By Guest Contributor Giles Watkins

For World Sleep Day we look at the top 10 tips from Positive Sleep by Giles Watkins for book ending your sleep and improving its quality.

Whenever I give talks about sleep, primarily to business leaders, I’m always asked for my top tips. So, here they are– a personal list of what’s worked best for me. Here are my personal top 10 tips to aid good sleep. The first four are general good lifestyle practices that – put simply – support sleep. Numbers five to ten are ideas of how to ‘book end your night’. I trust they will be of use to you.



I was a ‘seven espressos’ a day man when I quit in 2015. I had an espresso machine by my office desk and on eat home. I would justify the one in the office with a story about signing a deal when I was managing director of a business in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The purchasing director from our largest customer – a gold mine that accounted for more than 20% of PNG’sGDP at the time – was coming to see me in my office to sign – or otherwise – a contract extension worthUSD 100 million per year in revenues. Kyle (not his real name) was pretty bullish on the phone – said he only had an hour to sort this deal out, which we’d been discussing for months. So, there were a few nervous people in my office.

When Kyle appeared I offered him an espresso. He seemed immediately impressed. The meeting flowed well. We were prepared and rapport was good. After 30 minutes Kyle said, “Can I have another one of those wonderful espressos?” The contract was signed 43 minutes later, with no alterations. Clearly, I was an addict, using stories like the one above to justify my habit like any addict would. However, even if you are not a ‘coffee junkie’ like I was, treating caffeine after lunch as a no-no – except in extreme circumstances – can only help your sleep.



This is linked to #1 in that when I detox I give up caffeine (which in my case would only be in dark chocolate or the occasional green tea), alcohol, dairy products plus carbohydrates. The detox processI follow lasts three weeks and the benefits are multiple– weight loss, more energy, better hair (well it certainly grows faster!), improved skin and even better sleep. This is linked to the diet observations made earlier and aims to create the best conditions for sleep-enhancing hormones like dopamine and GABA to flourish.



Intuitively, it makes sense you’ll sleep better if you exercise regularly. Some form of sport, or even a brisk walk in the day, will typically leave you feeling more tired. My personal tip is, if possible, fit walking into your commute. From spring to autumn I typically walk three tube stops through the park to work as one way to squeeze in exercise in a busy schedule. Also I’ve always been a morning exerciser out of preference, which means that the adrenaline and other hormones released when you physically exert yourself get a chance to work their way through the system before turning in for the night. I find tracking my exercise endeavours on a smart-phone app of some sort gives a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Personally, I use the sports tracker Strava, though there are many on offer.



These are a great way to get quality sleep during the day, but with two main caveats. First, whenever you take them, do wake up before 3pm so that you do not disrupt your night sleep too much. Second, try to take naps of circa 26 minutes (as recommended by NASA) or circa 90 minutes (the full sleep cycle) in length. This way you are much less likely to wake up feeling ‘groggy’. For those yet to experience the joys and benefits of nap-ping, whether you feel guilty about doing so or remain sceptical, Arianna Huffington has surveyed a myriad of research and literature to help understand why naps are so restorative. She quotes David Randall, the author of Dreamland, as saying that even a short nap “primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identifying patterns faster and recall information more accurately.” Like Huffington, I used the couch in my office when I was managing director of a business in Sri Lanka. However, unlike her I did not have the courage to remove the screen on the window of my office door so that people could see what I was doing. Perhaps if I’d known this quote from Winston Churchill then it would have inspired me. Let’s leave the last word on naps to him:

“You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no half measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.”

Another important idea is to ‘bookend your night’. This is a simple concept that seeks to build on existing literature to give you some easy to follow guidelines:

• Let the old day out – unwind properly and give yourself the best chance of sleep

• Sleep – what to do if you wake up in the night and struggle to go back to sleep

• Letting the new day in – allowing your day to start calmly before overtaken by events and the agenda of others.



Allow the experiences of the day to come out of your mind. Read, talk, make love, and don’t look at a smartphone – all great ways to let the old day out. It is also something that is more in your control. Nick Littlehales is adamant that 90 minutes to unwind plus another 90 minutes to wind up again in the morning is ideal, and he may well be right. However, from my experience even one hour to bookend your day can make a huge difference. Start by turning off smartphones, tablets, computers and, preferably, TVs too. A daily technology detox of circa 11 hours is an ideal – 90 minutes before bedtime, 8 hours for sleep and 90 minutes once you wake up. Sound a bit too radical? Well aiming for 9.5 hours (1hour letting the day out + 7.5 hours of sleep + 1 hour letting the day in) would be a great start. Other ways to ‘declutter the mind’ before you go sleep include tidying up, doing the dishes or putting the washing on, writing a journal or scribbling down some thoughts on what’s on your mind – all good ways to prepare for sleep. And if you want to read before you sleep, do read paper – a book or a magazine for example. I have always found chamomile tea or something similar is a great help. Whether or not this is a reaction akin to that of a Pavlovian dog I cannot say, though a cursory google of ‘chamomile tea’ and ‘sleep’ suggests there is some science behind this. And another advantage of chamomile tea is that it tastes great cold so you can enjoy it if you wake in the middle of the night.



A wonderful relaxant, magnesium being the key ingredient. Indeed there appears to be a medical consensus that the population of many develop-ing countries are magnesium deficient. As this essential mineral is not produced within our own bodies, we effectively need to import it. Magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin rather than orally and a bath is a great way to access an incremental boost to aid your sleep. Magnesium deficiency can manifest itself in insomnia. Conversely, appropriate levels of magnesium support deep, restorative sleep through maintaining GABA levels, the neurotransmitter mentioned earlier that promotes sleep. Magnesium is also supposed to help alleviate restless legs syndrome, which is sometimes linked to insomnia.

Please note: Epsom salts are to be avoided if you have open wounds or sores. Also they have been known to cause irritation if you have very sensitive skin. In this case a magnesium rich diet, including sunflower seeds, cashew nuts and almonds plus squash and broccoli, can be helpful.In addition to – or as an alternative to – an Epsom salt bath, use lavender oil close to you when you sleep. Place one or two drops on a cotton pad or tissue/handkerchief on your bedside table (preferably on a saucer to prevent any oil stains). Add one or two drops more if you want a stronger dose. Some people prefer to place this on a tissue under their pillow. Whichever approach you take should yield positive results.



For example, use body scanning if you wake in the night. I mentioned body scanning earlier, also known as ‘noticing sensations and urges’, a technique whereby you start with your toes and slowly scan up through your whole body until you reach the top of your head, stopping along the way to bring an awareness to each part of your body. I find this especially helpful in addressing the 3am syndrome.If you especially like mindfulness techniques, I urge you to read The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night by Dr Guy Meadows, which has many similar suggestions.



A book, newspaper or magazine not re-lated to your work is a fantastic way to relax. I believe that technically Kindles are fine too; however, I’ve always favoured making that complete break from technology to allow you to do something different in a different medium. I read an entire biography of P.G.Wodehouse between 3 and 4am once which helped me get back to sleep every time. Sudoku helps many people in the same way. And once again, unlike smartphones, tablets, computers and the TV, paper seems less likely to increase our stress and alertness.



Why is this? Well it will give you the best chance of waking up naturally at the end of a sleep cycle, and mitigate any grogginess which can sometimes happen. And if you absolutely must set one because you are catching a flight or some-thing similar, do not set multiple alarms for the morn-ing as this will only encourage snoozing. If you need one, use a wake-up light alarm clock.



The simplest way to do this is to sit upright or in the lotus position (whichever is more natural for you) with a hand on each knee or with hands resting upwards in your lap. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose for a count of two, hold for two and then out for four.Breathe in through the stomach as much as possible (much as babies do), avoiding short breaths in the chest.Manage this basic technique based on yoga teachings for five minutes a day and it will set you on the road to deeper meditation.


GILES WATKINS is a British-born coach and mentor with both Aberkyn and Vistage. Giles has over 30 years of global business and general management experience in enabling decision makers to solve problems, achieve balance, deliver superior results and sleep better at night.




Suggested Reading

A book written by a leader for professionals who struggle with sleep. Giles Watkins, the author, explores this problem through his own sleep struggles and provides guidance for readers using techniques and personal tips that transformed his life and helped him to sleep better. Along the way he explains the importance and function of sleep and how a lack of sleep typically effects professionals. The book also examines how organizations can promote better sleep.

As challenges with sleep for professionals reach epidemic proportions in the 21stcentury, this book provides an invaluable guide for those in positions of responsibility and encourages employee wellbeing in organisations.

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