Getting the Best Sleep

I recently read the book ‘Healing Night’ by Rubin Naiman. I heard him speaking on the Sounds True podcast about the significance of sleep and I wanted to know more. For most of my adult life, sleep has been elusive. Over the years, I have managed to find ways to cope with sleeplessness and to understand what will improve or hinder my sleeping. This week I gave a talk at our local Toastmasters club on the main ideas from chapter 3 of Dr Naiman’s book. I would like to share those points here and some of my own experiences with each.

1. Eliminate Light-At-Night and Simulate Dusk.

This is one of the central points from Dr Naiman’s book. He suggests that we physically need to be in darkness more. If you’re able to read this, then you probably live somewhere with electric lights in your house, street lights outside and a television and computer. For most of human evolution, when it got dark, life slowed down and we prepared for sleep. The suggestion is to do the same in our homes. A few hours before bed, dim or extinguish lights in the house, turn of the tv and the computer and learn to relax. I’ve been experimenting with this recently and I’m enjoying it. For years I have been trying to quiet down earlier. I can’t guarantee that I will be faithful to this every night but the benefits are great so far. With the laptop off and one side lamp on, I have rediscovered the joys of pencil and journal. Then before going to bed, I spend half an hour or so with the lights out in the living room, doing my meditation practice.  It has been easy for me to experiment this week as my partner has been away. I will have to find ways to accommodate and co-navigate when he gets back.

2. Be Open to Sleep.

This one is straight forward: allow your body-mind to relax and wind down. Don’t eat late at night as your body needs to rest rather than put effort into digestion. Avoid alcohol, caffeine or other sleep inhibitors such as your very own stress hormones. I work in hospitality and at weekends often come home at 1am. It usually takes an hour for the adrenaline of working to leave the body, before I am physically able to sleep.

3. Let Go of the Day.

The author suggests that it can be useful to have a bedtime routine to change modes out of the business of daytime and to support healthy sleep. This can include any of bathing, changing out of daytime clothes, meditation or prayer, a body relaxation technique, journalling or light reading. All of these practices help us to slow down and let go of the day.

4. Surrender to Sleep.

Many of us fight sleep. We feel that we’re not tired enough to go to bed until we are on the verge of passing out. A more helpful approach would be to go to bed as soon as you feel the first wave of tiredness, at the first nod of your head. Falling asleep takes twenty minutes or so. If we pass out as soon as our head hits the pillow, it may be an indication that we are completely exhausted. ‘At the first nod of your head, go to bed’ has been a really good rule of thumb for me over the last few weeks. I’m much more aware of my energy levels. Also, rather than feeling like I’m an insomniac for  being awake ten minutes after climbing under the covers, it has become a pleasure to surrender to sleep’s embrace.

Treat yourself to a deeper sleep tonight. Turn the computer off early, dim the lights, let go of the day, and at the first nod of your head, climb into bed.

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