7 tricks for improving your sleep

Richard Branson, with his son Sam and fourth grandchild.
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What is the most bizarre question you have ever asked someone?

When as a young man I had my first chance to speak to a very rich person, I made him laugh. While everyone else asked him what he did in the daytime, I on the other hand asked him what he did at night.

You see, I already knew that results are the product of actions and ideas for which we have to be in the mood, have the drive, the courage, the determination and energy to carry out. And not just one day, but every day. So how do successful people recharge their batteries to allow them to chase their dreams and at the same time have the strength to focus on their family, close friends, themselves and hobbies? How is it possible that they can handle that every day and achieve so much?

And the successful people who were not just rich, but showed others the way to grapple with challenges and life, surprised me because their evenings were completely different to mine. And this way does not involve a big bar of chocolate “to calm the nerves”, no long goodnight TV show, occasional alcohol and almost no sedatives.

I mustn’t ignore sleep. If you have problems sleeping, try:

1. Don’t work after work

“I used to carry my work around in my head all the time. I could try all I liked, but couldn’t stop thoughts. You don’t want to think them, but they just keep on coming back. The more you concentrate on going to sleep, the less you are able to,” entrepreneur Richard Branson, on of Britain’s top-10 richest people , remembering the day when he realised what is important BEFORE sleeping: to change channels.

Not TV channels, but to completely change the contents of your head.

Richard has begun catching up with family (in the photo with son Sam and fourth grandchild, Bluey) or spending time with friends. To try talking about what’s been happening, what’s funny, plan something together, listen to others and completely clear your head.

“I find it easier to go to sleep and I sleep better after visits like that,” says Richard. “Even if a phone call wakes me early in the morning, I feel so fresh, almost born again and ready for the new day.” Try living people instead of TV for a change!

2. Go out

American manager Marissa Mayer took the job of managing director of the internet giant Yahoo in her sixth month of pregnancy. With a lachrymose child she counted every hour of sleep and its quality. “Maybe it is because I like being active. As a child I never had less than one after-school activity daily – I did ballet, figure skating, swimming; I played the piano. And so I introduced an evening ritual: Let’s all go out!”

Not necessarily to do any sport: to go running you need time, energy and freedom. And that this employed mum did not have. She has one rule though, that they go to a restaurant for dinner, even to a cheap one. “It’s not important WHERE we go, but THAT we’re going somewhere. I find that the best way of achieving deep sleep is to keep as physically active as possible during the day. Or at least in the evening.” She continues: “Dinner in a restaurant means at least a twenty minute walk there and back. It’s particularly refreshing after I have been sitting all day inside four walls and in front of the computer. I come back from being outside with fresh air in my lungs, with better energy. As soon as I open the door I feel happier at home, treat myself to a bath and crawl under the duvet in just the right mood for a glorious rest…”

Anyhow, why not visit the cinema, theatre, park or the evening city (if there’s no smog)?

3. Have a daily routine

This is because of getting older and my health. My own routine helps me drink regularly and also to eat regularly and a little at a time.

As soon as I get up I perform my water ritual and then have breakfast within an hour. From that moment the timer on my mobile is ticking, measuring 2 x ½ hour periods. I measure morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. I never sit down to a meal hungry, so I don’t need large portions.

When I exercise, when I work, when I go to bed – I try to stick with the routine that got me back into shape, whatever happens. Travelling through time zones disrupts it a little, but when I manage to find a rhythm, I sleep well and feel rested in the morning. Routine suits the body. (Btw this is how, when I was young, I learnt to withstand getting up at 3:43 every day for work, where my mind had to be immediately alert.)

4. Switch off electronics

Readers, especially those on the other side of the globe, are angry at me about this one. I can’t reply immediately at certain times of the day and night because I’m simply offline.

Digital displays interfere with sleep cycles. They give out a light similar to daylight and so tell the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that affects the heartbeat rhythms and induces sleepiness… It’s time to get up, not sleep!

Indian entrepreneur, Vijay Mallya, has expelled absolutely all electronics from his bedroom – not just mobiles and tablets, but the television, too. And, to help him endure not looking at any display before going to sleep (not to read texts or emails), he uses an interesting aid – his imagination. “I imagine that electronics is a type of jammer poisoning the environment with sleep toxins,” he says with a smile.

And he also taught me something else:

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