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How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

How to Have Quality Sleep Effortlessly

Let’s get it out of the way: “sleeping effortlessly” probably sounds ridiculous to you. If you have a noisy neighbour or you are grappling with worries or plans, falling asleep can, in fact, feel like it requires a great deal of effort. Even things such as a change of season, or the growing number of candles adorning your birthday cake, can impact negatively on sleep!

The good news is that it is in your power to make effortless sleep a reality. By tweaking your lifestyle and attitude to sleep, you can improve your chances of getting good quality rest, regularly. These tweaks may take some effort but, once you’ve overcome the first few days (and nights), they quickly become part of your everyday routine.

We are told that sleep is a natural process that we have little power over, but it has been shown that we give ourselves the best chance of good sleep when we maintain good sleep habits. So, if you’re wondering how you might be able to achieve that effortless sleep night after night, read on for a glance at what the latest sleep research tells us we should be doing.

1. Aerobic exercise can help (but not too late in the day!).

A well-known sleep fix, aerobic (or cardiovascular) exercise has been shown to improve self-reported sleep quality, particularly among the elderly [1]. If you don’t exercise much, even just a 10-minute walk a day might up the odds of sleeping well, as suggested by the National Sleep Foundation[2].

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There does indeed seem to be a link between being fit physically and achieving better sleep quality. For example, one study on young women found a correlation between poorer sleep quality and lower fitness measures such as cardiovascular fitness and flexibility [3]. More recently, research has focussed on how obesity might affect sleep, revealing that excess weight can indeed hinder sleep quality both in adolescents [4] and older adults [5].

The key thing in adding exercise to your day is not to let it encroach on your evening routine. Exercising leaves us feeling energised and wide awake which can chase away sleepiness towards the end of the day, thus potentially delaying sleep.

2. Keep your wake-up time consistent. (Even on the weekends!)

Keeping your wake-up time consistent is actually more important than having a set bedtime. Our body clock, one of the two systems in control of sleep, is reset after waking each morning so a steady rising time helps to keep it working well.

3. Re-consider naps.

Whilst research isn’t consistent on whether naps during the day improve or interfere with sleep quality, avoiding naps may be something to try. Letting sleep permeate daytime (when we are supposed to be awake) can confuse both the body clock and the other system managing our sleep: sleep pressure.

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Sleep pressure usually builds up over the course of the day—rising from its lowest point in the morning to its peak at bedtime. Topping up on sleep while sleep pressure is meant to be increasing can interrupt this process and, as a result, postpone our bedtime. So there is good logic behind suggestions to keep sleep and wakefulness in separate blocks.

However, there will always be exceptions (some elderly for example [9]) so don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you best.

4. Take care of your mind.

Guided relaxation techniques and meditation have been shown to help sleep set in more quickly and to boost sleep quality. Relaxation techniques in particular have clinical evidence behind them as they are frequently used as part of wholesome psychological approaches to treating sleep problems, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Whilst these techniques may not help on their own if you’ve suffered from poor sleep for a long time, those of us who are fairly good sleepers may still benefit from including them in our routines.

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Relaxing in bed with non-engaging music has also been shown to aid sleep. In a couple of studies, the elderly listening to classical music shortly before bedtime achieved better quality sleep [7-8].

5. Limit alcohol and nicotine, especially in the evening.

It’s true that alcoholic beverages can make us feel snoozy, especially in the evening, but the trade-off for this can be poor sleep quality, as alcohol actually disrupts our sleep later in the night. As it’s broken down in our system, our body undergoes a kind of withdrawal which can not only have us waking up through the night, but it can also leave us wide awake hours earlier than our usual wake-up time.

So if quality sleep comes first, reducing alcohol later in the day may help. One study showed even taken at 4pm it can still cause sleep disruption [10].

Nicotine, on the other hand, can leave us feeling more awake than before, which may lead to us taking longer to fall asleep. A large-scale study also indicated that nicotine can reduce sleep quality, especially in those smokers with higher levels of dependancy [6].

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6. Smaller meals in the evening.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that certain foods can improve sleep or get us quality sleep, but sleep science does have a view on eating close to bedtime. A big meal is said to be a no-no as it can shift the body’s focus away from preparing you for sleeping as it has to rev up digestion again.

A smaller meal should be broken down quicker thus helping your whole body to get as much rest as possible so that you rise feeling well-rested, as you should after good quality sleep.

Getting quality sleep via these scientifically proven tweaks may require some effort to settle into new routines. However, they should continue to pay off for the rest of one’s life, laying out a red carpet for quality sleep to occur regularly.

References:
[1] Reid, K., Baron, K.G., Lu, Brandon, Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., Zee, P.C. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Medicine 11(9), 934-940.
[2] National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org/alert/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key-good-sleep
[3] Lee, A.J., Lin, W.H. (2007). Association between sleep quality and physical fitness in female young adults. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 47(4), 462-467.
[4] Gupta, N.K., Mueller, W.H., Chan, W., Meininger, J.C. (2002). Is obesity associated with poor sleep quality in adolescents? American Journal of Human Biology, 14(6), 762-8.
[5] Hung, H.C., Yang, Y.C., Ou, H.Y., Wu, J.S., Lu, F.H., Chang, C.J. (2013). The association between self-reported sleep quality and overweight in a Chinese population. Obesity, 21(3), 486-92.
[6] Cohrs, et al. 2012. Impaired sleep quality and sleep duration in smokers—results from the German Multicenter Study on Nicotine Dependence. Addiction Biology, doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2012.00487.x
[7] Johnson, J.E. (2003). The use of music to promote sleep in older women. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 20(1), 27-35.
[8] Lai, H.L., Good, M. (2005). Music improves sleep quality in older adults. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49(3), 234-244.
[9] Tanaka, H., et al. 2002. Short naps and exercise improve sleep quality and mental health in the elderly. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 56(3), 233-234.
[10] Van Reen, E., Tarokh, L., Rupp, T.L., Seifer, R., Carskadon, M.A. (2011). Does timing of alcohol administration affect sleep? SLEEP, 34(2), 195-205.

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Last Updated on September 16, 2019

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

More About Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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