After a weekend athletic event where we slept in dorms, I got an unusual compliment. “You’re a good sleeper,” said a friend. Since we hear dire warnings about the consequences of sleep deprivation—DIABETES! HEART DISEASE! ALZHEIMER’S! LOW LIBIDO! YOUR CHILDREN WILL NOT GET INTO COLLEGE! ZOMBIES WILL CONTROL YOUR HOME!—I decided that sleeping well is an important skill. You’ll soon get a notice about my LinkedIn profile update.
I want to be gentle with sleep advice, knowing some struggle with insomnia due to factors I may not understand. I credit my good sleeping to my parents, two sleepers superb. Dad could drink black coffee at nine p.m. and fall asleep at eleven. Mom slept through family road trips of any length—five hours to grandma’s or four days cross country. She slept in comfort as she took the entire back seat, with my brother and I, later my sisters, crammed in front with dad. That may reveal some interesting family dynamics. I’m not sure.
Even so I sometimes toss and turn and here’s what helps me not sleep like a baby. (Who wants to wake up crying every three hours?)
S hut down screens well before bedtime. Several studies reported that the light from TVs, computers, and smart phones stimulates wakefulness, yet many people still have TVs in bedrooms, work on email at night, and text until the lights go off. Stop it. You need sleep. Move the TV from the bedroom, please.
L et go of anger. The Bible says “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalms 4:4). How many times do you hash over a situation or carry on an imaginary conversation at night because of unresolved anger or frustration? The psalmist says be at peace, with a silent heart. That may require courageous and vulnerable conversations, setting and enforcing boundaries, or choosing to love and forgive. But do those things early in the day. I sleep better if I tackle tough conversations in the morning.
E liminate stimulants. Unlike my dad, I am caffeine sensitive so I can’t eat dark chocolate or drink Coke or iced tea in the evening. Alcohol causes light, fitful sleep.
E xercise every day. This reduces stress and generates whole body calmness. I love the way I feel after exercise. I am sad that sleep medications often take priority over honoring the body with the movement it needs for relaxed health.
P repare for sleep. I believe many of us have trouble sleeping because we live our lives more focused on DOING than BEING. During sleep we are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates unconscious actions. Thus going to sleep requires letting go, as Wendell Berry said in his poem The Wild Geese: “abandon, as in love or sleep.” Some of us have trouble letting go, either from a life filled with to the brim, or from concerns that haven’t been dealt with that bubble up from the subconscious at bedtime.
I’ve found that these practices ease the transition from always-in-charge-run-till-I-drop to sleepy abandonment:
Gratitude—taking time to recite and focus on my blessings.
Deep breathing The yoga practice of ujjayi breath, sometimes called Darth Vader breath, helps me release unproductive thoughts.
READING! Jeanette Winterson writes, “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.” In a recent New Yorker article Ceridwen Dovey commented that reading puts the brain in a trance-like state, bringing relaxation, and therefore regular readers sleep better.
I wish you deep sleep and relaxed, restful nights this summer. In the theme of restfulness, my next video features a book that tells how to reach success and fulfillment in an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way. Stay tuned!
What books help you fall asleep? Post a comment below and I’ll share one more trick for nights when I wake up and can’t go back to sleep!
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