Let's talk about sleep, baby...
I’m going to make the assumption that you already know why getting enough sleep is important for your overall energy and well-being. What I want to dive into are some tactical tips and practices I’ve found to be helpful in getting to sleep and staying asleep.
This a simple list that pulls together what I’ve found to actually work over the years. If you have your own great strategies, share them in the comments below! My goal is to share as many tips as possible so any of you struggling to get the restorative rest you need find something that helps.
For my entire life, up until about 3 years ago, I was addicted to going to bed with the TV on. I’ve weaned that addiction and found that the strategies below have helped me have more restful sleep than I ever imagined. These tips allow us to consciously reduce blue light around bedtime, limit physical and emotional stimulation, and support your brain to move into the restful Delta state.
Getting to Sleep
Lights Out! Obviously turn out the lights, but have you noticed all the little green, red, blue, or yellow status lights on your electronic devices? Those “ghost lights” actually inhibit our natural secretion of melatonin. Yes, even these tiny little lights. I think I have one blue dot in my bedroom still, but it’s out of my line of sight when I sleep. I’m personally not someone who can comfortably sleep with an eye mask but if you can, go for it.
Yellow Light Phone Setting: Most phones have a feature where you can set the display to transition from blue light to yellow light at a certain time of the evening and it will transition back to in the morning. I used to brush this one off but given how connected (read: addicted) we are to our phones, I put it to use and it’s just plain science. The shorter wavelengths in blue light not only stimulate and strain our eyes, but also causes the body to produce less melatonin. On the iPhone use the “Night Shift” setting and on Androids, some phones have a “Blue Light Filter” or “Night Mode”. Such a simple autopilot way to support your body getting ready for sleep.
Digital Free Zone: If changing the light setting isn’t enough for you, institute a digital-free zone in the bedroom. This isn’t personally a strategy I’ve needed to use, but I think it’s worth trying out if you’re at all inclined or feel addicted to technology. It sets the zone that the bedroom is for sleeping (and fun…). And we don’t want to get a brain buzz going by scrolling Instagram, watching videos, or reading with the phone’s blue light before bed. If you have problems getting to sleep, you’ll do yourself a big favor by ridding yourself of the nighttime phone or tablet “channel surfing” addition.
Get your brain in the right wave: Some people swear by sound machines. If that works for you, by all means, turn those tracks on! I personably don’t rely on a sound machine, but if I have problems falling asleep, I have a few go-to audio solutions. One is pink noise, which studies show promote deeper sleep (think: loud consistent fan running in your bedroom). There are pink noise apps, you can find tracks on YouTube, or sleep with your window open during a rainy night.
The Calm app has a Sleep Story feature that I have recently discovered and found works really well! Someone with a lovely voice tells a story, fiction or non-fiction, that typically walks you through a relaxation then tells a story with heavy visualization that ends up putting you to sleep in a very sweet way.
One of my all-time favorite apps is the Grace Space hypnotherapy app. Did you have a little “WTF” reaction when I said hypnotherapy? While I won’t go into her full story here, Grace Smith is an amazing human whose mission is to make hypnotherapy mainstream due to its drastic and proven healing abilities. She describes hypnotherapy as “meditation with a mission”. Her app has tons of customizable short and longer recorded hypnosis and several dedicated to sleep. Puts me to sleep. Every. Single. Time.
Read a book: A boring book. A slow book. That is all.
Do Not Disturb Mode: This has probably been my #1 sleep savior. I could have put this in the Getting to Sleep section because nothing pulls me straight out of falling asleep like a text or notification on my phone! This was scary for me to do at first because I thought I would miss something important, but the iPhone has that little crescent moon button that puts your phone in Do Not Disturb mode. While you can customize the settings, what this means is that you will still receive text messages and notifications, but your phone will not light up, vibrate, or ring. It will sit there in complete still darkness preserving your precious slumber. But, if someone from your “Favorites” list calls, it will ring (or vibrate depending on your settings), so you won’t miss any emergencies. This one has been KEY for my sleep success. Try it out for a few nights. It’s especially helpful if you have friends in other time zones who text at random times, early or late (shout out to my west-coast amigos).
Just Breathe: Isn’t it the worst when you wake up at 3am and start ruminating over that to-do list and can’t get back to sleep?! So frustrating. This is where it’s helpful to put some mindfulness breath work into place. You can try counting your inhales and exhales from 19 down to 1, then repeat, with slow steady breaths in and out of your nose (reminiscent of counting sheep?). You can try the square breathing technique, which means breathing in through your nose to the count of 4. Hold for 4. Exhale through the nose for 4. Hold for 4. Repeat with the inhale. Check out my Mindfulness Starter Kit for my simple 3 step process that is a great tool for you in this scenario. Focusing on your breath will give your mind a break and you should find yourself drifting back to sleep in no time.
Resist Temptation!: One of the other habits that has had the biggest impact on me getting back to sleep has been not giving in to my temptation to check my phone or the clock when I wake up in the middle of the night. Per the reasons above, it’s clear why we don’t want to check our emails and social media in the middle of the night, but what’s been key for me is not checking the time. I got rid of any physical clock in my bedroom so I have to look at my phone to see what time it is. Depending on what time I see, I then go into panic mode… shit, I only have 1 more hour of sleep! Must get to bed immediately! Or whatever the scenario might be. My brain just doesn’t need to know what time it is… why put that stress and pressure on yourself? Just use your breath work to calm yourself back to sleep and wake up when the alarm goes off (or sun comes up).
If any of the above tips peaked your interest, give them a try! Realize that with the exception of true sleep disorders, sleep comes down to a prioritization. A choice. A habit. Do I want to watch those YouTube videos and scroll through my phone or do I want to get a full night’s sleep and wake up rested and restored? The choice is yours, so whatever you decide, just be conscious of it.
Drop a comment below to let me know if any of these tips work or if you have some other sleep techniques, share them!
P.S. If you have a baby in the household, congratulations! And I’m sorry...I can’t attest that any of these tips work when you’re trying to feed and keep a baby alive. But more power and restorative vibes to all you mamas and papas out there!