Insomnia and inadequate rest is detrimental to anyone’s performance, on both a physical and mental level. In our previous article, we discussed why it is important to understand the biochemistry of sleep and we listed some vitamins, herbs and other supplements that can be extremely effective. In this second part, we shall now examine other mechanisms you can employ, both psychological and logistical, that will also assist.
Setting the scene for sleep
You may recall from the first article the role light plays in melatonin conversion and controlling our body clock. The first golden rule of increasing your chances of improved sleep at night is to keep lights dim at evening time, and never sleep with light in your bedroom. Should you wake during the night, do not switch the light on as this will immediately cease the beneficial melatonin production. Remaining within a dimmed setting prior to retiring, and avoiding any vigorous activity, creates the message that you intend resting shortly.
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Turn off all led switches on devices that might glow in the dark. Consider wearing a traveler’s eye mask for a much deeper and longer quality of sleep that is not impaired by light.
Television before retiring is not recommended. Try to avoid watching television at least one hour before going to bed. A television set in the bedroom might be the reason your brain does not want to rest at night.
Exercising two hours before going to bed has been proven to negatively affect sleep and melatonin production. Make sure you don’t go to gym too late!
Reading in bed is a favourite pastime. The problem with reading in bed is that we are conditioning our brain into believing that bed is therefore a place where reading takes place. The only bedroom activities that should take place in the bedroom are sleep and adult only activities! By reserving the bedroom for rest, we condition ourselves into falling into a restful state whenever we get into bed.
Temperature and noise
Most people sleep best when the room is cool. In summer, this is difficult, so use a fan. In winter, make sure you are warm enough, but it is better for the room to be cool and to use warmer bedding.
A very useful trick to aid sleep is to have a warm bath immediately prior to sleeping. Your increased body temperature that will then drop as you get into bed will assist in sending you to sleep. Showering might wake you, but if you have no choice but to shower, ensure your shower is a hot one.
The use of a fan in the room to control temperature is also beneficial in that a fan creates what is known as ‘white noise’. Often, one of the reasons we are unable to sleep is unconscious safety concerns and anxiety associated with hearing those things that ‘go bang at night’. You will be amazed at the effectiveness of deploying a white noise mechanism, from the use of a fan to an iPad app that plays ocean waves such as Naturespace. Try to find a white noise application for your particular brand of tablet or smartphone.
Stress and anxiety
We shall use something known as the Zeigarnik effect to tackle this particular problem. Our unconscious minds have a need to complete things and can keep us awake at night with a constant buzz of noise. Here is a trick to silence that background noise and prevent feeling overwhelmed by stress and the multitude of incomplete items that we have to face.
If you have an overactive mind and find yourself ruminating at night time, stop and go get a notepad and some paper. List everything that is worrying you.
Now look at the list and look for any tasks that you must accomplish. Which ones are worrying you the most? Take these tasks and decide upon the next action step that you must take in order to address them. Be extremely specific. For example, if you need to consult with someone, your next action step is to obtain their telephone number. Once you have found the next action step for the particularly pressing item/s, your unconscious mind can now rest. A Russian scientist, Bluma Zeigarnik, discovered this phenomenon and realised that our unconscious minds will rest if we feel we break the task into bite size chunks. Once we have decided on a course of action, we realise things are not so bad after all and we are less overwhelmed and more likely to get a good night’s rest!
The importance of a comfortable mattress cannot be emphasised enough. If you are suffering from pins and needles or back pain, it is time to consider upgrading. If your mattress sags in the middle of the bed, it is time to part ways. A cost effective temporary fix is to purchase an egg-box style orthopaedic foam overlay. Sleep with socks in winter and treat yourself to comfortable pajamas, soft pillows and bed linen that is soft to the touch.
Catching up on sleep debt
It is tempting to sleep during the day to ‘catch up’ when one cannot sleep at night. The problem is that any nap longer than fifteen minutes will leave you groggy. Take ‘power naps’ whenever you can, but rather try to go to sleep earlier as opposed to sleeping for long periods during the day which will also reduce your chances of sleeping at night. Waking up at the same time every day, even if you did not sleep the night before, is important. As hard as this may be, it is essential to get your body into a schedule. Sleeping in on the weekends can be more detrimental to one’s weeknight routine than one might expect.
When it comes to sleeping, spoiling yourself and making positive lifestyle changes may prove to be difficult initially and in some cases costly, but you will notice the improvement to your health, energy, performance and mood almost instantly. Use prescription medicine only as a last resort, but do seek medical advice if you suspect an underlying medical condition.
At The Time Clinic, we constantly research new material and seek to acquire new knowledge. If you would like to share with both us and our readers regarding your experiences and any tips you may have, please comment on this post. We would love to hear from you!
Wishing you all an energising day and a rejuvenating rest!