The amount of sleep we get, much like the number of hours we work, is a point of pride for some. Unlike the number of hours we work, the propensity to brag about our sleep habits tends to increase as the number of hours we sleep decreases. The same stigma that depicts busyness as admirable has brainwashed us into believing that sleeping is a sign of weakness. The reason: actions that are generally applauded by society like closing sales, going to bars, working out, and developing relationships cannot occur while we are asleep. Because sleeping takes us away from these worthy activities, sleeping is thereby unworthy.
While that argument is valid in construct, it’s fucking stupid in application. Sleeping, of course, can enhance those other activities – it allows us to participate in them with greater vigor and effectiveness. While surely we can invest more time in those activities if we forego sleep, we’re more successful in them if we get sufficient sleep.
Sleep needs are individual-specific. What works for most people or what has become accepted as a social norm may not work for you. In this article, I’m going to share simple strategies that will improve your sleep quality, and in turn, the quality of whatever activities you engage in during your waking hours.
Natural approaches to consistently getting great sleep
Individuals who are able to fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly through the night take this effortless peaceful rest for granted. Those who struggle to fall asleep and/or stay asleep have undoubtedly tried countless methods without any luck. Right? You’d have to be insane to continue with the same approach night after night only to consistently fail. What’s that, you haven’t tried anything different? What’s that, you like to bitch and moan and wine and cry and complain but don’t like to try anything different to improve your life? You sound like people.
Well if you’re ready to stop acting like people, I’ve got a few recommendations that might help with your sleeping woes (listed in the order in which they should be applied):
- Drink herbal tea an hour before going to bed
Herbal tea has several qualities that make it agreeable with a good night’s rest: its caffeine/sugar free, it’s warm, and many of the herb and flower melodies found in it are natural muscle relaxers (my preference is chamomile – that shit is therapeutic as fuck). Herbal tea is like peace in a mug.
- Spend the last 15-30 minutes of your waking minutes reading
Reading is a pastime of yesteryear – I guess it’s what folks did because they didn’t have smartphones, tablets, or A.D.D. I specifically recommend turning to fiction just before bedtime. Fiction allows the mind to peacefully escape from reality while the body readies itself for slumber. If reading fiction isn’t your thing (let me guess, puppies aren’t your thing either), nonfiction is an acceptable alternative as long as it doesn’t require critical thinking nor is of the self-help variety.
- Before “trying” to fall asleep for the night, prime yourself for sleep
It sounds silly, but there is a certain amount of pressure associated with going to bed each night. This pressure is created by yourself because you’re aware of the consequences that follow a poor night’s sleep. I find that this pressure doesn’t start to manifest itself until I lie down in bed and turn the lights off. So, in the minutes preceding, I do what I refer to as “sleep priming”.
For me, sleep priming simply means lying in bed (sometimes I even do this on the couch), stroking Onyx (get your mind out of the gutter, he’s my cat), and gently trying to turn down the noise in my mind. The goal is to make myself as sleepy as possible before attempting the real thing. I even keep the lights on to as a way to further minimize any expectations.
For priming to have its full affect, you need to be prepared to fall asleep for the night. For me this means that my teeth are brushed, I’m wearing my preferred sleeping attire (you know what that means, ladies), my alarm is set, and my phone is set to “do not disturb”.
- Use ear plugs and an eye mask
The obvious benefit of these tools is that they eliminate external noise and light. The not so obvious, but more significant benefit (to me) is that by putting these accessories on, your body subconsciously knows that it’s time to shut down. The plugs and mask act as tangible triggers that signal to your body that it’s time for rest.
Design a sleep-conducive lifestyle
The previous section included strategies for sleep-hacking, if you will. While the benefits behind these hacks are legitimate, they are still just hacks. To get to the root of what’s impairing your sleep quality, you need to evaluate whether your waking-hour lifestyle is preparing you to find rest each night.
What you put into your body has a significant effect on how your body performs. While we typically associated body performance with being physically active, being able to fall asleep and stay asleep is very much a part of your body’s total performance criteria. We can’t expect our body to rest well if we didn’t provide it with the proper resources. The nutrition program I detailed in the last post coincidentally (yeah right – what is this, The Coincidental Lifestyle blog?) promotes restful sleep as it avoids or limits sugars and alcohol – two of the leading anti-sleep agents.
Our bodies want physical activity. If we don’t allow it to have activity during the day, it will crave it at night. Exercise sure is neat – it has the ability be an energy source and an energy drain. It reminds me of a thermos – thermoses know when to keep coffee hot and when to keep my beer cold. You heard it heard it here first: exercise is like a thermos. Spread the word.
When we’re not able to fall asleep, it’s often due to not being able to quiet the noise in our brain. Just as our head hits the pillow, our thoughts start going a mile a minute. I’m a firm believer that our thoughts are an extension of our external reality. So, if the space in which you sleep is a mess, your thoughts are going to be a mess. If you want a consistently quiet mind at night, start by decluttering your bedroom.
There is both a mental and physical aspect to technology that makes it a combatant of sleep. Let’s visit the physical side first. The light omitted by phone, tablet, and computer screens is known as blue light. It’s called blue light because of where it falls in the light color spectrum. If other words, it’s called blue light because it’s blue. But we don’t care about that. What we care about is the fact that the natural blue light that comes from the sun regulates our circadian rhythm. So, being exposed to unnatural blue light after the sun has set, severely fucks with our circadian rhythm. To summarize, if you spend too much time staring at screens at night, you won’t be able to make sleepy time.
Switching gears to the mental side of technology. These gadgets provide us with access to limitless information. If we bring them into the bedroom with us, we’re taking all that information into the bedroom with us as well. While the access it provides is empowering during our waking hours, it’s distracting during our resting hours. Eliminating the use of these devices while in bed will allow the mind to temporarily forget about the busyness of the outside world and instead focus on the task at hand – falling asleep.
Make sleeping easy again
You know who’s really good at sleeping? Babies. You know why? Because babies don’t know how to think. While sleeping hasn’t fundamentally changed as we’ve gotten older, none of us are as proficient at sleeping as we were when we were brain-dead piles of flesh. To make sleeping easy again, we need to train our brain to switch between its awakened (woke, for the youths) state defined by high-intensity critical and creative thought processes, and its resting state defined by a vast abyss of nothingness. The strategies discussed lend themselves well to returning our minds this state of simplicity.