Let me start by confessing that I need to do better with this. Just because I know what to do, doesn’t mean I always do it. Hey, we all have our vices and going to bed with my iPad or laptop is a staple of my working life. I try to squeeze productivity out of every moment of my waking life. And so when it comes to time for sleep, I have a very hard time getting to the business of it, even though I should technically be exhausted having been up for sixteen or seventeen hours. I know why that is, so I don’t have an excuse to keep doing what I’m doing. But just in case you’re wondering how you could get yourself to doze off more quickly, here are the three top tips.
Serotonin vs. Melatonin
Our bodies are geniuses. They are so fine tuned to the external world that when the light of the sun hits our eyelids in the morning, our brains interpret this as time to get up. They release Serotonin, the neurochemical responsible for making us more lively, alert and ready to take action. Conversely, when the sun sets and darkness settles upon the land, the change in light signals to the brain that it is time to enter into a dreamy, wonderland of rest and recuperation. Your brain then knows to release melatonin. Enter the industrial revolution, the invention of electrical light, or worse yet computer screens and smartphones! And guess what? We have now confused our bodies out of sleeping and waking mechanisms that were designed to perfection by nature, with our faux sun-light.
So, If you want to respect your body’s call to sleep, you have to fashion the environment it has evolutionarily come to understand as the signal for bed time. Create a low light ambience in your bedroom using lamps instead or ceiling lights, or dimmers wherever possible, one hour before sleep.
Definitely stop watching television, using your phone or computer at least one hour before sleep (this is a mental note to self).
Secondly, and this one is a no-brainer. If you are feeling overly stimulated even while you’re trying to sleep maybe you need to cut down on stimulants in your diet. Try cutting out or reducing the amount of caffeinated drinks in your life, this includes coffee, tea and most sodas. Sugary drinks can also keep you up because of the excess energy, so try to eliminate from your diet anything that you know makes you less able to enter a relaxed, disarmed state at the end of the day.
Finally, respect your body’s natural circadian rhythms. You can do this by being disciplined about when you go to bed and when you get out of bed. Zen practitioners swear that one of the cornerstones of a happy life is to get out of bed as soon as you wake up. They don’t allow themselves to “snooze,” or linger on in bed after waking up. Among other things, this discipline trains the mind that beds are for sleeping not for extending your work day or your daily living activities. In this way, you can condition your body and your mind to associate being in bed with being asleep.
Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and scholar who lives in California. When she’s not busy figuring out how things work and how they could be working better, you’ll find her sharing what she’s learned. In fact, you can check out more of her lifestyle hacks by taking her course Quantum Mind: Stop Suffering and Take Back Your Life. You can get in touch with her on drsamarhabib [at] email [dot] com