You would think being qualified to talk about sleep is a good thing. Often, it’s not.
Just like Robb learned to be strict with gluten much quicker than most, it tends to be those who have the worst problems are who know the most about it. When it comes to sleep, that makes me guilty.
This is because I had epileptic seizures from 16 onward, and kept having them until I got my sleep, stress, and exercise in order. I’m now seizure-free for 10 years (knock on wood)– and always working to know more and improve how I sleep and eat. This is one reason I’m learning about being paleo + ketogenic, why I tried out using a Zeo earlier this year, and also why we made this lovely infographic.
There’s a lot to learn about sleep, just the way there is about diet. It has filled books, including the infamous and difficult-to-read Lights Out. But like the Buddha said about suffering, “When an arrow hits you in the chest, you don’t need to know what it’s made out of. You only need to know how to get it out.”
With this in mind, let’s talk sleep and how to improve it in 2011.
Here are five quick tips for you.
1. Keep to a routine. Your body’s hormones adjust to whatever routine you have, so the more scheduled your life is, the better. Eating at regular times and sleeping/waking up at set times helps you do the same thing tomorrow and next week. This is also psychological– when you see it’s near the time to go to bed, you’ll get sleepy.
2. Along the same lines, set a pre-determined time to stop drinking caffeine every day. I’m narrowing down my hour through trial and error, and it’s sometime between noon and 3pm. 5pm definitely kills me– I toss and turn for hours and sleep horribly.
I’d never know this unless I tracked it. So check it out by keeping a sort of diary about when you’re sleeping and being awake. The Zeo helps with this too (disclosure: Robb and I both received one for free).
3. Lack of sleep is often a symptom of other problems, as well as a cause of yet other ones. Look for the source. Are you working out before bed? If so, quit it. Exercise (except sex, heh) increases heart rate and raises body temperature, making it harder to conk out when you hit your pillow.
Optionally, it could be reading non-fiction that keeps your brain active– some people say you should quit reading fiction at night entirely. Whatever your habits are, set up a system to keep you relaxed at night.
4. I don’t know about you, but I get stressed out just thinking about sleeping. It turns into a vicious cycle– stressed about sleep, so I stay awake, which stresses me out more, etc. I break this cycle with a method I discovered through Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychotherapist who wrote an amazing book, Man’s Search For Meaning.
Frankl used Paradoxical Intention to relieve his patients of anxiety by making them try their hardest to be anxious, which ironically prevents anxiety. So do the same thing by trying very hard (lying down and with your eyes closed) to stay awake! It’s surprising and counterintuitive, but it works.
5. Finally, stop blue light from entering your house at night. It seems like it wouldn’t help, but many studies show that it isn’t the brightness of light that causes problems, but its colour. Turns out blue light wakes you up, and red/rose light does the opposite. What is the biggest source of blue light in your house? You guessed it: your computer. So download F.lux– it’s free, and based on where you live, it’ll change the colour of your screen at night. Presto!
Good luck and Happy 2011!