As most of you know by now, this blog is about sleep and sleep related matters. But today we are going to twist things up a bit. Today we will be talking about the art of being awake. No, not the art of staying awake. The art of being awake. There is quite a big difference between the two. Staying awake past your bed time is bad for you, while being awake at the right time is absolutely crucial! Let’s face it, you don’t want to doze off in the all important budget meeting, or in traffic… That is why, when you are not sleeping, you need to function at high levels of alertness and awareness. You need to have your wits about you, so to say. In other words, you need to be awake.
Why is being awake important?
Just take a moment to think about it while I go make myself some coffee. Okay, I’m back. Did you thing about it? Let me help you out a bit. Every aspect of our lives has an influence on every other aspect of our lives. In other words, what you do before you go to bed will have an impact on what you do while you are in bed, will have an impact on what you do once you get out of bed. Are you with me so far? Good!
For you to have a good nights’ rest, you need to spend your energy properly during the day. You also need to take in the right amount of food at the right time, avoid certain substances after certain times and so on. Your sleep cycle is so fragile, that the things you do directly after getting out of bed will influence the quality of your next sleep session. Therefore, what you do during your waking hours is important. To see how important it is, and what can be done to improve your waking hours, read on.
It doesn’t matter where you are. Whether you are in the heart if the city, in the suburbs or on a farm far from the city lights. Try to look at the sky every once in a while. Especially when the sun is rising, or as soon after sunrise as possible. Why would you want to do that? Our bodies are really fascinating! You might not believe it, but our bodies are sensitive to the type of light that shines on it. The kind of blue light that is filtered trough the atmosphere early in the morning tells our bodies it is time to wake up. I know it sounds crazy, but it is true.
Research shows that blue light in the morning is really good for your circadian rhythm. Can’t remember what a circadian rhythm is? It is basically your sleep/wake cycle and it is important to keep that rhythm balanced. Sleeping too little or too much can lead to all sorts of illnesses, but more on that in another post. Blue light early in the morning is a good way of kick starting your circadian rhythm and natural blue light is better than artificial blue light. Athletes that travel long distances to compete have even started using blue light therapy to counter the effects of jet lag. So don’t underestimate the power of blue light early in the day!
But is blue light always good for you?
Have you ever wondered why modern mobile phones have a built in blue light filter? Well, it is because scientists proved that blue light tells the body to stay awake, or to wake up. So the idea of a blue light filter is that you put it on when the sun sets. Thus when you look at your phone after dark, it won’t send you conflicting light signals. Dark outside means no blue light radiation from the sun, thus we should also try to avoid blue light radiation from any other source after dark. It will lead to healthier sleep hygiene.
You can also download blue light filters for your tablet, laptop or PC. I use f.lux on my computer at home when I do my after hours writing and it really works! If you work at night, or spend time behind a TV screen or computer monitor, you should definitely check it out here. Apart from filtering the blue light, you calibrate it to suit your personal needs. My f.lux tells me how long I have before it’s time to wake up. This pushes me to go to bed earlier, because I find that missing out on my zzz’s makes life harder. It also tells me what time sunrise is and allows me to set the level of blue light filtering for different programs. Pretty handy, if you ask me.
Now you might ask me how this has anything to do with being awake. It’s rather simple. Being awake while absorbing blue light tells your body that it is time to be active and to do things. Being awake while absorbing yellow light tells your body it is time to wind down and get ready for bed. Using your waking hours to prepare your body for sleep is crucial!
Nowadays reading is not as popular as it used to be. We have millions of different YouTube channels to surf, we have Netflix, we have Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. With all of these instant gratification type of media at our disposal, why would we read? If i can see the news being read to me, why pick up a newspaper and read it myself? So you might be thinking why on earth is this guy telling us to read? Am I right? Or maybe not, it is probably all of the people who are not reading this blog post that might ask that question…
Anyhow, here are some of the benefits you might enjoy because you like to read:
1. Stress Release
Who would have thought that reading could be a way to reduce stress levels!? It sounds absurd to think that something as mundane as picking up a book and reading it can help you to get rid of stress. Yet it is true. A study done on how/if reading can prevent or release stress showed that people who read on a daily basis have lower levels of stress than those who don’t. Scientists believe that this is the case, because when you read, your mind is occupied almost completely by what you read. Unlike when you are watching Game of Thrones or Narcos.
When you read, all of your effort goes into making sense and sorting out what you are reading, whereas simply looking at something does not have the same effect. Another possible reason for regular readers to have less stress is the fact that they take things easier. Reading takes time and if you are willing to set aside time for reading, it probably means that you tend to make more time to relax than other people.
2. Improved Focus
As we’ve already mentioned, reading takes up all of your concentration. This means that you can’t check your email or chat with your girlfriends while you are reading a book. When you think about it, when we are at the office or out somewhere (not reading) our attention is diverted between a myriad of different things. We check our phones for twitter updates, email, chat messages etc. At the same time we might be trying to keep a conversation going with a colleague or friend, while trying to do a task at work.
All of these things at once is just too much! Try to read for 20 minutes at a time and see if it improves your focus.
3. Mental Stimulation
Research has shown that reading can lower your chances of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It kinda makes sense, if you think about it. Keeping the brain active will lower the risk of losing it, just like working out lowers the possibility of losing muscle tissue.
Try to read a book before you go to bed. Don’t read it on a tablet or kindle that radiates blue light though. Rather try reading a hard copy, paper book or if you can’t do that, read on a blue light filtered device. It will calm your mind down and empty it of all those swirling thoughts and emotions. It can even lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Reading is a very healthy and natural sedative that is almost guaranteed to lull you to sleep late at night.
Obviously we eat when we are awake. How can you eat while being asleep? But what you eat is important. We’ve mentioned eating and what to eat a few times in the past, but seeing as it forms a vital part of our lives, we’ll mention it again. What you eat and when you eat it has an impact on your alertness levels and on how you sleep at night.
Let’s start with breakfast. What should you eat for breakfast and when should you do it? What should you drink with your breakfast? Should you drink something before you eat in the morning? To be honest, I don’t have all the answers, because I’m not a dietitian. But I will try to shed some light on the subject and share my personal experiences with you.
The first thing I ingest in the morning is a lukewarm glass of water with a slice of lemon in it. The lemon restores your blood pH and maximises it for absorbing proteins, vitamins and all those wholesome goodies your body can’t do without. If your blood pH is not right and your intestines are not optimised for absorbing the right foodstuffs, what good does it do to eat healthy? After my glass of lemon water, I eat a big pile of papaya and pineapple. It is easy to digest and gets the metabolism up and running without putting too much strain on it. Papaya soothes the intestine and helps to relieve inflammation in the gut. On the other hand, pineapple serves as a natural laxative and promotes bowel movement, also known as peristalses.
If you are not into fruit, get into it! No I’m joking. If you don’t like fruit or you don’t have time to cut up a whole bunch of fruits first thing in the morning, don’t stress. Try some muesli with fruit chunks in it or just have some breakfast bran. The fibres in there are also easy to digest and will help with peristalses.
The key to healthy eating is this: Once you stared eating, don’t stop. And by this we don’t mean that you should continuously stuff your face with pastries and fatty foods. All we mean to say is that you should try to snack throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels constant. When you snack you don’t have to eat a MacDonald’s burger every hour. A hand full of nuts should do the trick. Or a banana or a pear or some dates. Don’t overdo it. Just have a small snack every hour to hour and a half. This should keep your concentration levels high and it will also stave off cravings for chocolate and sweets.
Try to avoid too much carbohydrates at lunch, especially if you haven’t been snacking. If you eat a lot of bread or pasta at lunch, you are most probably well acquainted with post lunch drowsiness. You know, that feeling you get where you struggle to stay upright in your chair, let alone focus on your work. Know what I’m talking about?
To avoid that feeling, don’t overdo it with the bread. What happens when you eat too much bread all at once is that your blood sugar levels rise very fast, and then they plummet. Once you are over that edge, it is extremely difficult to come back without the aid of caffeine, which we all know should not be ingested after lunch! Instead of bread, try to eat some fruits and veggies. Or boil yourself an egg or something.
Try not to make dinner the biggest meal of the day. Definitely not if you go to bed soon after dinner! Your body takes quite a while to digest a big meal and digesting while sleeping doesn’t make for the most restorative sleep.
You don’t have to be an athlete to exercise. Just don’t sit around all day. If you order lunch, walk to the restaurant to pick it up instead of having them deliver. Instead of driving down the block to get some bread and milk at the corner cafe, walk there. At lunch hour, take a walk around the block to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. While you are at it, look up at the sky and grab a newspaper for later.
If you like exercise, then by all means, do some proper cardio. Run around, cycle, jump! Just always play within your limits and stay safe.
It is my hope that you learned something from this blog post.
Try to be awake and in the moment when you need to be. But when your body tells you that it is tired, listen to it and go to bed.