Don’t you wish the human body just had a ‘sleep’ button like your tablet? Not getting enough sleep is one of the most common complaints in our wired-up culture, affecting one in three adults. And it causes serious health problems.
Getting to sleep at night is fortunately something you can control in most cases. One case that complicates things, however, is prescription medication. If you’re taking medication that affects your sleep phase in any way, that’s an urgent point to bring up with your doctor, and this advice isn’t guaranteed to work in your case. For the rest of us, all it really takes is some discipline:
1- Prepare before bed.
* Avoid caffeine drinks before bed. Also avoid heavy meals an hour before bed. While some people swear by a “nightcap,” alcohol before bed is also ill-advised; it’s easy to build up a tolerance and it’s a dangerous habit to get into.
* At least an hour before bed, you should turn down the lights, and actually stop using all electronic media devices. That’s right, no phone, no TV, no Internet. Read a book, play with a pet, do a minor household chore, or simply lie on the couch and meditate. The reasoning here is that bright light sends the wrong trigger to the melatonin in your brain. Shining bright lights into your face tells your brain “wake up!”
* One of the best insurers for a good night’s sleep is at least a half hour of exercise sometime during the day. Stop and think about it: Have you ever had a hard time going to sleep after a day of exhausting physical activity? Your body is wired to burn energy from your food during the day; if you sit at a desk at work and then a couch for the evening, your body is bursting with unspent potential by the time you go to bed. Simply taking a walk or doing some minor household chore will suffice. But actual gym exercise is even better.
2- Your sleep quarters should be dark and quiet.
This is one of the benefits of the quiet country life! Again, melatonin signals to your brain will be triggered by leaving the TV going in the bedroom. You really don’t need a “night light” either. If you live in a household of night owls, a sleep mask will help.
You’re also better off without playing a radio, or having other distracting noise. Some people swear by “white noise” from a static generator or a fan, however, so you may make an exception if that works in your case. It’s also true that you may live in circumstances where tranquility is not possible, so again white noise or even earplugs may be necessary.
3- Blank your thoughts.
Unfortunately, western culture is devoid of teaching mental discipline. Eastern culture is far more familiar with this concept, which is expressed in one way by meditation. “Meditation” is a word which people tend to misinterpret: You don’t need to be a swami or sit in a lotus pose to meditate. It’s just the art of bringing your mind to a complete stop.
One method is the “body map.” Start with your toes. Stretch them and think to yourself “My toes are relaxed.” Now wriggle your feet, snuggle them under the covers, and think “My feet are relaxed.” Keep moving through your body to your calves, knees, thighs, hips, every part you can name. Keep naming your body parts and telling yourself they are relaxed. By the time you get to your head, if you’re not asleep already, finally just relax your mind and concentrate on not thinking. This technique works for plain old stress tension, and for when your mind tends to spin its own thoughts keeping you awake.
A step above this is guided muscle relaxation. Again, going from your toes to your neck, stretch or tense everybody part in turn, hold it for a second while holding your breath, then release the tension and exhale. Think of it as putting your body to bed, one stage at a time.
Another method is deep breathing exercises. Start by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Practice taking deep, full breaths, holding for just a second, then exhaling completely. Not start a cycle of doing the same while breathing in through your mouth and exhaling through your nose, or vice versa. Try doing this with one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, and breath alternating between making one rise more than the other. These are mostly just mental tricks to get you focused on breathing, so that your biological processes block out all other thoughts.
Thanks for reading, and sweet dreams!