for People with a Brain
Sleep is the new black. It’s trending up, and if you haven’t woken up to how essential it is—for your physical and mental well-being—that’s probably because you’re not getting enough of it.
And what is enough? Aim for eight hours or more a night. WHAT? It was easier before, when humans just naturally rose with the sun and bedded down with the moon, but now we’re living in an electrified, digitized, brain-fried 24/7 world. And for many reasons, it’s getting in the way of our deepest, most restful sleep.
It’s up to you—your awareness, your actions—to change that dynamic. At least sleep on it.
Because the science is clear: Five, six, seven hours isn’t enough. Your body and your brain need time to rest, to restore, to nurture, or else, over time, they break down in unpleasant ways.
When you’re chronically sleep deprived all your regulatory systems are compromised, including your entire central nervous system. You’re susceptible to many unpleasant problems including heart disease, cognition screw-ups, diabetes and high blood pressure. Your immune system grows weaker and your risk of a serious accident goes up.
And now this, according to a growing body of research: Getting too little sleep can make you fat. Personally, I see it as the body exploding in anger: “You’re working me to death,” says the liver and stomach of Mr. 4-6 Hours a Night. Next thing he knows, he’s gained 10 pounds, he’s spilling sugar, and he can’t remember if he fed his Great Dane.
So here are some tips to help you get to sleep: Just remember, reading is not the same as doing. You can avoid the nightmarish consequences of too little sleep, but it’s up to you to find your way. I know I’m repeating myself:
1) If you wake up, don’t look at the clock. This engages the brain in a way that moves it toward wakefulness, instead of sleep. Hide the screen, and if you can eliminate all light-emitting screens from your bedroom, even better.
2) Don’t sleep with your devices. All that technology too close to your brain can corrupt and interrupt normal sleeping cycles. For purists, this includes all forms of phones. If you can’t separate from tweets, texts and emails to give your self a good night’s sleep, consider yourself addicted, and seek help.
3) If you wake up, relax your body with your breath. There are many breathing relaxation patterns to play with, to help you bring on the z-z-z-z’s. Here’s a good one: Slowly inhale to a count of three, and gently exhale to a count of four, focusing on the sweetness and rhythm of your breath. If your mind grasps a thought, let it go and return to your breath.
4) If you wake up, don’t panic. If your Inner Voice starts acting up—“Oh no! I’m awake. I can’t sleep. I’ve got so much to do tomorrow! ...”—interrupt it with a kinder, more positive one.
5) Comfort yourself: “I’m fine. This is OK. My body is resting. It wants to sleep. I’ll help.” Then turn off the inner dialogue completely and return to your calming breaths.
6) Sleep in the darkness. Sleep experts always advise people to make their bedrooms as dark as possible for optimal sleep. Of course! But too often that means blackout shades or elaborate taping schemes around the windows. If that works for you, fine, but it never has for me. Besides, I love skylights. Then I discovered the best sleep improver of my life. Keep reading.
7) Wear a sleep mask. I heard this on NPR one day, and for some reason I tried it that night, and I love it. A sleep mask. It shuts out the light and invites sleep in a delightful way. Beware of the cheapo, ill-fitting sleep mask. Shop around for one that feels good on your skin and adjusts easily to your face.
Tuck in with gratitude. Sweet dreams come more easily if you end your day with expressions of gratitude and feelings of love. To get there, think of two or three things that happened that day that you’re grateful for. By my count, this is about a million times better for you than a sleeping pill.
THE MYSTERIOUS LINK BETWEEN DAY AND NIGHT
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.”
—Leonardo da Vinci