Sleep disorders occur in anywhere from 10-20% of American adults, according to a recent Center for Disease Control survey. Consistent sleep is necessary not only for energy and mental focus, but deep sleep (stages 3 & 4) is necessary for tissue repair and regeneration, and proper growth and development. Restful sleep is enhanced by nighttime rituals, often referred to as “sleep hygiene,” but studies are now also showing the importance of daytime states– decreasing chronic stress during wakefulness– as contributing significantly to sounder sleep. Here are some tips to get you started. For more chronic sleep disorders, proper guidance from a health care professional may be warranted to correct hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalances.
1. Ritualize the Rhythms of Activity and Rest
- Create an energizing ritual with morning light exposure and exercise.
- Learn to rest during the day with meditation and breathing practices.
- Maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends.
- Develop a soothing evening ritual as a bridge to sleep.
2. Use Dusk and Darkness as Sleep Medicine
- Simulate dusk: dim your lights for a couple of hours before bed.
- Always use blue light reduction technology to watch TV or use computers– blue light is the wavelength that stimulates the pineal gland and may disrupt natural Circadian rhythms. Download f.lux for free to your computer or laptop; this will eliminate blue light from your monitor. But because background light may still affect your Circadian rhythm, consider orange glasses after dusk like the ones here: www.lowbluelights.com.
- Slow down with a warm bath, journaling, reading (non-screen format), massage, or intimacy.
- Consider 5-HTP or melatonin replacement therapy as needed.
- Sleep in total darkness: use black-out shades or eyeshades. Remove any ambient lighting from electronics.
3. Quiet Your Body Noise
- Avoid “counterfeit energies” throughout the day, but especially in the evenings—caffeine, sugary foods, and adrenaline.
- Avoid strenuous exercise at least 2-3 hours before bed time.
- Carefully check for possible sleep side effects of all medications used.
- Check your alcohol intake—drinking less, earlier, and with food is best.
4. Create a Sleep Sanctuary
- Keep your bedroom cool (68 degrees or less), dark and quiet during sleep.
- Gradually move toward a more “green”—organic and natural—bedroom.
- Get digital clocks and other such electronics away from your head and bed, ideally out of sight.
- Keep your bed sacred: only to be used for sleep or intimacy.
5. Learn to Surrender to Sleep
- Avoid the chemical knockout of sleeping pills and alcohol.
- You cannot literally “go to sleep”—practice “letting go of waking.”
- Approach getting to sleep as a personal spiritual practice—an act of faith.
- Consider using natural sleep aids such as lavender and valerian, if needed.
6. Don’t Battle Nighttime Wakefulness
- Go to bed only when you feel sleepy.
- Never watch the clock from bed—it pulls us back into the waking world.
- If you can’t sleep, get up, sit in a comfortable spot until you’re sleepy again.
- Use nighttime wakefulness as an opportunity to meditate or pray or just reflect. Avoid stimulating activities and “to do” lists.
7. Arise Mindfully with Intention in the Morning
- Obtain at least 20 minutes of daily exposure to morning light shortly after arising.
- Awaken slowly and explore your grogginess in the morning.
- Let the memories of your dreams come and note them.
- Set conscious intentions to guide your waking day. Stress reduction during the wakeful hours can significantly improve sleep duration and quality.
Sleep tips adapted from recommendations by sleep specialist Rubin Naiman, PhD (courtesy of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of AZ)