Sleep. Get enough of it and you feel like you can touch the sky. Or have a bad night and it can take every ounce of your energy to make it through lunch the next day. Unfortunately, given the high anxiety and uncertainty of the last few years, it seems like those touch-the-sky days have been few and far between for many of us.
All those screens we live with now, don’t help. We are just more wired in general, all day every day. Modern life has conspired to rob many of us of the rest our bodies and minds need so badly. So what can we do?
Short of selling all our possessions, throwing our smartphones and laptops into the nearest lake, and going to live with the Amish, there isn’t a huge amount we can do if we are going to live in the modern world. But there are a few TO DO techniques and practices which ARE absolutes..they have proven over time, to guarantee a consistent good night’s sleep. I bet you haven’t heard of most of these either.
I only learned about them through my doctor and physical therapist, during my recovery period after open-heart surgery a few years ago. I don’t know WHY they have not become more mainstream…..I guess it’s because there isn’t any money to be made as a result of these “tricks”. They are “free” natural remedies. AND….THEY WORK.
1. TO SLEEP LIKE A BABY, ACT LIKE A BABY. Ever notice the way a baby sleeps naturally when they are on their backs? Their arms are bent at shoulder height which allows their backs to be completely flat against the bed. This position works extremely well for adults too. The doctor and the physical therapist who helped me get back on my feet, both recommended it as “the most natural way” to get to sleep. And, if I found myself restless or waking up in the night…returning to that position, worked wonders then and still does. Seeing and believing that it works…also calms the mind…into making it so.
2. DUNK IT! Bear with me here. This needs a bit of explaining. One of the main reasons we struggle to sleep is because we are simply overstimulated and wired-but-tired when our heads hit the pillow. When we first climb in the sack to settle in, more often than not, we are still running through all the events and problems of the day instead of powering down for sleep.
Granted this will seem weird but it’s a wonderfully effective hack that resets our racing minds. Get ready for it. It is to dunk your face into a bowl of ice-cold water. Yep! Dunk your face for an instant into some cold, cold water. The sensation of the cold triggers a physical phenomenon, an involuntary one, known as the “Mammalian Dive Reflex”. Instead of shocking you awake, as you would imagine, it, in fact, does the exact opposite. It distracts you, de-stresses you, and causes a lowering of both the heart rate and blood pressure. Two things perfectly suited for sleep.
3. GET TENSE TO RELAX. What? Another counter-intuitive practice that really works. This process is remarkable in its ability to help you nod off initially or to help you get back to sleep if you’ve woken up in the night. Basically, its a more “scienced-up” version of counting sheep with a little bit of isometric exercise thrown in.
When you think about it, isn’t being too tense the main problem in the first place? Well, yes, but this process is a different kind of tense. It involves tensing your muscles in a systematic way. It works like this.
The next time you are lying awake in bed, tense your toes for a count of 5 seconds, then slowly release the clench for about 30 seconds. Now, tense your calves using the same technique…then release. Slowly work your way up your body tensing, then releasing each muscle group, ending with shrugging your shoulders, then releasing. You will feel yourself begin to really relax from head to toe….or should I say…from toe to head. AHHHHH!!!
This is known in the scientific sleep therapy community as PRM…Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This technique has been around for over a century and has helped countless people around the world find the zzzz’s they desperately need.
This method works on two levels, physically the tensing and relaxing helps to relax the body with a “letting go” sensation. While mentally focusing on body parts takes your mind off the thoughts that are keeping you awake.
As with anything, PRM takes some practice, to get the hang of it….but before you know it, you will be tensing and releasing yourself all the way to Snoozeville.
4. LIGHT THE NIGHT to SLEEP RIGHT. There’s not a sleep-related article on the web that doesn’t address the issue of avoiding devices and their screens at least an hour or two before going to bed. The blue light they emit wreaks havoc on our Circadian Rhythm. This is old news.
Here’s a simple solution you can put into practice tonight.
ALL artificial light, whether it comes from any kind of screen (that includes TV) or from overhead light bulbs (LED, in particular) messes with sleep. Our minds still associate light, with alertness… and dark, with sleep. So, what to do?
Easy. Turn your lights down. Follow the sun as it sets. Use lamps rather than overhead lighting. Set them on their lowest wattage, as the sun is setting. The closer you get to bedtime, the lower the lighting. Not only will this “soften the day”, it will send a message to the brain that it’s time to wind down. Invest in some really nice candles and let their light guide you into relaxation before even starting your nightly “go-to-bed” routine.
5. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM SPACE MORE SLEEP-FRIENDLY. One of the things my therapist told me was to turn down my bed before dinner. WHAT? Yes. It works to set the wheels of my brain and psyche in motion, telling myself….”WELCOME” for the sleep that’s to come shortly. Every night, even when we go out with friends, I turn down the bed…ready for sweet slumber….when the time comes.
Keep your workspace out of your sleep space. No piles of paperwork. Clear out the clutter, no matter what.
Turn down the temperature. Sleep studies have shown the optimum temperature for a great nights’ sleep is between 60-62 degrees.
So far, everything I've mentioned has been free. But these last few items…..are things to purchase. And I absolutely swear by them.
Ask your nose for help. There are some delicious rooms sprays on the market, made especially to encourage sleep. You can spray the air just before getting into bed….I spray the air in the bedroom before going in to wash my face, brush teeth and do the nightly routine. When I come out of the bathroom….my nose knows….. it's time! Sleepy Read. Bedside books of favorite quotes are also a great addition to those first moments when you need to wind down. The small, pretty ones can live by the bed to enhance the feeling of wishing you well into a sleepy night well-deserved. Choosing them specifically to aid in your sleep-ability is once again suggesting to your brain that you mean business….in the nicest way, of course. Even better if the books are given to you by a friend or loved one…when you pick them up…it connects you to feelings of love to end the day.
SWEET DREAMS, MY FRIENDS.
It’s an essential part of creating the life we love.
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