How I Improved My Sleep

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Former bartender turned journalist, Dan Miles is the best-selling author of Filthy Still – a tale of travel, sex and perfectly made cocktails, and a contributor to the Huffington Post, TNT and the New Zealand Times. Here he experiments on himself in order to try and help you, the reader, get a better nights sleep.

It’s no secret that those in the hospitality industry often struggle to get enough sleep – it’s pretty much an official job hazard, along with the uncontrollable desire to talk about Bitters.  However, in my experience, it’s harder to say exactly how that extra sleep might happen.

Never afraid to act as a human guinea pig, as I proved when the Huffington Post asked me whether I felt you could enjoy bars more or less with one of your senses removed – a question that resulted in The Depravator, an advanced sensory isolation device made from an old welder’s helmet and a pair of woolly mittens, I decided to put eight of the most common suggestions from Web MD to the test.

1) Cut out caffeine

Seemingly quite obvious, but the question should rather be when exactly do you tap it on the head for the day? Especially if its the only thing keeping you going. With 4-6 hours before sleep being the general rule, I drank coffee as usual, by which I mean by the bucket load, and then stopped at around four in the afternoon with a sleep aim of midnight and actually got a decent nights sleep.

2) Stop napping

Contrary to popular belief a rejuvenating 15-20 minute snooze in the storeroom may not affect your sleep pattern, particularly if you keep it removed by 6-8 hours from actual sleep. However, in the name of science, I tried both and certainly slept better when I didn’t nap at all.

 3) Exercise

Working on the theory that hospo staff predominantly work afternoons and evenings, I tried exercising in the morning and found it greatly improved sleep that night. However, when I worked out later in the day the results were more mixed, as exercise also causes a substantial adrenaline spike to hit your system. This one certainly has potential though.

4) Calming lighting

To quote Bob Marley, ‘turn the lights down low,’ as a gradual reduction beginning around 1-2 hours before bedtime, signals the body to begin producing the sleep-inducing chemical, melatonin. With this in mind, I changed my bedside lamp to a warm, straw coloured, 15-watt bulb and actually felt more tired when it the time came to turn it off. Unfortunately, anything more than an hour seems somewhat ambitious, as most hospo workers are travelling home during this period and public transport is not exactly known for its ambient lighting.

5) Milk

Milk contains tryptophan, a natural sedative, so I tried this on three separate occasions – once on its own, once with a pinch of turmeric and once with a little honey (which also contains tryptophan, as do bananas, chicken, and oats.) Getting to sleep certainly seemed easier and I stayed out for longer, however, I discerned very little difference in sleep quality between the three.

6) No pets in bed

Weird, but I’ve gone this far, so why not. Of course I don’t actually own a pet and most of my friends seemed reluctant to lend me one, so instead, I made do with my godson’s giant cuddly dinosaur, Gunther. It certainly complicated matters, particularly as it’s head squeaks and I roll around a lot, but this one certainly seemed rooted in fact.

7) Screens down

The blue light emitted by smartphones has a proven, negative effect on sleep, so against every instinct in my body, I avoided mine for an hour before bed and immediately slept better. However television also allegedly creates problems, often caused by the brains deep involvement with the storyline, so I spent one night with no TV at all, choosing instead to read a crap John Grisham novel and a second where I binge watched Game of Thrones. Reading definitely improved matters, whereas the TV left me restless with weird dreams about Westerosi prostitutes.

8) Pamper yourself

This category includes everything from taking a bath to yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi and overall the results were varied. A bath with aromatherapy oils taken an hour before lights out left me feeling invigorated, but fully awake, so maybe I wasn’t doing it right, whereas light yoga and Tai Chi both left me feeling pleasantly relaxed, calm and sleepy. The real winner, however, was meditation. I used a guided meditation app, whilst simultaneously trying not to look at the screen, beginning ten minutes prior to bed and was practically nodding off by the end. I’m classing this one as a winner.

 

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