Sleep problems can be a major drag on happiness—if you can’t sleep well, you can’t function as well during the day.
It’s tough being tired all day. I’ve had days where I struggled to make it through the day and didn’t have the energy to tackle anything that matters.
Hell, I’ve had years like that.
When you’re tired, not much seems appealing. Life is dulled, and you don’t get much accomplished. Worse still, you don’t have the energy to change the situation.
These days I don’t have many days like this, but when I do, I rest. We have gotten good at ignoring our body’s signals—much of our lives are spent training our minds to pretend as if our bodies aren’t tired, so we can be more productive.
This is wrong. It ends up in burnout and reduced productivity, because we inevitably run out of energy. Listen to your body—your long-term health and sanity depend on it.
Why we are tired
We are exhausted because we don’t rest enough. We think rest is not as important as other things like waking early, getting stuff done, attending a thousand meetings, being sucked into the world of online connections, reading and of course watching our all-important TV programmes.
So we cut down on our sleep in favour of these other things that are much more essential, and then wonder why our energy levels are low.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the problems that keep people tossing in bed:
Not tired yet: If your sleeping pattern is set so that you usually sleep later, when you do attempt to go to bed earlier, you’re not tired enough to fall asleep.
Too tired: It’s possible to be so exhausted that falling asleep is difficult. This tends to be a problem less often than ‘not tired enough’ though.
Worries: You’ve got something spinning around in your head, so the sleep doesn’t come. Sometimes it’s replaying something that’s happened, or things that someone said, and at other times it’s worrying about something coming up or planning an event.
Electronic devices: If you’re using your computer, smartphone, tab or any other device in bed, you might be tired but have a hard time sleeping because your mind isn’t unwinding.
There are other issues, but I’ve found these to be the most common.
1. Formula for becoming a baby
So how do we solve these problems and sleep like babies? I don’t have all the answers, but let me share some of the things that have worked for me.
2. Exercise: A good hard workout or run, bike or swim will get you nice and tired. A good yoga workout is a wonderful way to exercise, as you learn mindfulness at the same time. Even if my workout is early in the day, I often go to bed with a tired body, and look forward to the rest. Don’t workout right before bed though.
3. Get up early: You can get your body to shift its sleeping schedule by slowly getting up earlier. Try 15 minutes earlier than normal for a week, then another 15 minutes. If you get up earlier, you’ll be a bit tired during the day, and when it’s time to go to sleep, you’ll enjoy the rest.
4. Establish a bedtime ritual: It takes time to unwind the body and mind. At least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down. Turn off the computer, TV or smartphone. Floss and brush your teeth. Put away things you were using in the evening. Sit down and read a book [not on your laptop]. This kind of ritual helps establish in your mind that it’s time to sleep, and your body takes this cue and begins to prepare itself.
5. Keep your room only for sleeping: Don’t eat, watch TV, use your computer, or do other kinds of activities in your room. Restrict those activities to the living and dining rooms, so that when you go to bed, there’s just one thing to do. Be sure to make the room dark when you go to sleep too—your body reacts to light.
6. Focus your attention: Once you’ve gone through your bedtime ritual and unwound, and your body is nice and tired, you need to quiet your mind. Here’s my trick for doing that—close your eyes and visualise the first thing you did today. That might be opening your eyes and getting out of bed. Then visualise the second thing you did—let’s say you washed your face or drank a glass of water. Then you started the coffee but first had to grind the beans. Visualise these tiny steps in detail. I never get past the first hour of my day before I’m asleep.
7. Change slowly: Be patient with sleeping changes—they are difficult, because when you are tired, your mind doesn’t have the discipline to stick to changes. Your body and mind want to do what it’s used to doing. But if you change a little at a time, and forgive yourself for ‘messing up’ [there’s no messing up, actually], then you can make changes.
This cure for insomnia didn’t work overnight for me. But I don’t think it took that long before it did begin to work. You can only go without adequate sleep for so long before your body and mind force you to catch up. So catch up by going to sleep earlier.
Another thing I noticed was that when I began to sleep earlier and wake earlier, it threw my sleeping patterns off for a while. It was a bit weird and took a little while to adjust, but finally getting a good night’s rest was rewarding.
This was first published in the April 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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