How to go to sleep
Every baby is born knowing how to go to sleep, and they do so effortlessly, whenever they want to (emphasis on whenever they want to).
And then … then it can get more complicated.
This week, for me, sleeping was complicated. I was eventually successful at getting my sleep back on track, and I thought I’d write about what I did, since I imagine that at any given time, there must be thousands if not millions of people having exactly the same problem.
First I’ve noted the things I do to sleep well on a regular basis, and then the additional measures I took when my sleeping pattern started to go off the rails. (Where I’ve written about a topic before, such as how to meditate, I’ve linked to it.)
Here’s what I do on a regular basis …
- I keep my life pretty unplugged–no TV or smartphone, but I do have a laptop. I’ve read recommendations to avoid screen usage starting two hours before bedtime, and so I try to avoid going online as bedtime approaches. This way, not only do I not encounter the artificial light that’s known to interfere with sleep, but also all the mental clutter I could encounter by reading my e-mail, a news site, a combative forum, etc. If you do go online as bedtime approaches, I recommend keeping it positive. If you have anyone in your life who’s apt to drop bombshells via e-mail, maybe it’s best not to go there.
- I’ve always been a light sleeper, but (spoiler alert!) as I’ve gotten older, hormonal changes associated with perimenopause appeared to significantly accentuate this tendency. As a result, I take two things at bedtime. One, a low-dose progesterone replacement, and two, a tryptophan supplement. On a normal night I take just one of the three tryptophan caplets, and I get a noticeable benefit. If I know I’m wired or if I’m falling asleep slowly, I’ll take another.
- As I mentioned, I do have a bedtime–you’re never too old for bedtime! It has some flexibility to it, but I know about what time I need to get the household ready for bed, and I know there will be negative consequences for me in terms of sleep debt if I don’t track to it.
- If you have a job that exercises only your brain, as I do, getting some physical exercise is a great idea. Being tired in all senses helps me be ready to sleep. I love to take walks by a nearby river, and I’m equipped to do so in various types of weather. Gardening and dancing are great exercise too. I like exercise to be pleasant and fun. I’m sure there are people who love the gym … sadly I’m not one of them.
- I limit caffeine to 1-3 cups of green tea a day, and usually a max of one coffee drink (such as a Starbucks tall, which for anyone lucky enough to be outside Starbucks’ orbit, is their little way of saying small). If I’m tired and really need to crank it out, once in a blue moon I’ll have two cups of coffee. I enjoy it, and typically have it in the morning on a workday. I’ll usually have decaffeinated coffee with dessert at a restaurant–for some reason, I feel that dessert calls for coffee. I try never to have caffeine after 6 pm, and often avoid coffee on the weekends. I stopped drinking soft drinks a few years ago after eliminating my beloved Dr Pepper during a 21-day cleanse. After 21 days without it, it no longer tasted the same and it became clear I could live without it, so I have.
- My bedroom is my bedroom–not a gym or an office. I don’t own any exercise equipment, and have my office in a separate room. If you’re short on real estate, I’d recommend compromising your dining room or living room rather than your bedroom. Far better to have the Nordic Track next to the sofa, and sleep like a baby. My bedroom is the preserve of peaceful, pleasant, low-tech activities.
- I have no clock in my bedroom. I do need an alarm; my clock is a battery-operated Zen alarm, and I keep it in the hallway outside the bedroom. Typically one of my dogs gets up and alerts me even before I can hear it myself (she’s responding to the sound it makes before it starts to chime).
- I have no phone in my bedroom. Not only do I not want it ringing in my ear and waking me unpleasantly, but I’ve learned when my phone line has been dead how much more peaceful I feel without a live phone line right next to me.
- Every night, typically right before bed, I meditate for at least 15-20 minutes. This usually helps me wind down and puts me in the proper frame of mind for sleep. It’s also a good idea to set the intention at this time that your own energy be optimized for sleep.
- It’s a great idea to keep the bedroom clean. I’m not talking about a sterile environment perfect for watchmaking, but getting the dust bunnies out from under the bed on a regular basis can only help create a fresher environment that’s more conducive to sleep. If your bedroom’s gotten a bit dusty while you were busy doing other things (and whose hasn’t), there’s no better use of your time than to take a few minutes to get it in better shape. I promise you’ll be delighted with the fresh energy you create.
- I prefer to garden outside, but I do keep a few houseplants in my bedroom to help purify the air. I originally put them there on the recommendation of a feng shui consultant. I think she had a specific reason for wanting me to have them there that year, but they remain and still serve a useful purpose.
- I make sure the dogs go outside immediately before bedtime. A couple of them (I have three) aren’t so fond of the backyard late at night, and no doubt they have their reasons. If they’re reluctant to go out, I take them in the front yard instead.
- At bedtime, I spray the linens with diluted French lavender essential oil. I use Aveda Pure-fume Spirit Spray, which I have custom made this way at any of their stores. I get one free on my birthday, and so can you. I’ve noticed that the lavender aromatherapy makes a real qualitative difference in the depth of my sleep.
- My front porch light shines through some of my bedroom windows, so I turn it off before bed. I keep the back porch light on, a night light (with an LED bulb) in the kitchen only, and keep a lamp with a dimmer switch in my office on very low (this allows me to see the keypad for the security system). Otherwise, the house is dark.
- Good pillows are worth whatever you pay for them. I’m allergic to feathers, so I’m partial to a not-too-thick, medium-firm pillow with an organic cotton or wool filling. Good sheets are worthwhile, too. I like linen, or in the winter, cozy organic cotton jersey.
- I lower the thermostat a degree or two at bedtime for optimal comfort. When the weather’s perfect, perhaps a little cooler outside than inside, I open a bedroom window for a few hours before bedtime in order to get the freshest possible air. (If you have the thermostat set at a temperature that’s non-optimal for your sleep because you or someone in your household likes to save a buck … if you’re in no danger of having your utilities disconnected, I believe there are better ways to squeeze a dime.)
This week, I took the following extra measures:
- It’s a great idea to be aware of your city’s quiet hours, and make sure others are following them when you need to be sleeping. You shouldn’t have to listen to nail guns at 6 am, or a dog barking all night long. Sometimes not everyone is aware of the law, so I like to let people (neighbors, contractors, etc.) know about the law and ask for their cooperation before I ask for it to be enforced. Very often, that’s all that’s needed. In my case, I made calls and sent e-mails about 24/7 construction noise. Technically I learned that round-the-clock construction is allowed at a distance of more than 300 feet, but I was able to achieve a considerable reduction in noise.
- I bought malleable silicone earplugs. They don’t block all sound, but they do block a lot of unpleasant noise. I was concerned about getting earplugs that block everything since hearing does provide important safety cues, allows my dogs to communicate with me, allows me to hear my alarm, etc. All that is good.
- I changed the sheets. Nothing says “Let’s go to sleep” like freshly unfurled sheets and pillowcases from the linen press. If you anticipate any challenge in going to sleep, making your bed completely fresh is incredibly inviting.
- I’m encouraging my dogs to be more considerate. No barking in the middle of the night when they go outside, and they get one chance to decide to join the party–no serial trips outside.
- Taking a lovely hot bath with Epsom salts is extremely helpful, especially if the cause of your insomnia is a magnesium deficiency.
- The first four nights this week that I had difficulty sleeping, I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after getting up to let the dogs out. The fifth night, I never went to sleep at all. At 2 am, I got up to meditate (again). I knew exactly what was bothering me, and also that it was my “resistance to what is” that was keeping me awake. I decided it had to stop. I got out my journal, and wrote down everything I want in this (work-related) situation, none of which I’m getting. I then wrote down that I know I’m not going to get what I want from the other person involved, either now or later–and I accept that. I’m not changing what I want, need, and expect, but I am changing my resistance to the reality of what I’m getting. I’m also putting my intention out there for a match between what I want, need, and expect and what I get in the future. With that, I suddenly became very sleepy, and was able to go back to bed and sleep peacefully the rest of the night. So, while completely acknowledging how difficult this step can be, I recommend releasing your resistance to what’s bugging you. Like resentment, resistance only harms you. Jesus said, “… Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39). He didn’t mean, of course, that evil is all right, simply that resistance is not an effective strategy.
- If your sleep is off track, don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Your sleep directly, and by that I mean directly, facilitates your sanity–which is more than just a nice-to-have. You ignore sleep deprivation at your peril. This week I took a day off work to ensure I got myself back on track–and that my sleep deprivation had no unintended consequences. Some years ago I had a crisis during which I was sleeping two hours every other night. That, my friends, is not enough. I got myself to a doctor, got a prescription, and took it. (Actually, on reflection, I told my sister what I needed and she made the appointment and drove me to it. Driving when seriously sleep deprived: Seriously not a good idea. I still owe her for her help at that time. Which brings up another point: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.) Some months later, I began weaning myself off it, cutting the pills into the smallest pieces I could without their turning to dust. I believe it was just about a year later when I was completely off it. I’ve had people who weren’t sleeping tell me they don’t want to be dependent on a sleep aid, and that is very admirable. I would love to see more of that attitude, in general. But dependence on a legal prescription is far from the worst possible thing that could happen as a result of sleep deprivation, and it need not be permanent. In my experience, I’m able to take prescription medication one night to sleep, when I need it, and I may be able to sleep well without it the next. So it’s important to realize that a sleep aid can be used occasionally. However, if you’ve tried everything else and decide you need a prescription, please be sure to research any prescribed drug you plan to take carefully. Some sleeping pills are known to have serious side effects.
On a lighter note, illustrating this post is the SoulCollage card I made today, Sweet Dreams. My sincere wish for you is sweet dreams and sound sleep–tonight and every night!