“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” – E. Joseph Cossman
It’s Hard To Fall Asleep
Trying To Not Let Go Of The Day
We are constantly thinking and acting upon things until the last second before we shut our eyes to sleep. Even when we try to fall asleep we are still processing the events of the day or thinking about what needs to be done tomorrow.
All of this thinking produces stress and keeps the brain to stay in a fight-or-flight response mode. Once in the fight-or-flight response mode, the brain cannot shut down key systems necessary to fall asleep because it is in a heightened state of alertness.
Any activity that is mentally or physically stimulating before sleeping, keeps the brain in a stress state and adds additional time for the brain to wind-down before it can initiate sleep. As much as we may want to switch the brain into a rest mode, there is information from the last activity you were doing that needs to be processing and that could lead to difficulty in achieving a state of rest necessary to fall asleep or maintain good sleep.
There are many reasons for this but it really boils down to individual traits. Some of us are very productive people who try to maximize every minute of the day. Others are night people who tend to be most productive at night. Falling into either or both of these cases means that you are most likely staying awake late or trying to do something until the very last minute before you fall asleep.
Cellphones In Bed
As mentioned before, one of the biggest contributors to difficulty falling asleep is keeping the brain in a flight-or-fight mode. One major factor in keeping the brain in this state is the devices that we engage with prior to falling asleep.
Most of us tend to wrap up the last minutes before we sleep by browsing our cell phones. We check Facebook, Instagram, Mail or read some short news articles. Many times these activities start with the intention of being 5-10 minutes but often extend to 30 minutes or an hour. Although it may seem as routine or low mental reading, this activity keeps our brains in the fight-or-flight mode.
Browsing is not just browsing. It involves recollection of memories, things to remember for the next day, things that make us laugh or think. All of these are information that the brain needs to process and analyze, keeping it active and unable to go into rest mode.
Good Things About Sleep
Sleep is vital to retaining and sustaining good memory. During sleep, your brain repairs the neural connections in your brain. It also synthesizes newly formed information, while reinforcing the neural connection and converting short-term memory into long-term memory. Your brain also generates metabolic toxins while we are awake. During sleep, these toxins are flushed out and cleaned allowing for better and clearer thinking.
Without proper sleep, we risk limited memory of information we learned the previous day and put ourselves at a disadvantage for properly retaining information for the next day. Simply put, if you want to absorb more information and be able to recall it properly in the future, you need to make sure you have good rest.
Improved Stamina and Recovery
There is a strong connection between physical ability and sleep quality. Getting to sleep properly can ensure that you get a good night’s rest before you wake up. Creating an environment to promote good sleep will improve your sleep quality and allow you to maintain deep sleep for longer periods of time. Deep sleep is the stage during which your body and mind go into recovery mode and repair damage as well as wash cleanse out harmful toxins that have built up during the day. Sufficient deep sleep can ensure that you are well recovered and full of energy the next morning.
When I first implemented techniques to improve my sleep I instantly saw benefits in my mood, energy levels and body. My mood was less tempered. I was more positive and out-going. My energy level was balanced and energetic in the morning. It felt like my batteries were re-charged and I was excited to start the day. My body seemed to recover from the previous days of exercise much better. I did not feel much lactic acid build-up or soreness. I was able to perform much better in the gym due to the additional energy and recovery
How To Sleep Instantly At Night
1. Set A Mental Alarm For Bedtime
One of the best habits for supporting falling asleep and promoting good sleep is to set a fixed time for bed. Set a specific time when you will be in bed with your eyes closed trying to fall asleep. From this fixed time, you can now build a routine around that time and ensure that you have wrapped up and completed all necessary activities before that time.
When picking a fixed time for bed, it is important to consider the hours necessary for a well-rested night’s sleep (Studies show this to be 8-8.5 hours). Making sure that you pick a time that allows for ample sleep will ensure that you wake up with energy to tackle the next day. There is no point in improving your ability to go to sleep just to get an inefficient amount of sleep.
Another consideration when picking a fixed time for bed is to try to align your sleeping and waking patterns around the Circadian Rhythms. Circadian Rhythms represent the biological clock of our bodies. They track peak and low times of body temperature, hormones (including cortisol and melatonin) against the hours of the day. By aligning your sleep time to the Circadian Rhythms, you can ensure that you fall asleep during the appropriate time to maximize muscle recovery and psychological recovery for peak performance the next day.
By setting a fixed time, you can start to program your brain into understanding that this is when to shut down all systems and sleep. You can use this fixed point to work backwards and create a routine that ensures you are in bed by that time.
2. Start To Wind Down 30 Minutes Before Bed
In order to ensure that your fixed bedtime remains constant, you have to ensure that you get yourself into bed at that time and put your mind at a state of relaxation to allow for sleep.
Many of us try to do work until the last minute before we sleep. As discussed earlier, this will keep your brain in its fight-or-flight mode and make it difficult to fall asleep. Instead, we should build a wind-down process that gets us ready for bed while at the same time slowly puts the brain at rest and into a relaxed state to allow sleep.
The wind-down routine should start at least 30 minutes before our fixed bedtime. During this 30 minutes need to start closing down thinking activities and start the routine to get ready for bed. This routine should involve removing yourself from all devices and screens. Key activities in a wind-down routine should be (in no particular order):
- Brushing Teeth
- Night skincare routine
- Meditation or Breathing Exercises
- Packing lunch for the next day
- Laying out your outfit for the next day
3. Create A Cold, Dark Room
Creating an environment which is ideal for falling asleep and maintaining good sleep is vital. Two key factors are light and temperature.
By setting the room temperature too high or too low it might negatively impact the ability to fall asleep or maintain good sleep. Studies show that the ideal body temperature to for good sleep is 65-69 degrees. This is the target core temperature your body needs to achieve to sustain good sleep. If your body cannot achieve this target temperature you will spend the time trying to get warm or cold and fail to properly fall asleep or stay sleeping.
Working backward from this temperature (including the additional warmth of blankets) is a good practice to ensure that you set yourself up in an ideal condition to fall asleep. Use the lowest temperature in the range (65 degrees) and factor in 5 degrees for blanket warmth. This gives you a room temperature of 60 degrees. Try this for a few days and if you feel that you are comfortably warm at night then keep it or adjust as necessary.
Similar to an ideal temperature room, darkness is also vital to sustain good sleep. Blinking or glimmering lights can disrupt sleep or stimulate optic responses which could raise cortisol levels during the wrong times. They may also influence our dreams and cause restlessness. Try to create a room that is void of as much light as possible. Close all blinds and doors, unplug or high all devices that might have a flickering or blinking light. If necessary use a sleeping mask to completely block out all light.
4. Mini Meditation In Bed
Once in bed, you still need to relax and prepare your body for sleep. One of the best ways to do this is to do a short meditation or breathing exercise for 2-5 minutes. This will slow down your heart rate, get oxygen into your body, calm down your nervous system and turn off your brain’s flight-or-flight mode. I personally use a meditation app like OAK or the 4-7-8 breathing technique (https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/stress-anxiety/breathing-three-exercises/).
Since applying meditation or breathing exercises to my nightly routine I am quickly able to de-stress and discard my mind of any overthinking. The meditation clears my mind and almost immediately (with the combination of a dark room and cold temperature) my body immediately starts to become tired and weightless. My eyelids become heavy and I usually end the meditation or breathing almost half asleep.
I have also found that my dreams tend to be a lot calmer when I meditate prior to sleeping. Without keeping stressful thoughts my mind is able to freely explore my subconscious and dream about much lighter topics. This has a profound impact on my sleep quality preventing me from tossing and turning at night due to uncomfortable dreams.
Sleep Tracking of Non-Meditating Night of Sleep
Sleep Tracking of Meditating Night of Sleep
5. Visualize Shutting Down Systems
Once your body is calm and relaxed and you have set yourself up for a good sleep (proper room temperature, dark room, calm mind, and breathing), it is important to clear the mind and tell your brain that it is ready for sleep. One mental technique that I use is to visualize the cockpit of a spaceship with three sections of lit up instrument panels.
Once I have the image in my mind, I imagine that I am the pilot and I need to hit a series of switches resulting in each instrument panel going dark and turning off systems. I start with Stage 1, then once it has been completely shut off, I move onto the next stage and repeat.
Once all sections have been turned off I focus on the dark and silent cockpit, gracefully gliding through the emptiness of space. Typically this exercise is enough of a mental cue for my brain to put me to sleep or I am in such a relaxed and calm state that simply rolling over to my side allows me to quickly drift off into sleep. It is my way of telling my brain through actualization. I find this to be a very effective technique and use it almost every night. It is now part of my daily sleep routine and I have built the memory connection in my brain to associate this with the fall asleep sequence.
What Tip Do You Have To Maintain Good Sleep?
What I’ve shared above are lessons and self-reflections that I have learned from my research on sleep. However, I am still constantly trying to learn from my experiments and the internet. I would love to hear what tips, techniques or lessons you have learned from your experiences. Feel free to comment below with an example or identify an area I might have missed. Please share so we all can learn and possibly incorporate ourselves.