Millions of people have trouble sleeping. It’s estimated, in fact, that ten percent of Americans suffer from insomnia at any given time, and as a result millions of sleeping pills are consumed every night. There are, however, several things you can do that will significantly improve your sleep, and surprisingly, many of the people who suffer from insomnia never use them. It’s well-known that sleep is affected by both physiological (body) and psychological (mind) factors, and both must be addressed if you are to improve your sleep.
The body factors are related to what is called the “body clock.” In reality, there are several body clocks. One is related directly to sleep; several others are indirectly related in that they regulate the hormones that your body gives off at night such as melatonin, serotonin, growth hormone and cortisol. A clock also regulates your body temperature throughout the night. Under ideal circumstances these clocks are all synchronized.
The psychological or mind factors that affect your sleep are your thought, emotions, anxieties, stress and so on. They are usually associated with an overactive mind, and people with insomnia have been shown to have overactive minds; in particular, their minds are cluttered with anxious thoughts that create negative emotions and stresses that don’t allow them to sleep. You have to control both your body clock and your thought if you want a good nights sleep. Five rules that will help you do this are as follows:
1. Start by re-setting (or re-aligning) your body clock.
Your body clock is like an ordinary clock in that it has a period of 24 hours, and like ordinary clocks it can get out of align. What does this mean? Your body clock adjusts to your schedule of sleep and wakefulness, and because it knows this schedule, it tells your body when to get ready for bed, and when to rise in the morning. As long as you keep a regular schedule, this clock will operate effectively. But if you stay up late and begin sleeping in, particularly on weekends, your body clock can’t adjust properly, and you find you aren’t sleeping when you’re suppose to be, or waking up before you normally do. In short, your body clock has been knocked out of adjustment, and needs to be re-set.
Furthermore, your body clock controls your body temperature at night. It allows it to decrease by one of two degrees until about 4:oo A.M. then it begins to rise slowly. About two hours later it gives you a wake-up call. If your bed time and rise time are irregular, this clock is not sure when to wake you. So you have to re-set it by getting back to a regular schedule.
2. Once your body clock is reset, you have to develop sufficient sleep drive, which in turn creates a sleep “pressure” that puts you to sleep.
You create a sleep drive by creating a “sleep debt.” Most people stay awake approximately 16 out of the 24 hours of the day. This means they have an 8-hour sleep debt when they go to bed. If you’re having problems sleeping, however, an 8-hour sleep debt may not be enough to put you to sleep quickly. Your sleep debt, which creates your sleep drive, is increased by staying awake and active as long as possible during the day. In particular, make sure you get as much sunlight as possible (it’s sunlight that builds up your sleep drive). Also, you should not nap during the day (assuming you have insomnia), and you should make sure you don’t sleep in to make up for sleep you may have lost during the night. If you lost some sleep (assuming you don’t sleep in) your sleep drive will be greater the next night because you’ll have a larger sleep debt. This will create extra “pressure’ for you to sleep.
3. Make sure you “prepare” yourself for sleep
Many people are tense and have anxious thoughts throughout the day (mostly because of our fast, high-pressured, society, and they have trouble relaxing before they go to bed. Their mind is in “full gear” all day long and they are unable to shut it down before they go to bed. It’s important, however, to make sure you “let go” before you go to bed. There are usually two types of thoughts in their minds: non-emotional and emotional. Tthe worst are the emotional thoughts, but nonemotional (decisions, planning for the next day) thoughts can also be a problem. It’s important to allow for a “cool down” period before you go to bed to get rid of them. This means you should spend at least half-an-hour ( or preferably, an hour) relaxing and preparing yourself for sleep. Several of the things you can do during this time are:
- watch TV (make sure it is nonviolent)
- take a warm bath
Make sure your mind is “quiet” before you go to bed. Also, you should make sure you are sleepy. If you’re not sleepy, wait until you are.
4. Once in bed, don’t try to force yourself to sleep
The object, once you are in bed is to allow yourself to go to sleep as quickly as possible. If you are awake for a half-hour or longer don’t fall into the trap of trying to force yourself to sleep. This is, in fact, the worst thing you can do. Think about when you were younger and slept well. Did you go to bed and “try to sleep?” No, sleep just came — usually with no effort. So don’t try to force yourself to sleep — let it come naturally. This may seem like it is easier said than done. But if your sleep drive is well-primed and you have a good sleep debt, you will sleep. If you’re still awake after an hour or so, get up, go to another room and read or meditate until you are sleepy.
5. Quiet your mind
If you are still having problems, you will have to quiet your mind further, and there are a couple of different approaches for this. The first thing is to completely clear your mind — make it blank. Then think of an enjoyable image: a mountain scene you once saw, an enjoyable day at the beach, or a family gathering. Keep your mind fixed on it. Relax and enjoy it until you fall asleep.
Finally, don’t worry if you don’t get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Any sleep you lose will help build up a better sleep drive for the following night. And don’t worry if you wake up in the night. Accept it, relax, roll over and go back to sleep