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Falling Asleep Fast (2): Preparative- & Preventative measures

May 31, 2018


The follow-up on last month’s do’s and don’ts sleep-aid

Welcome back to the buffet! In our previous sitting (Mental Exercises) we peppered you with a course of vol-au-vents chock-full of sleeping advice. If you’re still having problems going beddy-bye, after flexing all that Jedi-muscle, it might be time to try a different approach.

What we do before our heads hit the pillow (and the things we choose to surround ourselves with) tends to catch us up as soon as we kick our slippers under the bed. So in the spirit of our slumber fest menu, tick your way through this list of do’s and don’ts and see what whets your appetite and what keeps you up at night.

The hot shower

Getting ready to sleep involves more than just brushing your teeth and falling into bed. It is a crucial, often involved process that does not allow shortcuts. If you habitually schlep straight from your desk to your double bed, sooner or later you’re going to hit a speedbump.

Taking a hot shower helps unknot those stubborn stress muscles and lets your body know it is safe to start winding down. The hot water will melt you into the right headspace for sleep. In addition, the transition from hot water to cold air will help counteract the hotter-than-normal core body temperature experienced by many insomniacs.

Lavender

Lavender scent is commonly held to promote feelings of restfulness and aid in the process of relaxation. A Wesleyan University study found that it promoted deep sleep. Some incense, a vaporizer or some rubbing oils could lubricate your way to dreamland. If possible, you can include these in your shower regimen as a soap or shower gel or even incorporate some bath salts into an evening’s soak.

Scented candles are an idea but please do be careful: we guarantee you’ll have an even harder time falling asleep with your bed on fire.

Meditation

Not the same thing as counting sheep. Successful meditation is a purposefully cultivated state of self-awareness practiced by buddhist monks (and other spiritual gurus) which supercharges relaxation. It takes decades to master ... but luckily there’s an app for it!

The internet is littered with five-star, guided meditation apps for your smartphone. For just five minutes a day, plug in your headphones and let your swami elevate you to a higher plane of existence: sleep.

Candle light

Our brains are very sensitive to the kinds- and quality of light we surround ourselves with and it can distinguish between daylight and many forms of artificial light. Exposure to daylight tends to keep our brains alert and inhibits the production of sleep-inducing melatonin (more on this below). Firelight or candle light, on the other hand, tells our brains the day has come to an end and it’s time to consider slowing down.

Get a jumpstart on this process and have dinner by candle light. If you’ve got a fireplace, maybe spark that up and leave the TV off - the news will wait until morning. Maintain this lighting as far as possible as you get closer to bed, possibly by dimming the lights.

Nix the electrics

Modern electric screens (TV’s, smartphones, tablets, laptops, monitors, etc.) all operate in the so-called blue spectrum of light. Our brains instinctively identify the blue spectrum as daylight and naturally hold off on starting our sleep cycles while being so bombarded. What’s worse, the effect can be cumulative: it can take your brain as long as an hour to realize the ‘sun’ has gone.

Many laptops and smartphones are now coming standard with ‘night mode’ (which shifts the display to red spectrum light) and there are downloadable apps which will do the same. Nevertheless, a good old-fashioned paperback never hurt anybody.

Shhhh...!

Quiet is key. The aim is to get your body to relax and your brain to follow suit. This is particularly difficult when you’re being hounded by noise. So plug that leaky faucet; duct tape the squeaky window; murder the noissome mosquito and throw the neighbor’s dog a brick bone.

If there are noises you can’t get away from (Snore? Me? Good heavens, no!) you can try fighting noise with noise… (No, don’t blow a vuvuzela in their ear while they’re snoring.) Certain low-frequency, repetitive noises work to lull the brain into relaxation. Such as the hum of a dryer or the sound of rain on the roof. (And there are apps for that too.)

Stop the clock

As mentioned in part one, trying really, really, really hard to fall asleep is a self-defeating behaviour. Like wild birds, dreams only venture close when they are being ignored. In the same vein: it is a very bad idea to have an alarm clock staring balefully at you all night, like a Cylon squating on your bedside table. You’ll find yourself making up ultimatums: ‘if I’m not asleep in 15 minutes…’ which are counterproductive to the whole exercise.

Kick the Cylon under the bed. It’ll be easier to stomp on when it tries to wake you in the morning.

Avoid exercise

Not in general. Just for four- or five hours before you go to bed. You might think that exercise will tire you out for sleep but the opposite is true. The aftermath of all that adrenaline and those endorphins remain active in your system long after you can’t possibly do one more curl, keeping your brain up like a double espresso.

Move your workout to the morning. It will do more good for your sleep cycle that way.

No snacking / stimulants

Give your stomach a good headstart on your food before the three of you go to bed. If the factory that is your intestinal tract is still busily chomping away at your last meal (or your midnight snack) when you duck under the covers, it won’t let you get any rest either: it needs your body in a wakeful / semi-active state in order to get the serious metabolising done.

It goes without saying but avoid caffeine before bed (by a couple of hours). Again, the effects can linger long after the initial kick has worn off. Others to avoid include chocolate, high-protein meat, fats and hot spices.

Many insomniacs try to self-medicate with alcohol. While no-one is going to try and take your glass of wine from you, you should know that alcohol increases your chances of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep.

Don’t nap

Humans have adapted to a monophasic sleep cycle. Which is to say, we sleep once a day (at night, mostly). If you take the odd mid-afternoon nap (that lazy Sunday afternoon kip) you confuse your body and it won’t want to sleep again when night falls. Slap yourself awake. Napping is for babies.

Stick to a schedule

Even if you have a problem with authority, your body likes the comfort of an imposed routine. It can be trained to be sleepy at a certain time. String together a series of activities (your own little ritual) before you go to bed (and try to keep bedtime consistent). Your brain will clock the start of the ritual and begin spooling itself down in preparation for sleep.

That’s it for this month. Join us again next month for dessert in part 3 (physical adaptation) where we’ll take a look as some of the things in and around your bedroom and how Bedking can help you get the rest you need.


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