By: Anne Parker, Wellness Counselor
We all know that a good night’s sleep sets the stage for a good day giving us energy, clarity, and enthusiasm. What many of us don’t realize is that how we spend our days has a lot to do with how restful our sleep will be. Disordered sleep is greatly influenced by disorderly days.
In our busy, stimulated, adrenaline-driven lives we have become addicted to busyness, stimulation, and the adrenaline rush. We “go-go-go” during our waking hours and then expect to immediately find restful sleep exactly when we want it. How realistic is it to go from full speed to full stop in an instant?
There are two primary strategies for living our days in a way that supports restful nights. One, make sure that you have “rest periods” during the day. This might be through a formal practice such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or any practice that quiets and centers you. Your rest periods might be less formal, taking the form of a minute or two of mindful, belly breathing – in the shower, at your desk, in the car, while walking to your next appointment. You might also take a short break to listen to some relaxing music, say a prayer, write in your journal, really taste and enjoy your food, hug a child or good friend, have a good belly laugh, watch the sunset. Any of these little pauses throughout the day will help your body and mind know what rest feels like and, later, recognize when you want to rest to move into sleep.
Second, help yourself transition from waking to sleeping by creating habits or rituals that promote slowing down so that moving into sleep is a gradual, natural process.The body and mind need space to transition from activity to sleep.
Some examples of elements of pre-sleep habits or rituals are:
- Let the day’s activity end. Stop working on your priority list – it will be there tomorrow. Take a calming bath or shower; listen to quiet music; read a book or poem with gentle imagery or with an entertaining and untroubling story; do some kind of handiwork like knitting, crochet, or beading; pet your dog or cat; “dump“ the stresses of the day onto paper (could be a journal or any kind of writing); give yourself and/or your partner a little massage with a lotion that feels and smells nurturing.
- Create your own “dusk time” to transition from light to darkness. Dim the lights in the house or turn some of them off, including any electronic screens, for 1 to 2 hours before bed time. The natural cycles of the body respond to light stimulation and need darkness for sleep. The kind of light emitted from high definition television, computer screens, tablets, and smartphones suppresses the normal release of melatonin that is needed for restful sleep. If you must use a device to read before bed time, put it on the night setting with a black screen and white text.
- Ideally, eliminate electronics from the bedroom. The light and stimulation from television, computer, notebook, or smartphone will keep your body/mind attuned to external stimulation and is not conducive to sleep. If you need to work on your computer or like to watch TV in the evening, do it in another room. Give yourself at least an hour of pre-sleep time without electronics.
- Lower room and body temperatures before sleep. Avoid high energy exercise 2 to 3 hours before sleep. Finish eating at least 2 hours before sleep. Your body must cool for restful sleep. High energy activity and digestion require body heat work.
- Eliminate stimulants like caffeine and sugar, or at least reduce your intake, particularly after mid-afternoon. Don’t be fooled by alcohol. It is a depressant and might make you feel sleepy so that it seems to help you go to sleep. However, alcohol interrupts natural sleep cycles and you will be wakeful during the night.
Restful, nourishing sleep is essential to physical and mental health. Think of the concept of “return on investment.” If you invest in the things that help you sleep, you will get the return you want – a good night’s sleep and a better day.
Read Anne Parker's Bio