Mark Fitzgibbon

By Mark Fitzgibbon, AA Driving School Franchisee

On September 11 2001 I was on a plane just about to enter New York airspace. From 2010 to 2012 i had to deal with substantial personal and family problems that nearly sunk me and these two events created high stress and sleeping was affected badly I mean waking every night 2 or 3 times and no not because of my bladder!

A very clever mate of mine started talking to me about the need to get my body back on track and return my ‘circadian rhythm to normal functioning’……..what???? Nonsense I thought, but I was intrigued and needed help so started, what became,  a few years of study and experimentation.

As we all know in this profession being alert behind the wheel or in the ‘coaches seat’ is essential for road safety (I still think there should be a cap on the number of working hours for ADIs rather like a pilot’s flying hours). And I don’t mind admitting that I do find the role of a Driving Instructor very mentally demanding at times so being tired just doesn’t cut it.

I tried everything to sleep better from going to bed early to long lie ins at the weekend to reduced alcohol ,sleeping pills, changing my mattress, warm baths oh gosh you name it I tried it.

I could write a book on how, what I’m about to reveal, has changed my life, injected me with huge energy levels and at 58 years old now I feel more energetic than when I was 28!!

So let’s start with the KEY to a good night’s sleep and that is embracing the ‘Circadian RHYTHM, so what is it. Well in brief we all function on an internal 24 hour body clock, and this is embedded deep within our brain and it regulates how we operate I.e. sleep, eat, produce hormones and feel energetic.

This process has evolved to work in harmony with the Earth’s rotation (stay with me I promise not to get too scientific I couldn’t if I wanted to anyway). Simplistically daylight times night times body temperature and regular eating times literally formulate how we live our lives.

Problem is our hectic lifestyles, modern technology and the demands of keeping up with the Jones’s or just burning it both ends to make ends meet or live life to the full often means GOOD SLEEP is abused. Eventually this will catch up with you whoever you are; irrespective of all that caffeine too!!

Below I’ve listed in Bullitt point form most of the changes I have made to help me sleep well:-

1. Forget 8 hours think sleep cycles. Clinically complete sleep happens in a 90 minute cycle and you need a few of those and it’s essential to get out of bed on the 90th minute of the last cycle.

2. My experience is 4, 5 or 6 cycles works best and my fav is 5 cycles (7.5 hours).

3. Decide when you need to get up each day for me it’s 7.30am then work backwards so bedtime is midnight.

4. Be disciplined it took me 2 months to return to normal and to boost energy and frankly to stop waking at 2am & 4am.

5. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark when you enter it to sleep no lights no phone no iPad no TV nothing just pitch black (don’t trip now).

6. GET ready for bed 1.5 hours before sleep so shower, brush teeth etc etc for ne that starts at  10.30pm and no food or drink before bed.

7. When my alarm goes at 7.30am I get up (you must) , I mean I hate it I love nothing better than lying in but it’s a nightmare and is ineffective if you want super charged energy. Give yourself up to 90 minutes to do what you do breakfast etc before starting meaningful work so for me a Driving lesson.

8. GET yourself a siesta (yup the Spanish have got it right) and I know this isn’t easy but try hard really hard to turn off that mobile phone and literally close your eyes and snooze for at least 30 minutes somewhere in the middle of the day or at lunchtime. (I’m currently researching power naps).

9. Keep caffeine to a minimum (I do 3 coffees per day now not my normal 7!) Eat healthily and keep fit (being an ADI is one of the most sedentary jobs you can ever do ).

10. BIG TIP……as long as you follow the above then when you have a night out and get home after bedtime IT IS ESSENTIAL that you still follow point 6.

So what that means in reality is let’s say you get home from a night out at midnight then you still need the 90 minute wind down before bed so hit the sack at 1.30 to get up at 7.30am (only 4 sleep cycles but it’s essential you follow the 90 minute cycle rule).

That’s the 10 point plan I’ve followed now for the last year and it has meant I wake every morning full of energy and ready to go. My concentration levels have improved hugely and my learners and PDIs have received far more effective training I’ve even had Interest from Highways England and Class 1 Police officers as to the methods.

Gotta go it’s nearly 10.30 and this tablet must go off now, my new rules !

Sleep well.