When we think about superpowers, sleep isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. We might think about the ability to fly, become completely invisible, or even read minds, but we probably won’t think about sleep.
When we give ourselves the time we need to rest, sleep really does become a superpower that helps us harness our Mental Wealth. It’s something that many of us take for granted or overlook, but sleep works it’s magic on our minds, bodies, and souls. It gives us the chance to heal, learn more, and it can even help us live longer.
But where do you even start with your sleep routine? And how can you create good sleep hygiene factors, overcome social jetlag, and turn sleep into one of your superpowers?
The mind, body, and soul superpowers of sleep
We all know that we need quality deep sleep each night, but it’s not something that all of us actually manage. In our ‘always on’ culture, sleep seems to be falling further and further down our list of priorities. We’re simply too busy to sleep, or our brains are too overwhelmed to switch off.
But this is precisely why we need to appreciate our nightly routines. The less sleep we get, the harder it becomes to store our short-term memories into long-term memories.
Without adequate sleep, we will also find it difficult to learn and concentrate. Alarmingly, people who report not getting enough sleep are also more likely to have one or more of ten chronic health problems like heart attack, diabetes, depression, and even cancer.
This is exactly why sleep is our superpower– it helps us live healthier, happier lives.
By harnessing our bodies’ natural abilities, we receive incredible mental, physical and emotional benefits. We’re better able to process the things that we’ve learnt, repair and heal our bodies, and give our brains a chance to deal with the events of the day.
I often find that after a particularly upsetting or stressful day, a good night’s sleep makes me feel calmer, and much more ready to tackle life’s challenges. If I’ve had a bad night’s sleep- well, safe to say I don’t feel quite so capable to take on the next day.
This isn’t very surprising; numerous studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived tend to report increases in negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and decreases in positive moods.
Sleeplessness is also a common symptom when people are experiencing declining mental health. This strengthens the importance of investing in our sleep so that we can make sure we have everything we need in our night-time toolkit to help us get the best possible sleep.
Other studies have found that the physical benefits to sleep are just as important as the mental benefits. When we are able to consistently get adequate sleep we are also better able to boost our immune systems and lower our risks for serious health problems. These benefits work hand in hand with healthy sleep hygiene.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and behaviours that help us get a good night’s sleep. Paying attention to your sleep hygiene is one of the best ways to turn sleep into your superpower.
Common sleeping problems, such as insomnia, are generally caused by bad sleep habits reinforced over years. These bad sleep habits can range from eating and drinking alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime, or spending too much time on our phones before we sleep – something that I have definitely been guilty of at times.
If you tend to engage in these bad sleep habits, it is likely that you have poor sleep hygiene.
So, how do you know if you have poor sleep hygiene?
Having a hard time falling asleep, experiencing frequent sleep disturbances, and suffering daytime sleepiness can be the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. Having a general lack of consistency in sleep quantity or quality can also be a symptom, and this lack of consistent sleep can be debilitating over time.
If you’re looking to improve your sleep hygiene, try and get into a better routine with your sleep habits. I always try to create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine that helps my mind and body unwind, and release any stresses or worries that have occurred during the day.
In our Sleep as a Superpower My Mental Wealth™ chapter for This Girl Is On Fire, there is a whole section dedicated to helping you develop strong sleep hygiene. If you are looking to build healthy sleep habits, I really recommend this chapter as a brilliant starting place.
For now, think about how you can make your bedroom as comfortable and as free from distractions or interruptions as possible. It’s also a good idea to create a sleep schedule, which means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This should help you fall into a more consistent sleep pattern.
Research has found that good sleep hygiene is a central part of health. Giving yourself a sustainable routine makes healthy behaviours feel almost automatic, and creates an ongoing process of positive reinforcement.
Creating a powerful sleep routine
So how do we get to grips with creating a powerful sleep routine that works for you? While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are several things you can do to ensure you have a sleep routine that’s fit for a superhero.
If you’re trying to coordinate your sleep cycle around your lifestyle, this won’t work! The idea is to start prioritising your sleep routine. Sleep isn’t an optional lifestyle luxury- it’s a non-negotiable biological necessity. Improving your sleep routine has little cost and virtually no risk, so let your body do what it needs to do.
Try to aim for 7-9 hours sleep- this is the average amount of time needed for improved mental and physical health. This will give your mind and body a chance to recover. Sleep becomes even more crucial if we’re engaging in high physical, mental, or emotional activity.
Of course, there are circumstances that will prevent you from having a consistent sleep routine such as being a new parent or working night shifts. So, in situations where you do have to coordinate your sleep around your life, consider what small changes you can make to improve your current sleep cycle. This could be as small a change as cutting out caffeine or getting black-out blinds.
It’s important to remember that whatever your sleep routine, it needs to be consistent. If you want to adjust your schedule, don’t try to make huge changes in one go as this can cause further damage to your sleep cycle. Instead, make small, step-by-step adjustments of up to an hour or two so that you can settle into a new schedule more easily.
Overcoming social jetlag
Social jet lag, a term coined by German researcher Till Roennenberg in 2006, is the discrepancy in a person’s sleep pattern between the weekday and the weekend. This sleep pattern discrepancy can make a person feel “jet lagged” or fatigued. In essence, it refers to staying up and waking later on our ‘free’ days (like the weekend) which interrupts our sleep routine.
Social jetlag is, unfortunately, associated with chronic illness, weight gain, and reduced mental performance.
It’s pretty unlikely that the occasional lie-in will harm your health- especially if it’s the only way of catching up on any sleep you’ve missed during the week. But if you’re tempted to spend every weekend snoozing, you may want to think again. It would be much better for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing to stick to your weekday routine. And there are simple ways to stay disciplined with this.
I haven’t always been an early bird. But by developing a good sleep routine, I’ve managed to become the person who springs out of bed at 6am on a Sunday and actually enjoys it.
With that said, I still enjoy the occasional lie-in and sometimes won’t surface until 9am. Life’s about balance, and it’s about making sure your positive habits occur more often than the negative ones.
An easy place to start is with light. Studies have shown that when people are sent camping, where they are removed from the influence of artificial light and exposed to natural light, they fall asleep about two hours earlier. They also then wake earlier than they normally would which reinforces the idea that light can impact your sleep schedule.
Your circadian rhythm (AKA your internal body clock) is most sensitive to light from approximately two hours before your usual bedtime through until about 1 hour after your usual wake-up time.Exposure to bright light, especially blue-light such as your phone screen, during this sensitive period will affect when your body naturally gets sleepy and is ready to fall asleep. This means that we’ll be more inclined to stay awake later and less willing to wake up early.
It can therefore be helpful to switch off any overhead lights two hours before bed, and use dimmer table lamps instead. And if you do use a computer or smartphone in the evening, install an app that will automatically dim the screen and filter out the blue light. Better yet, wave goodbye to your digital devices and have a digital detox before you go to bed!
How to make sleep your superpower
Sleep is something that really can make a huge difference to our lives- so it makes perfect sense to start harnessing its power. Obtaining healthy sleep is super important for both physical and mental health, improving productivity, and our overall quality of life, so it’s worth investing some time and effort into creating a sleep schedule that works for you.
If you’re looking to take things further, you can buy the Sleep as a Superpower My Mental Wealth Chapter over on This Girl is on Fire, which gives you a greater understanding of the background to sleep, how stress levels and social jetlag impact on sleep, and what steps you can take to improve your sleep and harness as it as a superpower.
No matter how you go about changing your sleep cycle for the better, your mind, body and soul will definitely thank you. Give yourself what you need and have a rest- you deserve it!