Saturday, June 05, 2010

how to sleep

Recently, I completed a 21 day wellness challenge at the rec centre where I work. Participants committed to doing one healthy thing for 21 days, and recorded their progress on a big wall chart. I chose sleeping. I am good at sleeping, but I suspected that I might be healthier if I slept a little longer each night. My specific commitment was to get 7 hours sleep each night. I was successful on all but two nights of the 21. The most difficult part for me was getting to bed early enough and/or staying in bed long enough in the morning to achieve a 7 hour total. I generally get good sleeps, but I'm prone to wanting to be up and awake and doing things, rather than spending time in bed. I guess that means I also have good energy.

In response to a request from my friend Muhd in Singapore, here are some tips for successful sleeping:

1. Go to bed
If you are tired, get into your bed. Don't sleep on the couch or in your chair. Don't sleep in the car (especially if you are driving). If you find yourself falling asleep during the day, that means you are not sleeping enough or well enough at night. But zonking out in place, mid-activity is not satisfying or refreshing. Take a nap in your bed if you need a nap. Thirty to sixty minutes of napping can be the refreshing rest you need. Nobody wrote a rule that you have to get all of your sleep in the night time. Try napping, and nap properly (undressed, in bed). If you need to be up and doing something at a certain time, use your alarm clock.

2. Wake Up
Be active during waking time. Go get busy. Get tired. Exercise your body, mind and spirit with your daily activities and interactions. Make something to dream about. Empty your tank. This will help you be ready for sleep at night.

3. Deal with It
If something is bothering you, do something about it before you climb into bed. Don't save up a big stressball all day, then gnaw on it once your head hits the pillow. Worrying and sleeping and mutually exclusive. You might not be able to solve every problem before bedtime, but you need to consciously put them aside. Write down a list of things to deal with tomorrow, and leave them in another room. If they start to nibble at your consciousness, speak sharply to them (out loud if necessary), "Go away troubling thought! I will think about you tomorrow."

4. Deal with the Body
Pain, hunger, a tickle in your throat, itchy elbows - whatever it is about your body that needs tending, tend it before you retire. It's not a good idea to go to bed 15 minutes after eating a big feast, but it's also not good to go to bed hungry or thirsty. Have a small snack an hour or so before bedtime. Get your pillows right. Take an antihistamine. Do some stretches. Don't drink coffee or alcohol too close to bedtime, either. But you know that one already.

5. Transition
Think about what you do leading up to sleep. The more routine and calming, the better.
Bad pre-sleep activities: flamenco dancing, sword fighting, dog grooming, writing a letter to the editor
Good pre-sleep activities: reading, doing just one simple task like putting the recycling into the recycling box, checking in with the people who are still awake in the house and saying good night

6. Get a Mantra
The typical one is "counting sheep." You could do that, or choose something more original. Just pick something about the length of O Canada or the Lord's Prayer (that's mine). It should be simple, familiar and contain no emotionally charged content. When you are moving towards sleep, say it to yourself. If you wake up during the night, say it to yourself. You'll condition yourself to associate your mantra with falling asleep and you'll be able to use it as a shortcut to slumber.

7. Visualize
I picture myself at the edge of a deep, dark lake. The water in the lake is sleep. The water is warm and calm and safe. It will support me until morning. I picture myself diving into the lake - Goodbye wakeful day. Hello sleep. I feel my fingers, hands, arms, head, body, legs, toes enter the water and I'm gone. If I wake during the night, I visualise myself bobbing to the surface for a single breath, then I surface dive down, back into deep sleep. If you don't like water, your visualization might involve warm sand, or a cloud or a forest - it's up to you.

8. Be Well
You will sleep best when you are well. Do all you can to be well.

9. Tell Yourself the Good Story about Sleep
If you are experiencing wakefulness, do not conclude that you are a bad sleeper. This could become a self-fulfilling prophesy, even if you are quite sure that you are a bad sleeper. What would you rather be: right? or rested? Tell yourself that you had a short sleep last night, but don't put pressure on yourself by following up with, "so I have to get a good sleep tonight." Every night is an opportunity, not an imperative. Maybe you'll sleep better tonight. That would be great.

10. Make Sleep Delicious
Love your sleeping place. Choose colours, textures, images, scents to make your bedroom a great place to fall asleep and a lovely place to wake up. Isn't it awesome to sleep on the beach in the summer and wake up to the sound of the water and the sight of the sky warming up in the morning light? Have a book, a glass of water, some music, whatever you need to feel comfortable, even pampered, close by. Sleep should be one of your favourite activities. It is really delicious.

question: how do you help yourself sleep?

mompoet - PhD in Z

1 comment:

Pearl said...

those are solid ideas.

if I've done everything right and nada, at some point I throw in the towel when sleep isn't coming. get out of bed and do quiet things or a burst of busy activity even if it is an unpractical hour and you've pay for the shorter sleep. body will bring its drowsiness when ready.