Many of us cannot afford to spend all night tossing and turning; the world awaits us in the morning and expects us to be alert and enthusiastic. No matter how hard we try however, there are some nights where sleep seems impossible. Don’t lose hope; follow these simple steps and sleep will never elude you again.
Getting to bed at the same time every day will help set your body’s internal clock. Choose a time you normally feel tired so you are not wasting precious time tossing and turning, and slowly drift off. As your body should naturally wake itself once it has received enough sleep, you should be arising at the same time every morning. Alternatively, an alarm clock is as effective. Although consistency may be a challenge for those on erratic schedules, consistency is relative and can be adapted to those who sleep in the day. Taking naps or shorter sleep periods to “catch up” when night shifts move back to day shifts.
Avoid Bright Lights
And yes that does mean phones and computer screens. The screens on our electronic devices produce blue light, which has been linked to insomnia. “There are about 30,000 cells inside your eye that are reactive to the wavelength of light which would be considered blue,” explains clinical psychologist and sleep therapist, Dr. Michael J. Breus. “Blue runs in about the 460 nanometer range, in terms of the spectrum of light. That particular spectrum of light hits these cells and makes them send a signal to an area of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus and tells it to turn off melatonin production. Melatonin is the key that starts the engine for sleep.
Come To the Dark Side
When ready for bed, make sure your room is pitch black. The passing car lights and pesky street lamps that bleed light into your room do more damage to your sleep cycle than you first imagine. These lights stimulate your brain and reduce the body’s production of melatonin. Install heavy curtains to block light from windows or simply cover your eyes with a mask. (Amazon has one for every taste, here ) Moreover, some find it effective to put black electrician tape over electronics that emit bright lights such as a digital clock. Blocking out the time is a small inconvenience for a restful sleep as long as you have an alarm set for wake up time.
Relax Your Mind, Relax Your Body
Many people swear by meditation as an effective means to achieve rest. “When you hit the sack, try this progressive relaxation technique, says Catherine Darley, ND, director of the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine in Seattle. Curl your toes tightly for a count of seven, and then relax. Repeat through each muscle group, working up from your toes to your neck.” Deep breathing exercises can have the same effect. Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Alternatively, close your eyes and imagine a place that’s calming and peaceful. Concentrate on how relaxed this place makes you feel. YouTube is a treasure trove of meditation videos including nature sounds with piano or guitar, chanting or binaural beats some lasting as long as 12 hours. Here is one from “The Honest Guys”. Ideally you could let them run while charging your phone or tablet provided it is at a distance from where you sleep.
If none of these methods work for you, put the kettle on for some calming chamomile tea, grab a book or magazine or read up on the history and latest discoveries. Because sleep is a delicate thing, and requires as much attention as we give to staying awake. Certainly one of these techniques will be best for you.
Gerry, Your Sleep Expert