taking the pressure off of going to sleep by going for optimal rest.
You’ve probably noticed the incredibly stressful world we now are required to function within at our best. There’s no way to maintain a stress-free life all together unless you engage in a prolonged meditation retreat – maybe. One of the best ways to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness or any other negative emotion is a multifaceted approach:
- Tolerance – building a tolerance to stress and anxiety
- Cultivating a compassionate neutral witness within
- Meditation for an anchor to peacefulness / mindfulness throughout the day
- Paying attention to and heeding our bodies
We put pressure on ourselves constantly. Some of this pressure is good when we need it to accomplish tasks and goals. Pressure becomes counterproductive when we threaten ourselves and our bodies with too much of it. This could be true of when we get ready to go to sleep at night; the pressure we’ve put on ourselves during the day spills over into the night and sleep becomes difficult and sometimes impossible. If we have chronic difficulties falling and staying asleep we may reach for prescription pharmaceuticals / supplemental sleep aids to fall and stay asleep, or we may use street drugs.
Taking downs to get off to sleep
And ups to start you on your way
After a while they’ll change your style
I see it happening every day
Oh spare your heart
Everything put together
Sooner or later falls apart
There’s nothing to it, nothing to it
From Everything Put Together Falls Apart © 1972 by Paul Simon
The downs can easily translate into alcohol or a prescribed medication at night and coffee and/or energy drinks throughout the day.
After I became caffeine free the first time and my energy level balanced out I saw that coffee didn’t give me more energy, it just took the energy I had and bunched it up because there was always an inevitable crash. My sleep patterns were the worst for it too. Working swing shift and nights didn’t help either.
Then I began taking control of my sleep which meant taking control of other aspects of my life too:
The Ultimate Sleep Hack So Far
Change the name of going to sleep to Optimal Rest instead of pressure for sleep. If you fall asleep during your optimal rest period it’s a good bonus.
caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to 11 hours after you drink it
I’ve worked for over 20 years in the mental health field facilitating groups on relaxation, meditation, and sleep hygiene (no, this does NOT mean washing yourself while you sleep).
Sleep is part of a daily cycle. Children and teenagers need more sleep sometimes up to 10 or 11 hours. Adults average about 8 hours up to the age of 55. Those over the age of 55 can get by with less sleep – about 6 hours, yet 8 hours is still optimal. These figures are not set in stone and there are always exceptions to every “norm”.
Your bedroom should always be slightly on the cool side
Since the time of the industrial revolution mainly the advent of electric light and more recently television, computers, smart phones and the internet the natural rhythms of our bodies have been disrupted due to light pollution.
Immediate Preparations for Optimal Rest
Before Sleep – The Experts Report – Our bodies adjust to light dark cycles so if you’re having trouble sleeping at night you may want to consider making changes to your daily routine:
Exercise – in the morning or afternoon. Avoid exercise in the late evening especially when its dark (absence of sunlight). Exercising after sunset or in the dark can signal your body to become more awake or alert. Exercise is important for a good night’s sleep even if it is a short or long walk in the morning, afternoon or early evening.
Caffeine – The experts report that caffeine can affect your body and disrupt your sleep up to 11 hours after you drink it. This can affect your ability to fall asleep and your ability to stay asleep. If you’re on a daytime work schedule consider stopping all caffeinated beverages at 11 am. Some keen observations of the effects of caffeine backed by science basically report that stimulating the body takes the energy that one ordinarily has and pumps it up leading to an inevitable crash if too much is ingested.
Television, Smartphone or Computer/Tablet use – excites the brain. Sleep experts recommend to stop using these devices at least 2 hours before retiring.
Snacking – Sleep experts recommend that you wait 3 hours after eating to go to sleep for a better night’s sleep. Two factors are implicated in this suggestion. Because your metabolism slows at night our bodies have difficulty digesting food and sleeping. Also there is a nighttime body metabolism at work and eating right before bed can effect this metabolism and disrupt sleeping patterns.
A Technique – If you do sleep poorly and assuming your morning is sunny you can re-set your body clock by sitting in the sun from 40 to 60 minutes soon after you rise.
Sleeping Timing – experts suggest going to sleep at the same time each night. I have observed that this has to do with body memory. Disrupting body memory where we experience a burst of energy hurtling passed our ordinary bedtimes usually comes from caffeine or a late-night snack of sugary foods or refined carbohydrates.
No Alcohol Before Bedtime – I almost did not include this because many people already know that while alcohol can put you to sleep it can often wake you up several times during the night. A drink or a glass of wine or a beer with an early dinner is okay.
Minimize Electrical Gadgets in your Bedroom – a lamp is good with an incandescent bulb and is best for reading and a feeling of warmth. An alarm clock without excessive lights if you need one is okay but not an alarm on your electronic device. Watching television in-bed, surfing the net from your smartphone or tablet is bad for your sleep hygiene. Best to turn off your cell phone or tablet if you are keeping them in your bedroom.
Light and Temperature – Your bedroom should be as dark as possible, no light at all. But if you startle waking-up in a dark room, a light in a different room or a very dim nightlight is okay. If you have equipment such as a CPAP machine prescribed for your sleep then of course that’s okay. Your bedroom should always be slightly on the cool side, in summer and winter. Our body temperatures drop at night and by cuddling with ourselves under the covers we warm to an optimal sleeping temperature.
muse on your day, begin the letting go process
Sleep Position – The best positions for optimal rest and/or sleep is sleeping on your back*, left and / or right side. Sleeping on your back is best for your spine, neck and head less likely to experience pain. It helps lessen acid reflux with your head elevated on a pillow. *People with sleep apnea – sleeping on the back could be dangerous and lead the tongue to block your esophagus. Sleeping on your side is the popular position and reduces acid reflux. Snoring is reduced as well. Sleep on one’s side are the best positions for those with sleep apnea.
One to Three Hours Before Sleep – These are nightly rituals, that when I use them, they assist me in getting a better night’s sleep. Admittedly I don’t use them as much as I could. Before you begin Your Wind-Down sit with a pad (not an iPad, Tablet or Smartphone) and make a list of what you want to do tomorrow (if that’s your thing). Writing pen to paper is a way to disconnect from electronics and their effects.
Your Wind-Down – Begin with a hot beverage – an herbal tea, or warm milk, or A-Non-Alcoholic-Hot-Toddy-for-Sleep while sitting on your couch or in a favorite chair. As you begin to enjoy your beverage muse on your day, begin the letting go process. I spend at least five to ten minutes feeling the relief of putting the day into perspective and allowing the anticipation of surrender into sleep. Then I may engage in reading a book and / or listening to soft music, though this can also be done after bathroom prep – while in bed.
Bathroom Prep Before Bed and What Remains to do: Next take care of brushing your teeth and all those to-do things before lying down to engage in optimal rest. If you take medications or supplements that aid in you in resting / sleeping more effectively know that there is a 30 to 40-minute period of digestion before they take effect. If you take sleep aides and push yourself beyond the 30 to 40-minute digestive cycle the medications will either be less effective or won’t work at all.
By getting in bed at least during 30 to 40-minute period before closing your eyes, plan on reading, listening to music or doing some breath work, but ideally this should occur after taking medications and/or supplements.
LET GO AND BREATHE
Immediate Preparations for Optimal Rest
I may first intend that I will let go into sleep and sleep straight through the night without waking up, feeling refreshed in the morning upon awakening.
These other techniques can be used in preparations just prior to closing your eyes or if sleep doesn’t come.
The Body Clench – this is a systematic clench of muscle groups and their release in your body. Begin by scrunching up your feet and clenching your toes. Don’t let go. Next tighten your calf and thigh muscles, then tighten your butt muscles, your chest and abdomen. Next make fists and tighten the muscles in your forearms and biceps, stretch your neck by moving your head towards your chest and scrunch up the muscles in your face.
Then LET GO AND BREATHE.
The idea is to make your body tighter so you when you release the tight tense muscles also release and allows your body to move into a more relaxed state.
Don’t beat yourself up because you’re supposed to be sleeping.
Close your Eyes – (30 to 40 minutes after taking your medications and/or supplements) When you close your eyes there may be an automatic response for you to think about everything your worried about, or to criticize yourself in some way. Worry may manifest as thinking about something repeatedly (obsessing) – trying to figure it out. Or maybe you’re trying to solve a problem or review something that happened that day.
Let yourself do this for a few minutes. Make it okay. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re supposed to be sleeping even it goes on for five to ten minutes or so. Also you might want to engage in some soothing self-talk such as: “I’m a gentle person”, “I’m applying compassion towards myself first and then others” “I like _____ about myself” or think of a peaceful scene in nature – a sunset over a lake or behind a mountain, floating or flying over fields, seeing waves at the beach.
It’s okay… it’s okay… I’m safe. I can let go.
Then tell yourself that it time to dive deeper into optimal rest.
This process uses your attention to scan your body for any areas where your holding tension and imagine breathing them out (with your out-breath). Let go. Try being soft and easy with yourself as if you were holding an infant in your arms.
Next, focus on your breath. Usually, what happens when we begin to focus on our breath is that we take control. That’s okay. Breathing in this way soon becomes work. When you start to realize that it’s work, then begin to watch your breath as it moves in and out of your body without trying to control it. You’re just matching your thoughts with what’s happening in your body automatically, that can be a lot easier.
I may just practice watching my breath achieving optimal rest
Your mind may wander back to your negative or problem-solving thoughts without you realizing it. If this happens let them go and move back to your witness mind watching your breath. Sometimes a peaceful symbol – like looking at a mountain or waves crashing on a beach can be useful in releasing a worrisome thought. The rhythm of your breath is similar to waves coming to shore. As you imagine your breath like the waves you may feel the peace of waves as you picture them in your mind.
Focus on your breath in this way for at least 20 to 40 minutes. Usually what happens for me is I fall asleep, but I only know this has happened when I awaken the next morning. I realize I have released and fallen asleep.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen and I catch myself on the edge of letting go and pull myself back into a wakeful and circular thought process – a knee-jerk response. Here I may do some soothing self-talk (silently saying to myself):
“It’s okay… it’s okay… I’m safe. I can let go. I can be a deep diver. I can let go. I am letting go, letting go…”
If after 40 minutes to an hour and I’m awake I may just let myself be satisfied with continuing to watch my breath and drop into a deeper level of meditation. Or I may get up and go to the bathroom and return to bed and matching my thoughts with my breath.
Try being softer with yourself. Allow your mind’s awareness to meet the automatic rhythm of your breath. In, out, in, out…
* so far – meaning that as new information for a better sleep hack becomes available it will become an on-going ultimate sleep hack…