Sleep is simply the answer to many problems!
I cannot put a percentage on it, but I would say that many people can alleviate stress through improving sleep. Let’s be clear from the get go…. I am not saying all your problems go away because you sleep better. And, I am absolutely not saying that taking sleep medication to “help you sleep better” is going to fix problems. Great, we got that out of the way!!
So, what am I saying? Good sleep is a restorative process that helps reduce stress, anxiety, depression, panic, irritability, and many more problems. Sleep medication does not help you receive the restorative sleep needed to help reach your optimal level of functioning. That is correct.. just because your eyes are shut for long hours does not mean you are hitting the sleep cycles. Thus, improving quality of sleep is more important than quantity!! Sleep habits are learned throughout our lives. Each person’s need for sleep varies. For example, I require much less sleep than most. I know this because I feel very energized during the day, rarely feel irritable, and typically can think clearly. When you are able to go through your sleep cycles each night you are more likely to function at your optimal level. Sleep is not something that we need to dread. We do not want to get to 10pm and start thinking “Ahhhh great here we go another horrible night.” To the contrary, we will be better off by preparing for a good night sleep throughout the day. Yes, sleep is under your control!
Taking back control over your sleep.
1. Move more. Dr. Zee form Northwestern University states that exercise helps sleep quality and can take a poor sleeper to a good sleeper. After 16 weeks of exercise 4 times per week for 30-40 minutes adults were sleeping much better and did not have to touch any sleep medication! The trick was that the exercise be aerobic getting to about 75% of maximum heart rate.
2. Write it down. Get it out before you bed down. Keeping a notepad, smartphone, ipad, or something you can write thoughts on with you throughout the day helps acknowledge important, and troublesome thoughts and move on to other things… like sleep! Before laying down in bed take some time to write down lingering thoughts, worries, goals, etc. If a thought comes up that you cannot get off of your mind while laying down then get out of bed write it down and return to bed. In fact, researchers at Andersen Cancer Center (Houston, TX) found that those who vented on paper before going to sleep (vs. people who wrote only about diet and exercise ) actually got better and less interrupted sleep. The factor being they vented on paper!!! Try it!
3. Serve someone. Stop thinking about yourself! So often we think help we need can come from others, which can be true. Accepting help from others in appropriate circumstances can increase humility. The reality is help comes in a bigger way to the helper. Some of the most calm, successful, and powerful people I know are always looking to serve others. Maybe start by serving someone in your home before trying to fix the world!!! You will feel more calm while going to bed!
4. No naps. There is TONS of controversy about naps. Some people do well with a little nap here and there. However, if sleep is a problem for you and you are napping then cut it out. Napping can alter your internal clock. You cannot make up for sleep. The best solution is focusing on improving the night sleep and not training your body that it needs to sleep to get more energy in the day. That is just the opposite. It is like if your car is running out of gas and you pull over to let it rest and magically fuel up on its own. Not gonna happen. Instead, if your car is out of gas you typically put gas in. In comparison, our bodies get more “gas” , or energy, by using energy and proper nutrition. Feeling like you need a nap then take a walk, move around, and notice that many times you feel like you need a nap when coming off of caffeine.
5. 20 Minutes Rule. A critical rule! Do not go to bed until you feel very tired. While in bed do not watch tv, read books, etc… Only two things are to happen in bed: 1. Sleep 2. Intimacy. We train our bodies that we are supposed to do other things when we do not stick to the two activities. When you are very tired and ready to go to your bed do not stay in your bed for more than 20 minutes awake. I am not suggesting you just sit and stare at the clock, however, notice that if you have been tossing and turning and 20 minutes have passed you will do yourself a favor by getting out of bed. Go to a different room and read, listen to something, write, or find any calm activity. Don’t eat and don’t smoke!!! After you feel very tired… go back to bed. If you are in bed for 20 minutes again then get back out and repeat. This is a crucial part of training the body!
6. Keep it cool. All the research I have read indicates keeping your room temp between 60-75 degrees F. Adjust it and see what works for you. The room must be a place with less light, cool, and comfortable.
7. Caffeine Still in Your System. Ahhhhh…. caffeine has some benefits! However, those benefits are not achieved by high doses on a daily basis. Rather, it can be helpful when competing in some highly intense physical activities. Other then that.. .cut out the caffeine. It is amazing that if you get rid of caffeine you will notice that after a week or so you sleep better and have more energy during the day. Believe it or not you will have more energy with healthy sleep vs. using caffeine for energy burst.
8. Awake at Same Time. I would challenge you to set your alarm clock to sound at the same time for a month straight…. including the weekends. You will then notice that after a month you awake naturally at the same time feeling well rested. You will awake within the same hour everyday. Why is this important???? Well, by waking up you develop a positive sleep-wake cycle. You also allow the appropriate chemicals to kick in about 30 minutes before you awake, which gives you energy in the morning. If you are awaking at different times everyday your body cannot get ready to wake up and as a result you will be more tired in the morning. Yes, you want to try to fall asleep at the same time everyday… but that will come! Focus on that no matter how horrible you slept you are to awake a the same time. Don’t nap and go to bed at normal time the next night. You will be training your body to get healthy sleep! Remember, health sleep is not something that happens to you… it is something that you do!
9. Why Counting Backwards Hasn’t Worked for You. People say that counting backwards from 100 to 0 never works… you are probably right. HOWEVER, you are missing one important rule. Start at 100 and count back by 1. Now in the moment that you start thinking of other things DO NOT GET MAD and START BACK OVER AT 100. Simply notice that your thoughts went elsewhere and get back to 100. I have seen this turn out very successful for many clients.
10. Eliminate Garbage Entertainment. The news…I don’t know why I watch it! It is simply nonsense! No offense to some of the good people that work at the news stations, but I have never walked away from watching night news thinking, “man what a good use of my time… I feel good and relaxed and ready for bed.” HAHA… no. Usually, I think, “Really, is this the same sad stuff as last night with different names this time.” It elevates my energy levels and bothers me. Check out the research on this. Furthermore, stay away from high energy shows and movies right before bed. If you are planning to watch a sporting event or intense show make sure to give yourself a good hour to calm down before getting into night routine.
When it is all said and done… sleep affects life and life affects sleep. When I am getting quality sleep I am more energized, present, happy, calm, spiritual, and prepared to meet life’s challenges. I see this with many of those with whom I work. Focusing on sleep is often the most effective answer to many problems! You might notice… most of what I have written lends to the importance of SIMPLIFYING your life. Be simple!