjust the temperature in your room or have lighter/heavier duvets so you’re not waking up in the night being too hot or cold. There’s a close relationship between body temperature and sleep.

    Most people sleep best in a slightly cooler room around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celsius. Waking up from a deep sleep because you’re too hot or cold is going to make you very irritable.

    8. Use guided meditation

    Guided meditation can help you sleep quicker and with a calmer mind, helping you enjoy a deeper, more restorative sleep.

    When you meditate, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes slower and deeper and your daily thoughts can turn into rich, dreamlike imagery.

    Try this guide:

    Supercharge Your Sleep by Meditating Before Bed

    9. Sleep in total darkness (Or as near as possible)

    Daylight is known to inhibit the release of melatonin in your brain. Melatonin is a natural hormone released in our blood during darkness and helps our bodies feel more relaxed and less alert.

    If possible, use blackout curtains, eye masks and other tools to create more darkness in your room to avoid disrupted sleep.

    10. Avoid caffeine after 1pm

    The World Sleep Society suggests avoiding caffeine six hours or more before you go to sleep. Personally, I don’t drink or eat anything with caffeine in after 1pm.

    Caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed can affect the amount of sleep you get by over an hour.

    So, enjoy your coffee but be clear when you should have your last cup of the day.

    11. Prioritize your sleep

    It’s really important to be intentional about having a good night’s sleep and prioritise it.

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    There are so many other things that compete for your time: Your work, your family, your friends, staying connected, staying fit, entertainment.

    Sleep can often drop further and further down your list of priorities.

    But if you can personally commit to getting 8 hours of sleep a night and making sleep as important as your other priorities, you will notice a dramatic shift in your clarity, energy, focus and creativity.

    Starting from today, commit to getting 8 hours sleep for the next 7 days and see the difference it makes.

    Chances are you will want to continue to make sleep a priority.

    12. Create a sleep routine

    One of the simplest ways to ensure you get your 8 hours of sleep every night is to create a sleep routine.

    Ideally this would be having a specific time to go to sleep but that’s not always possible as we may have nights out planned, or specific work commitments.

    Instead, commit to a time when you are going to rise in the morning and work back to get your 8 hours or 7 hours on occasion.

    If you follow a morning routine that has you rising at 5am, you know the ideal would be going to sleep at 9 or 10.

    Be consistent with having a specific wake up time for 14 days and see the impact it creates in your life.

    You may have the bonus of being able to sleep later at the week-end but that shouldn’t affect you getting your ideal sleep during the week.

    Take a look at this guide on how to create a sleep routine that fits you:

    20 Tips to Get Your Bedtime Routine Started for a Better Tomorrow

    13. Conduct a sleep audit

    Start analyzing your ‘sleep performance’ to explore different hacks to ensure you wake up refreshed and productive.

    You can use a sleep journal or just enter the information into a spreadsheet, whatever works best.

    You want to track:

    • When you went to sleep
    • What you did before you went to sleep
    • When you woke up
    • How you felt when you woke up
    • How many times you woke up during the night
    • What you ate before you slept
    • How comfortable you felt during the night
    • Any naps or other shut eye during the day

    Try tracking for 7 or 14 days. You will begin to notice patterns emerge that can help you cut things out or add things in to improve your sleep.

    14. Try Polyphasic sleep

    You’ve probably heard of Polyphasic sleep and how many people are using this technique to hack their sleep so they only need 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night,

    Essentially, you are breaking your sleep into two blocks of time rather than the traditional monophasic sleep, in which we sleep only once per day.

    You are sleeping for shorter periods but more often.

    Many of us take naps during the day, which could be anything from a 15 minute ‘power nap’ to a longer 90-minute nap and still have 5-8 hours of sleep a night.

    Polyphasic sleep is different. It’s about sleeping a lot less and is often structured in one of two ways:

    • Nap for 20 minutes every four hours, for a total of two hours of sleep a day
    • Have a ‘normal sleep’ at night with three 20 minute naps during the day

    The aim is to get more time in your day and less sleep at night but this method is not recommended for the long-term.

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    15. Try pillow sprays or aromatherapy

    There has been a rise of the number of pillow spray products on the market promising to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed and energized.

    They aim to help reduce sleep anxiety and improve sleep quality by calming and soothing the mind and body.

    You can also use aromatherapy oils such as lavender to help you fall asleep quicker. These oils calm the nervous system by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature.

    16. Wind down your day slowly

    When you have lots of things on your mind or your energy levels are high after being out or watching a film, or coming back from a meeting it can be difficult to naturally ‘come down’ before sleep.

    If your mind is racing, it takes much longer to fall asleep, impacting on your sleep routine.

    Take 45 minutes or 30 minutes at a stretch to just calm the mind and body before getting into bed.

    To help you decompress, try drinking hot tea with honey, journaling or meditating. Slow everything down to give yourself the best chance of a great night’s sleep.

    If that doesn’t work, pick up a book and read for 15 minutes before sleep.

    17. Declutter your mind

    To create the perfect harmony of mind and body before you go to sleep, try taking everything that’s running around your mind and get it down on paper.

    Journaling before sleep is a great tool to clear your mind and get your thoughts and ideas down on paper.

    Try sitting for 15 minutes and just write. Write down your worries, goals and thoughts. Clear your internal inbox so to speak. Quiet down that internal chatter so you are in the right frame of mind to experience a deep sleep.

    For beginners, check out this guide on journaling:

    Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

    18. Express gratitude before you turn off the light

    Give yourself 5 minutes before you go to sleep to give thanks for the day. This relaxes the mind and body and leaves you feeling positive.

    Whatever has happened or you’ve achieved during the day, step back, reflect on it and be grateful.

    Giving thanks will help ensure that you don’t fall asleep worrying. You will be positive, thankful and tranquil rather than have a negative, worried mind.

    Try this: Choose a minimum of 3 things to be grateful for every night and spend a calm 5 minutes reflecting on why you’re grateful for them.

    To take this one step further, focus you mind on one thing you want to achieve and let your subconscious work on it whilst you sleep.

    Sleep well and maximize your energy

    Making time for a full night of sleep and setting the stage for quality sleep is the secret to accomplishing more and being super productive during the day.

    The human body needs its rest; it needs to replenish.

    However, we’re all different and have our own responsibilities to fulfil during our busy lives. Some of these techniques will work better for you than others.

    But if your aim is to wake up more energized and be more productive throughout the day, then give the techniques that feel right a go.

    With a few lifestyle and environmental adjustments, hacks and more knowledge about how you sleep, you can vastly improve the quality of your sleep to ensure you get a great night’s sleep every night and maximize your performance every day.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Mark Pettit

    Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

    50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

    If you’re like me and really into self-development, you’ve probably read many of the thousands of self-help books out there on the market. But also like me, you probably find all the information a bit overwhelming.

    That’s why I wanted to do the self-less task of taking the most important, life-changing lessons I’ve drawn from these books and condensed them into 50 key points.

    Here’re 50 habits of successful people you should learn:

    1. Believe It to See It

    Our minds tend to focus on what’s happening around us and refuse to see what could happen. Only when you trust in what’s possible and dare to dream big, big things can happen for you.

    2. See Problems as a Wonderful Gift

    While others only see problems and give up, successful people use the problem as a lesson to find improvement in themselves or the task at hand.

    3. Keep Looking for Solutions

    Even if they’re knee-deep in problems, successful people will still put all of their focus on finding solutions.

    4. Remember It’s All About the Journey

    Successful people are conscious and methodical in creating their own success. They don’t sit around doing the bare minimum, hoping success finds them.

    5. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

    There’s so much fear on the road to success, but instead of letting that fear control and limit them, successful people do a good job of just forging ahead regardless.

    6. Always Ask Productive Questions

    It’s all about asking the right questions. Successful people make sure they are questions that will elicit information for a more productive, creative and positive mindset moving forward.

    7. Understand the Best Waste of Energy Is Complaining

    Successful people know that choosing to see the negative side of things will only create a useless and unproductive state.

    8. Don’t Play the Blame Game

    Taking responsibility for actions and outcomes is a form of empowerment that you can build your success upon. While the act of blaming others or outside circumstances takes this empowerment away from you.

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    9. Maximize Your Strengths

    Not every successful person is simply more talented than the rest, but they do use what they know they’re good at to achieve more successful results.

    10. Be in It to Win It

    Successful people are busy, productive and proactive. Instead of sitting around over-thinking and over-planning a great idea, they just take a step towards it no matter how small.

    11. Know That Success Attracts Success

    People who are successful surround themselves and seek out like-minded people. They understand the importance of being part of a team and forge win-win relationships.

    12. Actually Choose to Be Successful

    Dreaming big is a massive part of being successful even if your dream seems impossible. Ambition is a mindset that needs to be a daily conscious choice.

    13. Visualize, Visualize, Visualize!

    You’ve got to see your success in your mind’s eye even before it comes. Successful people clarify and get that certainty about what they want their reality to look like rather than being mere spectators of life.

    14. Be a One-Off Original

    Successful people look for what’s working and then create a unique spin on it. Imitating only regurgitates other people’s ideas with no originality.

    15. The Perfect Time to Act Is Now

    Waiting for the right time to act is basically procrastination wrapped up in an excuse. Successful people know there’s never a perfect time so they may as well just do it now.

    16. Keep Learning, Keep Growing

    Continuous learning is the key to a successful life. Whether it’s academic, being a student of life or actionable learning, it’s all about expanding your knowledge and personal development.

    17. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

    Successful people have the knack for finding positive aspects in all people and circumstances no matter what.

    18. Having a Bad Day? Do It Anyway!

    We all have bad moods but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop everything. Giving into a bad mood just stop-starts your life, slowing success way down.

    19. Sometimes Risky Business Is Needed

    Calculated risks are a must for success. It’s about weighing the pros and cons while moving forward with that element of trust.

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    20. Accept Challenge All the Time

    Dealing with problems head-on is a must to be successful. Successful people also face challenges in order to improve themselves.

    21. Make Your Own Luck

    In the mindset of a successful person, there’s no such thing as ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. They take control to actively and consciously create their own best life.

    22. Ignite Your Initiative

    While many people are reactive, successful people are proactive – taking action before they have to.

    23. Be the Master of Your Emotions

    Being effective at managing emotions is key on the road to success. That’s not to say successful people don’t feel like we all do, but they’re just not slaves to their emotions.

    24. Champion in Communication

    Consciously working on effective communication skills gets anyone closer to success.

    25. Plan Your Life Strategically

    Successful people’s lives aren’t a clumsy series of unplanned events and outcomes, they methodically work at turning their plans into a reality.

    26. Become Exceptional at What You Do

    To become exceptional, you typically have to do things that most won’t. To become successful, hard decisions need to be made and acting on them is crucial.

    27. Choose to Live Outside of Your Comfort Zone

    While many people are pleasure junkies and avoid pain and discomfort at all costs, successful people understand the value and benefits of working through the tough stuff that most would avoid.

    28. Live by Core Values

    Successful people firstly identify their core values and what’s important to them, then do their best to live a life that reflects these values.

    29. Realize Money Isn’t Everything

    Money and success are not interchangeable and the most successful people understand this. Putting money on a pedestal and equating it to success is a dangerous mindset to have. Success comes in many forms.

    30. Don’t Get Carried Away

    Successful people understand the importance of discipline and self-control and as a result they are happy to take the road less travelled.

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    31. Self-Worth Is Not Tied to Success

    Successful people are secure. They do not derive their self-worth from what they own, who they know, where they live or what they look like.

    32. Kindness Breeds Kindness (And Success)

    Generosity and kindness is a common trait among long-term successful people. It’s important to take pleasure in helping others achieve.

    33. More Humility, Less Arrogance

    Successful people are humble and happy to admit and apologize for mistakes. This is because they’re confident in their ability. They are happy to learn from others and happy to make others look good rather than seek their own personal glory.

    34. Change Opens New Doors

    People who are successful are adaptable and embrace change, while the majority are creatures of comfort and habit. They are comfortable with, and embrace, the new and the unfamiliar.

    35. Success Requires a Healthy Body

    It’s not just how you think, it’s about how you show up for success. Successful people understand the importance of being physically well, not for vain reasons but because being in tiptop condition creates a better personal life for success.

    36. Laziness Just Doesn’t Exist

    Successful people are never considered lazy. Yes, they can relax when they need to, but working hard is their game.

    37. Resilience by the Bucket Load

    When difficulty strikes, most would throw in the towel, but successful people are just warming up.

    38. Feedback Is Just Another Chance to Improve

    How people react to feedback determines their potential for success. Being open to constructive criticism and acting on it to improve is most seen in those who are successful.

    39. Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

    If people are hanging out with toxic and negative people, then they need to take a look at themselves. Successful people hang out with others who are positive and supportive.

    40. Can’t Control It? Forget It

    Successful people don’t invest time or emotional energy into things which they have no control of.

    41. Swim Against the Tide

    Successful people are not people-pleasers and they don’t need constant approval from others in order to move ahead.

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    42. Alone Time Is Valuable Time

    More self-worth means being more comfortable with your own company. Successful people are more happy and see the value in spending time alone.

    43. Self-Standard Is Higher Than Most

    Everyone has a choice to set high standards for themselves. Successful people do this, which in turn produces greater commitment, more momentum, a better work ethic and of course, better results.

    44. Failure Isn’t Rationalized

    While many use age, health, lack of time, ‘bad luck’, or lack of opportunity to explain away their failure, the key to success is finding a way to succeed despite facing these challenges.

    45. Down Time Is an Important Part of a Routine

    Having an off switch and taking time to do things that make them happy is a common trait of a successful person. Take a look at here The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    46. Career Isn’t Who You Are, It’s What You Do

    Successful people know their career isn’t their identity. They are multi-dimensional and don’t define themselves by their job.

    47. Be Interested in Only the Path of Resistance

    While most people look for the easiest way or the shortcut, successful people are more interested in the most effective way. They look for the course of action which will produce the best results over the long term.

    48. Follow Through

    Many spend their life starting things that they never finish, but successful people get the job done. Even when the excitement and the novelty has worn off they still follow through and finish.

    49. Invest in All Your Dimensions

    We’re not just physical and psychological beings, but emotional and spiritual creatures as well. Successful people consciously work at being healthy and productive on all levels.

    50. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

    To obtain success, it’s important to practice what you preach. Successful people don’t talk about the theory, they live the reality.

    So there you have it, a summary of what I’ve learned from self-help books. But of course, you need to start taking actions so you will get closer to success too.

    Bonus: 5 Bad Habits To Quit

    More About Success

    Featured photo credit: Juan Jose via unsplash.com

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