You are probably reading this blog because you are interested in Personal Finance, Financial Independence or some form of Self Development. This means you are probably wanting to find ways to live more intentionally, reduce stress, become more productive and generally just enjoy life better.
Sleeping better has massively improved my quality of life, and I think improved all of these areas! I want to share with you some of my sleep problem areas and the best solutions I have picked up to overcome them during my time as a commercial pilot.
Did you know, in flight school I learned that being awake for 17 hours creates the same level of decision making and fine motor skills impairment as having a blood alcohol limit of .05! This is the legal driving limit in Australia (for open licences) so it stands to reason that if you are tired or fatigued, you are placing yourself (and others) at higher levels of risk. This is a huge issue for us pilots that fly long haul, so getting quality sleep is a big deal for us.
Sleep solutions Introduction
We all need to sleep. You’ve probably heard stories about the psychopaths that get by on under 4 hours, but lets be honest here – that is not normal. There are always weirdos and exceptions to the rule, but most healthy humans need somewhere around between 7 to 9 hours per night of sleep to function properly, with the majority of the population needing an average of 8 hours.
Don’t get your 8 hours? Congratulations you will now feel tired all day. Your productivity will suffer, you will be less happy, feel less energetic, and over the long time a sleep deficit will wreak havoc on your body, raising your adrenaline and cortisol levels and causing your body to literally destroy itself. You can cover this tired feeling up with coffee if you want, because caffeine will mask the symptoms of tiredness – but your body will still be tired, and slowly killing itself! If you also believe in the latte factor – this could be costing you a lot of money you could be investing instead!
This is one of the great ironies of life – we spend our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s (and increasingly our 50’s) sacrificing our time, sleep, health and families for our careers in order to earn money, and then one day we realise ‘oh shit’ and then frantically spend our 50’s trying to do the opposite. By then its usually too late, and chronic disease and illness can be devastating on your quality of life (not to mention financially debilitating). If you haven’t read the book ‘Your Money or Your Life’ you should explore this concept.
Our society, careers and modern lifestyle can present significant challenges or obstacles to getting restful sleep – whether that’s technology, relationships or work. So how do we manage them? These are some of my problem areas and the solutions that work for me…
Sleep solutions for technology
Technology can interrupt our sleep, and I am constantly struggling with this. Whether it is the impulse to mindlessly check my social media or investing accounts, check the meteorology, flight plans and NOTAMs for the following days flying, watch another YouTube video, text family or friends or work on the websites – the temptation to look at a screen is always there.
Looking at a screen is toxic for my sleep. I am so bad at it though, and the number of times I find myself up well past my bedtime on my phone, iPad or laptop in bed astounds me. I constantly set rules for myself that I won’t do it – and I constantly break those rules.
So what are the guidelines I try to follow when it comes to technology at the moment;
- No TV in the bedroom – As well as a general dose of the low information diet
- No technology in bed (no phones, tablets or laptops)
- ‘Sleep mode’ brightness adjustment at sunset – lowest setting, and warm background lighting to remove ‘blue screen light’
- Phone on silent – I turn my personal phone on silent and only keep my work phone on loud for in case of emergency call ups
- App notifications ‘off’ – so my personal phone does not buzz or ping and demand my attention
- No technology after 9pm – pick up a paper book instead and grab a cuppa tea
- Lights out by 10pm
Sleep solutions for couples
Whilst we all love a good snuggle (and this is super important for health, happiness and general well-being), at some point you’ve just got to say goodnight and roll over. The cute couples you see sleeping restfully in each others arms in the movies is a lie! I have found that spooning can result in lots of unwanted hair in mouth, dead arms and in Australia, your just as likely to get too hot and sweaty as well.
In the 20 years or so I have been interested in girls, I don’t think I have ever managed to sleep peacefully with my girlfriend without copping a mouthful of hair, a dead arm or being too hot – that is why I think having a double bed, and a big doona is a non negotiable for me! Having space is important for me to get a good, restful nights sleep. Besides which, getting too close in bed usually results in erm… Not sleeping.
Sometimes it has been difficult to manage my shift working with a partners work schedule, but generally some common courtesy goes a long way in this situation. It can really suck when I’m working nights or opposite shifts and felt like I hadn’t spent time with my partner in weeks, so I’ve had to resist the urge to wake them up for a bit of attention. Not that this is an issue for me at the moment (not working, and don’t have a girlfriend!)
My guidelines when it comes to couples;
- Respect each others sleep schedules and work shifts – don’t wake your partner up just for attention
- Double bed is a non negotiable – you need space to roll over
- Agree on a reasonable thermostat setting for climate control – I always like it colder!
- Second doona in the cupboard – just in case you discover your partner likes to do the washing machine at night and hog the quilts
- Individual types of pillow – everyone gets what is comfy for them
Sleep solutions for travel and hotels
Travel and sleeping in strange, new and unfamiliar places can always mean a restless first night or two for me. Once I am used to a particular location, or if I have stayed at that hotel a number of times, I usually chill out and can get to sleep easier.
My guidelines for better sleep while on the road;
- I take my own pillow with me – that way I never have to deal with uncomfy hotel pillows
- I set a cool temperature if there is A/C
- I don’t spend my time in the bar – Alcohol negatively effects me getting restful sleep
- Use coat hangers to help keep the blinds shut – Pant hangers with clips are great for clamping blinds closed to stop sunlight or city lights getting in
- I choose an end room of a corridor if available – This way there is only noise on one side, and less foot traffic past the door
- Do not disturb sign – These are highly underrated, especially when working weird shifts that need you to sleep during the day.
- Unplug the land line phone in the room – For obvious reasons
Sleep solutions for having pets
Having pets is an ultimate privilege. But it can also be really tricky for your sleep. Whilst I might come from a farm, I am also a believer of dogs being let inside. I know not everyone is a fan of dogs inside, and it does result in a bit more mess and cleaning required, but I think its worth it.
When our wolf-pack were just pups, and also when our $10,000 dog was recovering from her surgery ($10K for an orthopedic surgeon to fix her broken leg after being run over), they needed nearly round-the-clock attention – I guess similar to a child. This is a really tricky time and there are no easy solutions.
My guidelines for better sleep with pets
- Dogs OK in the bedroom, but not on the bed – It might be a double bed, but they love snuggling right up on top of me which is not conducive to my sleep. They also roll in questionable things which I don’t want on my sheets! Letting them be close to me stops them complaining (whining) and makes them feel more secure.
- I keep the door ajar slightly – They can go in and out without pawing at the door to demand access
- Doggie doors – invest in them if possible! This helps automate their toileting and lets them be more self sufficient and need less attention
- Keep them occupied – Keeping them occupied and stimulated with toys and a fun environment stops them demanding attention. Very hard with puppies that don’t want to sleep (or that need help to be taken outside for the bathroom) but helps somewhat
- Keep them tired – Taking them out for a good walk will wear them out and help them ‘Sleep like a dog’
- Dog crate for puppies – Having a large puppy crate with a dog bed in it is great to keep them feeling secure. We moved this about the house, and could put a blanket over it to make it dark and promote sleep.
- Keep lots of full water bowls – Having lots of large water reserves around the house will keep them happy and stop them pestering you at night for a drink
General sleep solutions
Other than a few key areas above, I have a few other simple tips and guidelines I use to manage my fatigue and help me get to sleep quicker
- For emergencies, I do have sleeping tablets but I do not like using them.
- Alternating strength and resistance training at the gym with cardiovascular exercise everyday helps me fall into bed tired and ready for sleep
- A cool, dark and quiet environment is most conducive for me falling asleep
- Removing caffeine from my diet almost entirely has helped me sleep better, as well as combat general anxiety / overthinking
- A big mug of herbal tea (try peppermint) before bed is part of my sleep routine
- Maintaining a good sleep hygiene and similar sleep routine (aka finish work, Gym, Eat, Shower, Unwind, Herbal tea and a book)
- Soft, warm lighting only (smash all fluorescent bulbs!!!!)
- Eating a proper diet – Cutting out junk and sugar, and focusing on a mostly whole food, plant based diet.
- Limiting alcohol to only one or two nights a week, and limiting my number of standard drinks consumed
- Staying properly hydrated throughout the day means I don’t wake up thirsty af in the middle of the night
- Guided meditation tape (Silva Centering Exercise) to help me if my mind is racing
- If I can’t sleep, I do a trippy mind exercise called ‘sleep visualization’ – where I visualize myself doing things like writing from 100 to 0 on a chalkboard in big numbers, erasing each figure as I go.
- Setting a gentle, progressively loudening alarm clock (like wind chimes or classical music)
- Trying to not be overwhelmed by not being perfect – but just making small progress each day
Getting a good, restful nights sleep is incredibly important for your short term functioning, and your long term health. I have had issues with my sleep thanks to shift work, and the general stress of my career and lifestyle. Adopting a few simple sleep hygiene principles and routines have really helped me improve my amount, and quality of sleep and let me hit my 8 hour target.
If you are having trouble sleeping, try adopting some of my simple sleep solutions and see if they work for you! It might sound silly, but really these are all flexible guidelines rather than strict rules. But helping to set guidelines helps me manage impulsivity and promote better self discipline, you should be able to get a restful nights sleep.
Oh and one final thing – if you have kids – Good luck – all bets are off !
Want to know why social media is keeping you up at night – spoiler alert its designed to do that. Help ‘unplug’ by watching ‘The Social Dilemma‘
Captain FI is a Retired Pilot who lives in Adelaide, South Australia. He is passionate about Financial Independence and writes about Personal Finance and his journey to reach FI at 29, allowing him to retire at 30.