In my last post I shared two strategies for sleeping better that would make your physical environment and body more sleep-ready. But even if these conditions are there, many of us still have a lot of trouble sleeping. We often have so many thoughts bouncing around in our heads about the next day, what didn’t get done this day, and other mental distractors that we invite right before bed. Insufficient sleep can lead to low energy and productivity, weight gain, stress, and a compromised immune system. Without the opportunity to rest and repair itself, the body cannot function optimally.
So how do you get your mind ready for sleep?
1) Write it down
When you are lying awake in bed- often the time I find my mind most interested in creating lists, plans, and reflecting on the day. Not the best time for this heavy mental activity. Between the time you get into bed and fall asleep, many of us have our most productive thinking sessions. But, our sleep is disrupted as a result. Instead of keeping all of this inside your head forcing you to devote a lot of mental energy to it, write it down. Keep a small notebook on your bedside table and write these ideas and reflections on paper before you go to sleep. That way, your ideas are safe, and you can rest easy that they will not be lost. This might be like journaling, or simple planning and strategizing. Just release the burden of holding this all in your head at the expense of vital sleep time.
2) Turn it Off
This is the most important step to improving your sleep. Shut down all electronics at least one hour before bed (I know, this sounds insane). This includes computers, TV, iPads, and phones. Doing this helps to promote sleep in two ways: 1. The back-lighting from these electronics inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that supports your sleep cycle. The lights tell the mind to stay awake, making falling asleep and production of melatonin more difficult. 2. The mental activity required to engage in social media, television shows, and other online activities makes it difficult for your mind to shut down to prepare for sleep. I definitely notice a difference in my dreams (usually more nightmares) when I watch dramatic television as the last activity of my evening. Turning off electronics earlier (try 30 minutes to start) and creating a calm environment: dimming the lights, listening to soft music, reading a standard book, helps to calm the mind. If possible, keep electronics outside of the bedroom altogether to prevent distractions.
Photo: Monteverde, Costa Rica 2013