Practice of the Week
Get More Sleep
Category: Supporting Practices: observances that support and expand developing spirituality.
You need more sleep.
That is, unless you really are that rare person these days who's truly getting enough sleep. (Disclosure: that person is definitely not me.)
Without sufficient sleep, risks go up for car accidents, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and unwanted weight. And performance goes down in paying attention, learning, and staying motivated. Plus, it just feels bad to be foggy, groggy, tired, and irritable.
People don't get enough sleep for a variety of reasons. It's common to stay up too late and get up too early, and drink too much coffee to get going in the morning and too much alcohol to relax at night. Sleep problems are also a symptom of some health conditions—such as depression and sleep apnea—so talk with your doctor" if you have insomnia or if you still feel tired after seemingly getting enough sleep.
The right amount of sleep varies from person to person — and from time to time: if you're stressed, ill, or working hard, you need more sleep. Whatever it is that you need, the key is consistency: getting good rest every night, not trying to catch up on weekends or holidays.
After I left home, I often went back to visit my parents. They frequently told me I looked tired and needed more sleep. It bugged me every time they said it. But, you know what?
They were right. Almost everyone needs more sleep.
Two things get in the way of sufficient sleep: not setting enough time aside for it, and not having deep and continuous sleep during the time allotted.
In terms of the first problem:
- Decide how much time you want to sleep each night. Then, look at your schedule, see when you need to wake up, and work backwards to give yourself a bedtime. Figure out what you need to do during the hour before your bedtime to get to sleep on time; it probably includes not getting into an argument with anyone!
- Observe the "reasons" that emerge to stay up past your bedtime. Most if not all of them will boil down to a basic choice: what's more important, your health and well-being—or watching another hour of TV, doing housework, or (fill in the blank)?
- Really enjoy feeling rested and alert when you get enough sleep. Take in those good feelings, so your brain will want more of them in the future.
In terms of the second problem, issues with sleep itself, here are some suggestions; pick the ones that work for you:
- Consider the advice of organizations like the National .Sleep Foundation: have a bedtime routine; relax in the last hour or two before bed; stop eating (particularly chocolate), drinking coffee or alcohol, exercising, or smoking cigarettes two or three hours before bedtime; make sure the environment of your bedroom supports sleep (e.g., cool and quiet, good mattress, ear¬plugs if your partner snuffles or snores).
- Do what you can to lower stress. Chronic stress raises hormones like Cortisol, which will make it hard to fall asleep in the first place, or wake up early in the morning.
- Make a deal with yourself to worry or plan during the next day, after you get up. Shift your attention to things that make you feel happy and relaxed, or simply to the sensations of breathing itself. Bring to mind the warm feeling of being with people who care about you. Have compassion for yourself.
- Really relax. For example, take five to ten long exhalations; imagine your hands are warm (and tuck them under the pillow); rest a finger or knuckle against your lip; relax your tongue and jaw; imagine you are in a very peaceful setting; progressively relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head.
- Certain nutrients are important for sleep. Unless you're sure you're getting these in your daily diet, consider supplementing magnesium (500 milligrams/day) and calcium (1200 milligrams/day). If you can, take half in the morning and half before bed.
- The neurotransmitter serotonin aids sleep; it is made from an amino acid, tryptophan, so consider taking 500-1000 milligrams of tryptophan just before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can't easily fall back to sleep, consider 1 milligram of melatonin taken sublingually (under the tongue). You could also eat a banana or something else that's quick and easy; rising blood sugar will lift insulin levels, which will help transport more tryptophan into your brain. You can usually get tryptophan and melatonin at a health food store; do not supplement either of these if you are breastfeeding or taking psychiatric medication'(unless your doctor tells you it's fine).
Just add a quick note at the beginning of each daily journal entry, recording how many hours of sleep you got last night. Simply taking note in this way will begin to bring your attention to strategies for sleeping more, such as those listed above. As a further step, write about the reasons that kept you kept you from getting to sleep earlier last night. Also: write down how many hours you want to get tonight.
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