There’s a meeting tomorrow morning. An important meeting — one whose outcome is a matter of life and death.
I gotta hit the hay now so I can get my 7 hours of sleep.
I pick up my special Drill Sergeant clock — FYI, this fellow here insults me until I wake my ass up — to set the alarm, then hop into bed and close my eyes.
Good night little toes. Good night feet. Good night ankles.
Moving my way up through my body, I finally reach my head. Good night brain.
An hour passed. And I am still screaming at my brain. HEY BRAIN, I SAID GOOD NIGHT!
So much for progressive muscle relaxation.
Does the above sound like you?
Many of us try to trick ourselves to sleep, lying down in a comfortable position with our eyes shut, hoping our brain and body will get the message and send us to Lala land. When we still aren’t dozing off, we start freaking out and getting stressed up and yelling at ourselves to sleep — unknowingly fueling the anxiety that contributes to insomnia.
This isn’t uncommon. A general consensus has developed from population-based studies that about one-third of adult samples drawn from various countries report one or more of the symptoms of insomnia: difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep.
My life is wonderful, but I would always think ‘FML‘ when it comes to sleeping, a tedious chore. Lying in bed with my eyes shut, for the record, does not lullaby me to sleep. I could toss and turn and wrestle with the dark for hours in my bed, thinking and not thinking, in a barren state which is neither sleep nor full wakefulness. Most times, I simply gave up and sought solace in a Netflix binge while munching on snacks, which by the way, is caused by sleep loss. How? Sleep loss gives rise to the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, it gets to the brain, then the brain says, “I need carbohydrates.”
I decided I needed to fix this. And I did.
Here’s the thing though. I no longer focus on trying to get to sleep. I think that is looking at the problem from the wrong angle. Instead, I seek out to prepare myself to sleep.
Nipping it in the bud.
The first thing you need to realize is that falling asleep at night requires you to change your daily routines as well as your nightly routines. And like all habits, it takes discipline, courage, and hard work on a daily basis.
Boy! Lucius!—Fast asleep? It is no matter.
Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.
Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,
Which busy care draws in the brains of men.
Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.
—William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar
Make these changes throughout the day—
1. Prioritize the most important tasks first.
The deeper you get into the day, the more likely it is that unexpected tasks will crawl into your schedule and the less likely it is that you will be able to give yourself time and space to prepare for sleep. Many a time, we find ourselves clearing our daily to-do lists well through the night as a result of disorganized priorities and poor use of time.
2. Don’t drink caffeine too late in the day, ideally not after lunch.
A study by Sleep Disorders & Research Center found that at even caffeine consumed 6 hours before bed affected sleep amounts by over an hour. More interestingly, they found that even when subjects might not have felt the caffeine effect in their body, it still affected their sleep quality for the worse. That afternoon coffee you took could be keeping you up longer than you might have perceived.
3. Digital detox 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Televisions, laptops, smartphones, and tablets emit blue light, which tricks your brain into believing it is daytime and increase your alertness. Furthermore, the blue light hinders the production of melatonin, or what we refer to as sleep hormone. Start unplugging. Turn off all of those bright glowing things that are going to excite the brain. Listen to audio books instead. (You can simply sign up for a free trial at Audible and get 2 free audiobooks, so why not.)
4. Embrace the darkness.
It’s critical to make it as dark as you possibly can. Actually, reduce your amount of light exposure at least half an hour before you crawl into your bed. Light increases levels of alertness, delays and disrupts your sleep. If you can’t seal up all the light sources, consider using a comfortable sleep mask. The perfect solution for me is the Sleep Master Sleep Mask. It’s well padded yet light-weight, fits comfortably around my nose and completely blocks out the light.
5. Don’t brush your teeth immediately before bed.
We just talked about reducing light exposure because bright light triggers alertness. You don’t want to stand in a massively lit bathroom, looking into the mirror brushing your teeth, just before going to bed. No way no.
6. Pay attention to your bedroom temperature.
That mild drop in body temperature induces sleep. If your bedroom is cool, it will be much easier to get your shuteye. While a typical suggested temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep, you should still set it at a comfortable level, whatever that means to you.
7. The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
When you are tucked in bed, you may want to try this simple breathing exercise by Dr. Andrew Weil to wind down your mind and prepare for sleep.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle for a total of four breaths.
Watch a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating it here.
8. Use an aromatherapy fragrances.
Lavender has calming effects and it helps at bedtime. This is not an old wives tale but studies conducted had found that the scent of lavender serves as a mild sedative and promotes deep sleep. One recommendation is the Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy Sleep Pillow Mist, which is infused with lavender essential oil and vanilla absolute. Simply spritz it on your linen and pillows (I spray it on my pajamas) and let it dry out before heading to bed.
9. Seek out sunlight when you wake.
Light exposure in the morning is very good at setting the biological clock to the light-dark cycle. Take a quick 15 minutes walk first thing you wake up and let the light trigger your alertness and fully awaken you. If hitting the snooze button is your style, try forcing yourself to take a walk around the block just that one time. Then you will see that.
10. Be consistent.
As tempting as it is to sleep in over the weekend, try as much as possible to stick to a regular sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day. Having a regular sleeping habit is more important than the hours you sleep.