I was recently explaining to my brother about why I needed to throw a plastic owl out of my bedroom. “It’s this big ceramic owl whose eyes are perfectly round and wide-awake looking and when I’m trying to sleep, I don’t want this insomniac looking owl staring at me. I feel like it’s keeping me awake just by being in the room.” He shook his head and replied: “It’s amazing to me that someone who lived in New York City can be so affected by a fake owl in their bedroom.” Fair. At one point I lived on 57th and 7th, down the street from a Sheraton who’s doorman blew his cab whistle all through the night. The noise then was normal to me. Then I moved here.
The owl in question. Can you blame me?
My personality can teeter on the anxious side but I keep it so hidden that I almost don’t notice it myself. My mind can be going all day long and my heart can hurt a little bit when I become stressed (true story). Since noticing this about myself I have learned several techniques to manage my stress levels. From meditating to The Morning Pages to not listening to the radio while I drive and other bizarre-to-you, necessary-to-me things. Because as it turns out stress has a HUGE effect on how well I sleep and if it affects me I am certain that it affects some of you as well. Here are some other things that play a key role in keeping me awake at night:
1 – Copious amounts of screen time before bed. TV’s Computers, Phones, tablets, LOUD MOVIES (this is a biggie), Marathons of the Real Housewives of Orange County etc. This habit can easily lead to….
2 – Sporadic bed times: Going to bed at 10:30, then 1am, the 1:30 am then 2am, etc. When you stay up late the next morning you need…
3 – An abundance of caffeine: coffee anyone? 1 cup? How about three giant cups each morning?
And the cycle continues.
I am not alone here. I often see on Facebook the tales of people and their insomnia. “I can’t sleep!” they proclaim to the ether with the 3:30 am time-stamp marking their announcement. And I truly feel for these people. Not getting enough sleep and not being able to sleep is stressful in itself. You become drained and lethargic. Your days drag on with you at 56% on your game with dreams of finding your bed. You come home, nap….and then at 10:30 pm you can’t sleep. Then midnight rolls around, 1am…you get the idea. It’s a cycle.
We are taught to sleep by our parents. And for you parents out there I am sure you spent some time training your children to sleep the same way our parents or guardians taught us to sleep when we were babies. So if there are books and articles and endless internet info that show us how to train infants – why shouldn’t we be able to retrain ourselves to fall asleep? If we are really honest with ourselves we haven’t been giving our sleep the true attention it needs. Our habits are most likely the biggest reason a majority can not sleep well at night.
So last month as I began to fall into a pattern of staying up late, distracting myself from going to bed, waking up groggy, unhappy and stressed I thought to myself, “This sucks. It’s not working. And I know better.”
So here are my top 5, Sleep Better Now tips that can help you out of your predicament. Prop up your droopy eyelids and read the next few paragraphs to find your next full night of Zzzz’s.
1.Turn off your devices an hour before you go to bed.
I have the most to say about this tip because I feel it is the MOST important of all. You must turn off your devices. ALL of them. TV’s, iPad, Smartphones, Nooks, Computers, etc.
Our beloved gadgets that light up so conveniently are one of the biggest detractors of our sleep. These gadgets emit a blue light which replicates morning light ie sunrise, daytime, etc. And guess what blue light does? It signals our brain that, hey! It’s morning! Time to wake up! Our brain doesn’t decipher between the morning rays of the sun and the bluish glow of a screen so it responds in the way its supposed to – keeping us awake to face “the day”. When your brain receives this signal at 11pm, it can and will keep you awake for longer than necessary.
Not only does the light keep us awake, but the shows we watch before bed can do the same. Hitting the sack immediately after watching the news or any other show that gets your heartbeat racing and blood pressure high will also mess with your sleep, sending out stress hormones that will keep you awake. Need to use your phone as your alarm clock? Go to the dollar store today and buy yourself an actual alarm clock. Keeping the phone by our bed tempts us to reach for it in the middle of the night and check out the latest video on Vine or see if we got a response from that person yet (what’s taking them so long?!). As for “needing the TV on to fall asleep” – trust me, you don’t. Turn that thing off to fall asleep. Because i promise you it is not helping no matter how many arguments you have for its benefits. I’ve seen enough family members have an amazing nights sleep without a TV on after using a TV to fall asleep every night to know that is a futile crutch. Turn off the TV. I repeat – TURN OFF THE TV.
What do you do with all of that free time in between turning off the devices and going to bed? Maybe you will pick up a magazine or a book, maybe you will talk to your family members and maybe – just maybe you will start to get sleepy like you are supposed to, and fall asleep! But you won’t know what will happen until you try. So stop the grumbling and the “I need this or that by my side at all times” excuses and give your sleep a chance. Trust me. I want you to sleep better and this is one of the biggest things you can do improve your chances of doing just that.
2. Monitor your water intake after 7pm.
If you are a person who wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom – it’s time to adjust your water intake. This does not mean you lower it. It means that you practice drinking more during the day and less at night. Downing a big glass right before you fall asleep can trigger the bladder functions at inopportune hours, dragging you into the bathroom at 4am and back to bed where sleep evades you. Start drinking less water after 6pm and more during the day and your chances of waking up in the middle of the night by bathroom urges have decreased by just that much.
3. Keep a notebook by your bed to write out distracting thoughts.
It is not uncommon for worries about the next day to keep people awake at night. Or even worries about events that happened that same day. Having a notebook by your bed can be the best way to get those thoughts out of your head and on to paper where they no longer interfere with your sleep. Keeping a notebook and a pen next to your bed will allow you to reach for them after you crawl into bed and write – to do lists, thoughts about the next day, things that pissed you off and anything else that needs to be expressed. The act of pen to paper is a way of processing those events, getting them out of your head, even planning for the following day. When I free write I tend to come up with solutions on paper that I never would have thought of had I just been stewing about them. It frees up that part of the brain that was so busy thinking about them, allows time for processing and at the end helps you to achieve a greater sense of peace – which is what you are striving for right before you go to sleep.
4. Manage your bed time. I follow the Ayurvedic principles of Kapha, Pitta and Vata when I need to manage my sleep. Kapha time is from 6am – 10am and is the slower, sleepy time of day when we are just getting started. Pitta time is between 10 – 2pm, when the body gets going and is incidentally, the best time to eat lunch because the “digestive fires” are at work, allowing you to process your food most efficiently in the day. Then, 2 – 6pm is Vata time where you are most creative and alert (which explains why I always dream of painting in the middle of my work day). This cycle begins again at 6pm. So from 6pm-10pm is Kapha time round 2, the slower time of the evening where we are home, having dinner, winding down. To be in bed by 10pm is ideal because the slow, Kapha qualities of the time of day assist you in dozing off. Then from 10pm-2am, Pitta time rolls back around who’s fiery qualities can make it difficult to fall asleep. Have you ever woken up suddenly between 2am – 6am? This is the second round of Vata time, when your dreams are running amuck and you are most prone to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night. So if you want to get really serious about sleeping, remember these principles when you plan your bed-time. Working with the natural rhythms of the day can be HUGE when managing sleep.
5. Ease up on the caffeine, At the beginning of the year I began drinking coffee again. It was so cold outside and the drink so nice and warm and sweet that I happily fell in into the lovely habit. But I remember saying to my friend, “I’ve been drinking coffee since the beginning of the year and I feel like crap.” I didn’t stop drinking it but kept on because I felt like I could handle it. And I could. Until I couldn’t anymore. I felt anxious and stressed and was having trouble sleeping at night. I knew that my coffee habit was part of it. If you are an insomniac, nights of not sleeping can lead to mornings full of coffee to get you going – or so you think. Coffee doesn’t borrow a store of energy that you have. It creates an unsustainable energy that you do not actually have available to use. So when you crash from the coffee, you need more to keep going because underneath the buzz – you are still tired! Since I know coffee is a thing beloved by many, I will give this piece of advice. If you are having trouble sleeping, reduce your coffee intake by one cup this week. And stop drinking it after 3pm. See what happens. Your body is your science experiment and coffee is always a fun one to play with. It will be worth it if you can fall asleep that much easier after slowly reducing your caffeine intake. Oh and that’s not just coffee: It’s soda, energy drinks, caffeinated teas. Keep that in mind. And keep your intake of all of them low to zero!
So what does your night look like after implementing all of these habits? You reconsider that cup of coffee at 4pm. You conscientiously stop your water intake after 6pm. You intentionally turn off your devices by 9pm. Maybe you read a magazine, talk to your roommates, family members, start getting ready for bed, read a book, etc. You crawl into bed between 10:00 – 11pm and if you still feel distracted and restless you reach for your notebook and write down the things that are keeping you awake. Ta da! You have a new sleep routine ready to implement.
I can not stress the importance of sleep on your mind and body. Your body is the container that you experience life through and giving it the rest it needs is crucial. Make time for your sleep. It rejuvenates our body for the next day, improves our memory, keeps our heart rate down, allows us to perform better at work, school or sports, everything. When you get a good night’s sleep your body is ready for the paces you put it through during the day. I know from first hand experience what its like to fight going to bed earlier, fight turning off the computer earlier, etc. But every time I practice these habits I realize that they work! And I also know that I don’t do these perfectly all of the time. I really don’t. I stay up late watching documentaries about food, scroll through Pinterest pinning sequined purses, the whole deal. But the difference is that now that I know exactly what I am doing, what the result will be and what I can do to correct myself and put myself back on track. I recognize the bad habits, become aware of the patterns and know that I can have a hand in changing them.
I see people suffering from sleepless nights and lamenting their ability to sleep well and want them to find the rest they need. Try these methods out and even store them away for future use, share with your friends or family who need it. More than anything I hope at least one of these tips will help you start getting the sleep you need to wake up tomorrow and start to experience your best possible day!
**BONUS TIP: Do you sleep with a fan trained on your head? Do you also suffer from shoulder/back problems? The wind blowing on your head at night will have you unconsciously clench your shoulders up to your ears while you sleep because the wind from the fan is making you cold as you snooze (yes, even though you are covered in blankets). This can result in tight shoulder and back muscles. If you need white noise, turn the fan in the other direction. You may cut down on your colds with this method too!