“What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic?”
“You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.” – Unknown
Bedtime should be the most rewarding time of the day. You have, after all, earned it. You did what you had to do, got it done, brought home the bacon, gave it your all, and took on the world. You’ve been looking forward to this moment since about 2 PM. You hop into bed with the best of intentions, turn out the light, roll over and…. nothing. Thus starts the biggest letdown of a long day….
Why do so many of us struggle to fall asleep at night? Why does our brain suddenly choose that time to kick into high gear, ask those stupid questions, and rerun the highlight/lowlight reel of our life? It is estimated that the average time it “should” take to fall asleep to be approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Like a lot of things in life, how you prepare for and process that 15 minutes is the difference that makes the difference. This moment, which many of us unwittingly sabotage, may just be the most important 15 minutes of your day.
Most people go about their day on automatic pilot, mindlessly following a series of rituals that the world has given us. These rituals become habits and create the ebb and flow of our daily existence. We have a different set of rituals for Monday through Friday, for example, than we do for Saturday and Sunday. It’s no coincidence that most of us sleep better on the weekend. The reality is that the outside world and the calendar control our ability to fall asleep. In order to increase our sleep time, it makes sense to improve on the amount of time we spend trying to fall asleep. The best way to do this is to make some lifestyle adjustments that maximize our daily rituals in a way that is conducive to falling asleep more easily.
Let’s step into the Way Back Machine for a while. Remember the bedtime rituals that you had as a child? You probably didn’t spend a lot of time tossing and turning and trying to sleep. You probably had a set routine that was imposed upon you by your parents or the authority figures in your life. I can remember my mother getting four of us to sleep each evening through the use of preset rituals that my brothers and sister were quite familiar with. I put on my jammies, washed my hands, brushed my teeth, and got into bed for a brief period of reading while Ma attended to my siblings. When she completed that cycle, she returned for bedtime prayers, a tuck in, kiss on the forehead, and lights out. Bingo, eight hours or more of sleep like magic! Why can’t bedtime be that simple for us adults?
Well, maybe it can be that simple. Research shows that there are a lot of ways that adults can wind down in order to maximize our ability to sleep. Here are some research-based suggestions that just might help get you sawing wood like a kid again:
⦁ Have a daily exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be intense or over the top, but it can be if that’s your preference. Light exercise works just as well as an aid to sleep. Research shows that if you don’t move enough during the day, then your body is restless when you go to bed. Falling asleep is the ultimate mind-body experience. You have to relax at least one of those components in order of having a chance at getting a good night’s sleep. Find ways to move during the day so that you expend the necessary energy to assisting your sleep ritual. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/bend-stretch-reach-sky/ )
⦁ Have an evening routine that is consistent, predictable, and aware of the hazards of modern technology. Avoiding the blue light from your computer, iPad, or cell phone is a simple, yet often overlooked, solution. Research indicates that there is something different about that type of lighting, making dozing off difficult. If you enjoy reading in bed, go retro. Old school, hardcopy books are best. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-unplugged-age-distraction/ )
⦁ Shut off anything that could ring or buzz that could wake you. Yeah, I know how you feel about the phone. Do the best you can with that one.
⦁ Be aware of what you consume in the evening. A meal that is too big, that 5 PM medium dark roast coffee, or cup of frozen yogurt could be the culprit. These can kick your body into overdrive when you are trying to wind down.
⦁ Minimize the amount of lights on in your bedroom. If you are reading, it’s best to have a reading lamp that illuminates just enough for you to read, while keeping the rest of the room dark. The contrast makes it easier for you to dose when the reading lamp is turned off.
⦁ Be aware of what you are thinking about before bedtime. This is not the time to worry about things that are not in your control, or to focus on anything other than winding down. Many people find it helpful to write down any pressing thoughts or feelings that could inadvertently become a call to action at 2 AM. There’s no need to think about it because, after all, it’s recorded in black and white right there in my notebook.
⦁ Develop an ability to quiet your mind. This is imminently useful throughout your day, but it becomes imperative during this period of winding down. Learning to keep that pesky rodent off the treadmill doesn’t have to be tedious or difficult. An ability to still the mind and improve focus benefits all hours of your day, but none benefit as much as those before bedtime. Learning to meditate is the best way to still the mind, preparing it for sleep. If you “can’t meditate,” refer to http://mindbodycoach.org/moving-meditation/
⦁ Be aware of the mind-body connection that comes into play when falling asleep. You must relax at least one of these two components. If you can relax your mind, your body will relax as well and vice versa. Ideally, you will eventually learn to be able to relax both. Performing a body scan, where you consciously relax parts of your body one at a time, is a great mind-body meditative practice that can allow you to drift off easily.
Making these changes to your lifestyle will dramatically improve both your ability to fall asleep, as well as the quality of your sleep. It won’t happen right away, it’s likely to be a process rather than an event. Use these ideas to adjust your evening ritual, keeping in mind that what you do during your day is a part of this process. And, Relax! It’s counterproductive to lie down and worry about the fact that you are worrying about sleeping. No moment of your life benefits more immediately from positive thinking than bedtime.
Learn to enjoy your bedtime ritual, after all, you’ve been looking forward to this moment all day.
“Good night, sleep tight
Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
And if they do,take your shoe
And squash them, till they’re black and blue.” – Nursery Rhyme, Author Unknown
P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.