Lessons learned from a former insomniac
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep”
Matthew Walker, PhD
I love to sleep. In fact, whenever I plan a trip, I make sure there will be ample opportunity to get a good night’s sleep! When planning travel (pre-pandemic), I would read all the reviews to make sure my room was not near a bar or a noisy street. I wasn’t always this persnickety, but after suffering the debilitating effects of insomnia for many years, sleep has become a priority.
Most people go through a phase in life where they sleep poorly. Life circumstance, like the birth of child, a move, or caring for a sick family member, may force you to give up sleep to tend to your immediate responsibilities. In these cases, there is usually hope that sleep deprivation will end, eventually.
Other reasons you may lose sleep are health related — dysfunctional breathing patterns, obstructive sleep apnea, pain or disease, to list a few. In these cases, you may need therapy, medical intervention or medication to help you sleep.
In most cases, we don’t prepare well for sleep or value it enough to ensure we get the amount we need. If you don’t think sleep directly impacts your health, think again!
It may be the single best thing you do to nurture your wellbeing.
Below are 10 suggestions to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep:
- Give yourself ample sleep time. If you want 8 hours, go to bed 45 minutes ahead of time, so you time to actually fall asleep.
- Limit electronics for at least an hour before bed. Blue light affects your circadian rhythm, stimulating centers in the brain into thinking it is daytime.
- Remove nightlights and other electronics from room. If must have, then keep cellphone or Ipad/tablet at least 10 feet from bed to help reduce electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions.
- Open window (if not too noisy outside). Some researchers feel that the perfect temperature for sleeping is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, though most prefer it cooler. I crack a window even during winter for the fresh air.
- Darken room if ambient light is an issue, i.e. street lights, full moon. You can purchase some dark shades or curtains. Having a dark room is necessary to optimize melatonin output. I use a face mask during travel.
- Go to bed and awaken at the same time each day, even on weekends (if you can wake up naturally). This helps to reinforce the sleep-wake cycle.
- Have a bedtime routine that involves a relaxing activity that signals to your body that you are getting ready for sleep: shower, bath, reading a book, listening to relaxing music….
- Do not consume caffeinated, i.e. coffee, tea, ice tea, beverages in the evening. Best to reduce caffeine altogether, but definitely avoid after 2 to 3 pm in the afternoon.Herbal teas such as Chamomile and other sleep-promoting teas are okay in the evening.
- If at all possible, do not engage in work that is mentally taxing after 8 pm. This will allow for a more peaceful transition to bedtime.
- No strenuous exercise, i.e. cardio, weights, power yoga in the evening after dinner.
If you cannot fall asleep, then get up and do something else such as meditating and/or deep breathing exercises. Mentally recite a prayer or mantra if worried about something and your mind cannot relax. Keep a notepad next to your bed to write down thoughts about things you may need to do the next day. This allows you to release it from your mind without worrying that you will forget it tomorrow.
Keep in mind that the stressors of the day can often seem amplified at night while we are lying in the dark perseverating on the day’s events. Let them go — nothing will be resolved during night and will only make tomorrow more difficult for the lack of sleep. Things often seem clearer and less stressful in the morning after a good night’s sleep anyway.
Rest and Recovery:
It is important to take time to play and do the things in life that bring us joy. This is one of the best and most rewarding ways of reducing stress. Some things may take ten minutes like walking the dog or some things may take all day like going for a hike. Some of these experiences may occur over a weekend or require a week-long vacation. Choose to incorporate these joyful experiences throughout the day, week, month and year.
Having something to look forward to, relieves the stress of the daily grind that can be so much a part of our lives.
We all must balance work with recovery. Taking the opportunity to get adequate sleep is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Spending time outdoors in nature is a great way to recharge our batteries. Seek it out and do it often.
Whenever possible, get some sun on your body to increase vitamin D production and improve mood (15–20 minutes in the morning or afternoon sun without sunscreen is preferred). Sunscreen blocks the UVB rays so that your skin does not burn but UVB rays are also needed to produce vitamin D. Choose a time in the day where you can enjoy pure sunlight without the risk of sunburn.
An afternoon nap or resting quietly is certainly acceptable if possible. I’ve never been a nap taker, but find that relaxing with a book, doing a gentle yoga practice, meditating or walking without a goal, beneficial. Sometimes just sitting quietly away from the TV or computer is enough to relieve stress.
See what works for you. But by all means, get a good night’s sleep!
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