Even the worst sleeper can become a sleeping beauty. I have learned over the years that it’s a skill, and one that we have to learn and work at. We can teach ourselves to sleep well, just as we can teach children to sleep. It’s called sleep training. It works on adults too.
I often hear friends and family saying they are having trouble sleeping through the night, or falling asleep, or they are waking up too early, or many other combinations of problems. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get enough sleep too many nights in a row, it’s much harder to cope with my day, my emotions, my stuff. And I spent years having problems waking up through the night and not being able to fall back to sleep, my mind overwhelmed with thoughts, stresses, worries, and ongoing cycles of problems that only seemed to crop up at night, during the ‘darker’ hours of the mind. You know, that time when things that seem like nothing during daylight seem like terrifying giants in the dark middle of the night.
I could feel it happening, and I didn’t realize there was much I could do about it. First I would have trouble falling asleep. Then around 1 or 2 or 3 am, I would wake up and try to fall back to sleep. Then as I kept trying to fall asleep, I would start to realize more and more that it wasn’t working, and frustration would take over. Then I would start to look at my alarm clock over and over, and became aware that five minutes was turning into ten, then fifteen, then thirty, then longer, and I would become stressed that I was losing so much sleep, knowing I would wake up tired and groggy for work. Once I started to worry about that, other worries would come to mind: existential angst, thoughts about the universe, worries about what I had said to someone, or a mistakes I had made or might make, and one thought would snowball into the next, until I was fully awake and alert, with my mind racing and sleep nowhere in sight.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If so, here are ten changes I made in my sleep life, and it transformed me from a sloppy, interrupted, stressful sleeper, to a solid sleeper. I promise you, these tips will make a difference, providing you implement them intentionally and consistently. But most of all, please feel free to ask me questions, or comment below on anything you want to understand better, or struggle with. I am sympathetic to any and all sleep issues you might be having. I am not an expert, but I have been there, and have found some things that seem to work. I hope they will work for you too.
1. Change every single thing that does not feel relaxing in your bedroom. You might think that one little annoying things doesn’t really matter, but it does. And add the things that have positive relaxing effects. I found the best spot for my lamps, my candles, my books and tea for reading in bed. I added a diffuser with lavender essential oils, and changed my shower time from morning to evening, adding the relaxing routine of body care. I changed what I read to light and fluffy night-time reading. And simplify your room. Minimize what you have. If there is clutter that makes you feel anxious when you look at it, get rid of it! The simpler your space, the easier you will feel restful. Simple lines, clean and spacious, give the mind room to relax and sleep.
2. Move your bed to a spot in our bedroom that feels safe, secure, and relaxing. Try several spots in your room if you need to, until you find the best one. For me that was against the wall, in the far corner of the bedroom. Originally my bed was in the middle of the room, with a night table on both sides, but personally I felt like I was floating at sea. Eventually I moved the bed against the wall, my night tables into my closet as extra drawers, added a floating shelf beside my bed, and found a lamp the clipped onto the headboard. Much better.
3. Take your alarm clocks out of your bedroom. No more green or yellow or red glowing alarm clocks. This was essential for me and made a huge difference. When I had trouble sleeping all those years, I would not only be distracted by the bright glow of the clock’s digital numbers, but every time I woke, I would constantly be checking my clock and calculating how long I had been awake, and how many hours I still needed to sleep. This was stressful, and once I got rid of the alarm clocks, I felt much more peaceful, and time no longer mattered. I did set an alarm on my iPhone and computer, because waking up for work mattered, but these were on the other side of the room, and I was unaware of them until the morning alarm went off. And if I woke up and it was dark, I didn’t worry about the time–I just told myself it was still nighttime, and to go back to sleep.
4. Shut down the thoughts! I remember the very day that I learned that I was choosing to entertain all those thoughts that came to find me in the middle of the night, and that I could control them. It took great will and effort on my part, but I learned that when I woke up and those thoughts started churning like a windmill, that I could stop them from gaining momentum, that I could tell my mind to “shut… them… off!” And my mind listened. But, if all else fails, and you are still experiencing the kind of ongoing circling thoughts and worries that keep you up at night, talk to a friend or see your doctor. There are things like generalized anxiety, situational anxiety, and sleep anxiety that can prevent you from getting the sleep you deserve. You might be someone who simply cannot close your eyes or turn off your mind, and there is help for you.
5. Find the most comfy pillows you can–both head pillows and body pillows. And buy sheets and a duvet that you love and could curl up in for hours. I can’t even tell you how much my sleep changed once I got my beloved pillow from the mattress store. Presently I am using a ‘polar tropic’ pillow which is thick memory foam and one side that stays cool from the cooling ice silk yarn, and as soon as my head hits that pillow, I’m starting to relax. I almost left the store with out it, unconvinced, but when I reached the parking lot, something told me to go back. And I am I ever glad I did. It changed my sleeping life.
6. If you are a hot sleeper, there are also mattress covers that are cooling. And for those who have restless legs like me, you’ll know that heat can make them worse. You know how sometimes we keep turning and tossing in bed, looking for the cool side to the sheets? Well, this mattress cover has a cool side always. So when I am hot, this soothes me and feels refreshing — my face, arms, legs — and really helps me to sleep deeper.
7. Add a shelf for your book, and a lamp for reading before bed. I still struggle with this. My water or tea is there for the night (I am working on drinking a sleepy tea before bed–I love the Egyptian Chamomile and the Sleepy Tea I get from Steeped Tea) and I have my book there ready for me. They say that reading even 5-10 minutes before sleep can make a huge positive difference. I still struggle with reaching for my devices (very bad idea!) but I am working on it.
8. Move your devices to a charging area away from your bed, or outside of your bedroom. Having my devices across the room makes a big difference in letting go of my day and forgetting my worries. My phone or computer only remind me of all the things that need to happen the next day, my tasks, work, uncompleted assignments, and more. They also tempt me to stay up much later, delving into the digital world instead of the sleep world. I now have a charging station where everything gets plugged in–therefore, nothing is near me when I sleep.
9. Invest in black-out curtains. Do it! You might think you are sleeping just fine. You might love keeping your window open at night, and therefore your curtains open, because it’s just a bit of light from the moon, or the streetlamp, or the early morning sun. But trust me, darkness is key to keeping our bodies on the right sleep/awake schedule, and light that prevents you from having a nice dark bedroom cocoon will also prevent your brain from staying in that deep sleep you so badly need.
10. Finally, recognize that sleep training is not just for babies and children. Adults need sleep training too. It was around the time that my friend was having success with sleep training her babies, that I realized I needed a proper routine too. There are habits we need to establish, and it takes work, but don’t give up. It might take weeks or months, and it might take trial-and-error, but keep trying. Mind over matter. Eventually your will train your mind and body how to sleep well.
Sweet dreams, and good night, dear reader. Please feel free to comment below with any questions or thoughts you have on sleep.