I participated in the Sleep webinar on the 23rd of February. That was the first of five in the Wunder Wellbeing Webinars. Those are part of Wunder’s internal wellbeing -initiative, which lasts for five months during the spring & summer of 2022. The once-a-month webinars are not only for Wunderers but open also for IT professionals outside of our organization. So after reading this article check out the remaining webinars and get yourself a free virtual seat!
So why I am writing this article? Well, all my colleagues are aware that I am not the early bird and I am struggling with sleeping from time to time. On top of what I learned from Dr. Tuomilehto, I will also share my own experiences and practices that have helped me to sleep better. Hopefully, you find this information helpful.
My relationship with sleep and the steps I had already taken
Sleeping has always been a bit of an issue for me and I have tried various techniques with frustrating results. I respect good sleep and I think without it there is no point in starting my day.
Before the webinar, I had mapped three areas where changing my routines has brought me some positive results. Those areas are coffee, screen time, and the health of my back.
In my “battle for better sleep”, the biggest give-out was switching to decaf coffee. Many people, including myself, have (had) a strong prejudice against decaf coffee. And no surprise there, since the decaf coffee is often seen as instant coffee (which is not only horrible tasting but also sensitive to growing mold; which makes it not only horrible tasting but also very unhealthy).
The positive side-effect of me going decaf is that I learned that there are actually good tasting decaf options such as “Jacobs Krönung Decaf” or “Segafredo Deca Crèm”. So for those who really like the taste of good coffee, but have doubts about how that affects one’s sleeping, I recommend giving a try for these decaf options. For someone using 50% decaf and 50%, regular coffee can do the trick.
It’s widely known that excessive screen time before going to bed (or even worse, when in bed already!) can affect the quality and amount of sleep. Changing to dark mode reduces the screen light, but that alone does not solve the problem
What keeps you awake is the content and how you interact with it. At least for me, FPS gaming, watching exciting content on streaming services, or even just scrolling on the news or social media stimulates my brain so that there is no chance to calm down and relax.
This is why I love AND hate gaming – that requires very high brain activity since you observe your opponents’ moves and then react to them. The faster this observing and reacting loop is the more active your brains need to be. And that is exactly the opposite of what your brains should do before trying to fall asleep. My solution has been to forbid myself from gaming after 6 pm.
Scrolling is not quite as bad as intensive gaming. I still encourage you to try the following => Close your eyes while you scroll and feel your brains being more relaxed just because you’re not using your brains to interact with the scrolling event (following the screen, deciding when to stop scrolling, reading the content while scrolling). Can you notice the difference?
As for an office worker, it’s not unusual having chronic upper back pain issues. At least for me, the discomfort of the body blocks physical relaxation. My way to lessen these problems, or at least prevent them to get worse is doing certain sports and making sure I go to a massagist once a month.
Working only from my home office might play a role in this as well, so visiting the office every now and then might also have a mild positive effect on this one. Since at the office we naturally move more than at our usually way smaller home offices.
Sleeping webinar by Henri Tuomilehto
As sleeping and recovery are topics that I have spent countless hours on learning and solving, I assume my knowledge level was above average amongst the webinar attendees. Dr. Tuomilehto explained in detail why sleeping is so important to us, but to me, that part was fairly self-evident. If one has read Matthew Walker’s “Why Do We Sleep”, they most certainly understand the importance of good sleep.
Even if the topic, different tips, and tricks were familiar to me, I still got a couple of takeaways that I plan to implement in my daily routines.
One of the many topics Dr. Tuomilehto brought up was the use of melatonin. That is a hormone body produces naturally, but in some cases, you might need to dictate the timing and dose. Put in a very simplified way, one of melatonin’s roles in the human body is to make falling asleep easier, to keep you asleep, and also to signal your body when it’s supposed to “go to bed”. When dealing with jet-lags, melatonin is one way to help your body to adjust to the new time zone.
It was new to me, that there are two different types of melatonin products. Some of them are fast release, helping you to fall asleep easier while the slow release should prevent you from waking up while trying to sleep. Depending on what type of sleeping problem you have, you might get recommended by either one. For me, the fast releasing one works, since I struggle to fall asleep.
The conversation on melatonin was vivid in this webinar and I feel that hearing about sleeping problems and the use of melatonin happens more often than ever before. And this makes me think that are we just sharing our experiences and issues more than before or are we actually facing an era where sleeping problems are really a growing problem…
Work with your sleep during the day
Another epiphany of the webinar was the conclusion that we should work with our sleeping problems while we are awake; not only when we are supposed to sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is strongly built on the actions happening during the day.
As mentioned previously, most of my measurements of my sleeping problems are daytime habits. I understand that there could be much more than that. I wish I could do more sports, I even would hope I could use some work time to do some small physical activities. Gladly we have flexible working hours, so I can schedule my training quite well.
Every now and then I tend to extend my lunch hour. First I go and do my workout at the gym and after that, I eat my lunch. This has been very nice especially during the dark times of the annual cycle in Finland because I get more light time outdoors too!
Also, a couple of my colleagues have the habit of training in the middle of the day or early in the afternoon, and they also find multiple benefits from it. Especially if one wishes to do an extremely hard work-out, early afternoon definitely is a better option than late in the evening. This way body is not experiencing the “after training hype” when putting the head on the pillow.
Another “a-ha!” catch was that the same way we have routines to go to sleep, we should also have routines for waking up.
Especially during the remote days, a habit to start your workday 15 min after waking up doesn’t really give your brain enough time to prepare or thoroughly wake up. When we all used to go to the office more or less daily, the traveling time gave our brains the routine signals and allowed us to wake up better. Both quality and quantity-wise.
So yes, I encourage everyone to pay attention to the morning routines. Often the mood of the morning affects the whole day tremendously.
Respect your sleep
One phrase by Dr. Tuomilehto really hit me:
Sleep is constantly competing for your attention with totally secondary things like Netflix or social media.
I really liked the “secondary things” part of the phrase, because one of the top priority aspects of my healthy life is to get a good sleep – everything else comes after that. Worthy to note, that the Sleep topic is also the first topic in the Wunder Wellbeing Campaign: we can survive for multiple days without food, but staying awake for multiple days in a row can literally kill you.
So yes, pretty much anything is secondary to sleep and therefore I say “no” to 8 am or 9 am meetings and “no” to gaming or scrolling in the evenings.
Habits and routines – the key to better sleep?
Since the list of different kinds of sleeping problems and often also a combination of them is astonishingly long, it’s understandable that the webinar content was more on a general level than diving deeper into very specific issues with sleeping.
As with many other aspects of better wellbeing, it’s often about habits and routines, more than about some “magic tricks” or revolutionary, single tips. And this is both an opportunity and a challenge.
Changing habits can be surprisingly hard. Our daily routines are our habits and changing our routines requires discipline, repetition, and willpower.
In order to enhance my sleeping habits, I must do a bit of reverse engineering and start with how to change habits in the first place.
So my next step toward better sleep is to read a book about how to change habits and routines. With a quick internet search, I can find many of them. If you know a really good one, feel free to recommend it over Twitter @iMiksu 😉
Maybe my routines and rhythm were my original sleeping problem?
One positive and well-working new routine I have is paying attention to my eating habits and the frequency of my meals. When awake I aim to eat about every third hour. That counts a total of five times a day and for me, this appears to be a good frequency.
Eating five times a day has thought me how to have smaller portions and another very positive thing is that after my eating my last meal for the day I feel sleepy. So maybe the routines (or lack of them) and my daily rhythm have been one of the biggest blockers for good sleep?
The next theme in the Wunder Wellbeing campaign after sleeping is eating and nutrition, so who knows, maybe learning more about eating habits is the next step for better sleep – and overall wellbeing.
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