Most people have trouble sleeping – especially geeks and freaks and entrepreneurs (oh, my!).
We keep such odd schedules that our bodies and brains often don’t slow down even when they’re supposed to, and who has time to relax anymore? Often, even after we fall, our sleep is restless or interrupted, and falling back to sleep is even harder the second time.
But sleep is our most precious function: it refuels us, heals us, and rejuvenates us. A good night’s sleep will empower us to have a better day, every time – and without it, we get increasingly moody, quick to anger, and far more prone to illness.
I know that Pace and I particularly had troubles over the past month, gearing up to the launch of the Writing Workshop, which is unsurprising, given the sheer excitement and anxiety that comes with a big project.
Here are nine tricks I’ve found to make sleep come easier and stay longer – and they work, even when you’re feeling lots of pressure. I’ve been putting them to the test quite a lot, lately. (;
1. Don’t do anything brainy.
Stop reading that engrossing non-fiction book, stop watching the news, stop doing anything that makes you think at least an hour before bed. If you’re thinking right up til bedtime, your brain won’t stop when you lay down, and you’ll wind up tossing and turning for a long while instead of sleeping.
Instead, do down-time activities. Read a fiction novel. Watch something calming or funny, but not violent or gritty. Meditate, take a bubble bath, or play a mindless calm video game (first person shooters are right out). Anything to wind your brain down. This gives your mind time to process the day behind the scenes so that when you’re ready for sleep, so is your brain.
2. Close your open loops.
If you find yourself laying in bed trying to remember if you fed the cats, get up and feed the cats. If you’re making a list of what to buy at the grocery store, write it down. Is the door locked? Go check. Is your alarm set? Take a quick look.
Assuaging these little nagglers will close your open thought loops, which will quiet your brain and allow you to sleep. Keep a little notebook by your bed for night-time list scribbling, make a nightly routine of locking the doors and checking on the kids/cats/dogs/fish. I even say things out loud like, “Yep, the front door is locked. The cats have food and water. I can hear the kiddo singing, so I know he’s okay.” Saying them out loud reinforces their completion and helps me remember better when I’m shutting down my loops before I sleep.
3. Don’t leave the lights on.
Make your bedroom as dark as possible. With all our technology, we’re inundated with lights – and it completely messes with our cycles. Even that digital clock is enough light to keep you from deep sleep. If you need a light, find a soft nightlight – but it’s best for as much dark as possible.
This is true for the rest of your house, too. Get a couple of soft nightlights to illuminate your path to the bathroom and put another in your bathroom, and leave the lights off. If you switch them on for your midnight pee, you’re flooding your brain with signals to wake up and start the day, which will make returning to sleep far more difficult.
4. Forget about the time.
Ever wake up in the middle of the night, unable to immediately return to sleep, and find yourself with a burning desire to look at the clock?
Looking at the clock is another one of those signals that we’re ready to be up and rolling, so doing it when you would really prefer to be snoozing is counter-productive. If you’re able, don’t put a clock in your bedroom. If you really need one, put it out of reach and angle it so you can’t read it from your bed. (I use my iPhone for an alarm, so I can put it face down – and I trained myself not to touch it when I wake up.)
Knowing what time you’re awake isn’t going to help you sleep better, anyway; train yourself to let it go, and you won’t wake yourself up too much.
5. Don’t look at screens.
Again with light flooding our brains and telling us it’s time to wake up: if you look at a computer screen, TV screen, or even your phone screen, you’re risking waking up too far to easily drop back to sleep.
It’s ideal to stop looking at screens about 30 minutes before you go to bed, but if you can’t manage that, prevent yourself from looking at them in the middle of the night. Even set on the lowest light level, they’re still so bright that our brains think it’s morning.
So in general, if you wake up before you want to, avoid bright lights and screens and you’ll have an easier time of returning to sleep.
6. Don’t be caffeinated.
Don’t get caffeinated too late in the day. This one’s a bit tricky; you have to test and find your limits. For me, it’s 4pm; if I have any kind of caffeine after 4pm, I’m too caffeinated to sleep well.
Figure out how late caffeine affects you, and make sure you don’t have any after that. Having caffeine coursing through you will prevent you from falling asleep – and can prevent you from sleeping well even after you do fall.
7. Exercise early, not late.
Exercising first thing in the morning really helps you sleep better, but the later it gets, the more that adrenaline will stick in your system, giving you trouble relaxing and sleeping. Get it done early, or skip it for the day.
Our monkey brains love ritual. If you have a nighttime ritual that you can do right before sleep, you tell your brain and your body that it’s time for resting.
For example, I brush my teeth, wash my face, brush my hair, and pee right before I climb into bed – and I mean, immediately before – not an hour, not ten minutes. On my way to bed, I veer into the bathroom and ablute, then go get in bed. Once I’m in bed, I cuddle with Pace for about 10 minutes, then roll over and assuming the sleeping position, and I’m out.
This sends the message to my body that it’s time to get ready for sleep, and by the time I get to bed, I’m already yawning. Find something simple, relaxing, and repetitive, and get your groove on – this will increase your chances of an easy slumber.
9. Bed is for sleeping.
This is the most important one.
Don’t do anything in bed except sleep. (And your partner; sex in bed is fine.)
We are creatures of habit. If you lay in bed and read for two hours every night, you’re training your body to lay awake for hours before sleep. Then, when you don’t want to read, you’re going to lay there anyway because that’s what you’re trained to do.
I’ve gotten this one down to an art form. As soon as I get in bed and get comfy, I get sleepy. This is because, for years, all I’ve done in bed is sleep. I don’t read there more than once a month (and usually not even that much), I don’t lay there when I’m talking on the phone, nada. I get in bed to sleep, and sleep I do.
In fact, this is so important that it’s important to adhere to it even if you’re trying to sleep and can’t. Don’t lay in bed for more than an hour if you’re having trouble sleeping; get up and go do something relaxing for a bit, then try again. If insomnia persists, repeat. Laying in bed not sleeping reinforces to the body that bed is for other things, and you’ll have more trouble later on.
Good luck, and sweet dreams!