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Cutting back on sleep is short-changing yourself

Our lives, health and wellbeing depend on us taking care and responsibility for ourselves.

Sleep is a rest and recuperation period for our body and mind. It’s an opportunity for us to integrate all that has happened to us during the day, including the things we’re aware have happened, and the things we’ve sensed and felt subconsciously.

As the conclusion of our day, sleep represents a shut-down process, best carried-out with a consistent routine that allows all our functions to gradually ease back, and calm down in readiness for switching-off. Like in nature, we need to encourage a transition in our bodily function, our metabolism that supports a successful transition to sleep.

Acknowledge that we are preparing for sleep

Firstly, we need to clearly signal to our body and mind that we are preparing for sleep. We cut back on action-oriented activities that stimulate us – we cut back on thinking work, anything that will generate strong emotions, and any physical activity that is going to jump-start our metabolism. TV, web-surfing and social media often form part of our evening routines, but choose content that helps you wind-down rather than amps you up!

Similarly, we cut back on any substances that might stimulate us – especially caffeine and nicotine, but also alcohol or other drugs. We want to give our bodies time to metabolise or process these substances before attempting to sleep, and before our systems need to start going off-line for their own rest and repair.

Conclude the day: Take some time to reflect and plan

Something that’s easily overlooked, is to put aside some time before sleeping for reflection – you can express thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary, or simply acknowledge them to yourself. If you want to review your goals or to-do's, do so earlier in your routine, so you don't dwell on them when you try to sleep. Acknowledge the day you’re concluding; perhaps envision the life you want to lead.

This reflective practice situates you in the context of your life, and your connections to the wider world. Ask yourself constructive questions, such as: “What went well today?”; “Would I do anything differently in future?”; “What am I thankful for today?”, “Who am I thankful for today?”

Back off the throttle: Breathe slowly and deeply

Finally, we want to slow our heartrate right down. When we sleep properly, our heart should be beating at its slowest rate for the day. We’re not moving, we’re not thinking, and we don’t have to sense and understand our environment… so our hearts can rest too, just pumping enough blood to sustain and repair our systems.

To slow your heartrate, breathe in deeply and exhale slowly. This increases the oxygen content in your blood, lowers the amount your heart needs to pump, and tells your whole system to “relax”. A short, guided meditation (e.g. Insight Timer, Headspace) is a nice transition into sleep, as it combines closed eyes, gentle visualizing, and deep, relaxed breathing…

Because it’s the last thing we do each day, sleep can often seem an afterthought – just remember neglecting your sleep is short-changing yourself!

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