09
Sep
10

insomnia

Reader C. S. asks:

I’ve been having a really hard time falling asleep lately. Got any tips?

Dear C.S.:

There’s an old proverb that goes like this: Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

I much prefer the version put forward by Yakko Warner of Animaniacs fame: Early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy, but socially dead.

Falling asleep has to do with lots of inputs from your brain that you may not even be aware of. The fact is, it’s a habit. Like getting hungry at the same time every day, or needing a cigarette at a certain time, your body has a habit of falling asleep and waking up at certain times. Most of it is based on your basic biology as well as input from exterior sources (like the sun) mixed with input that you yourself inflict on your sleeping habits. And I’m going to tell you now that the changes you can make to help yourself fall asleep are not going to make you too popular in the frat house.

But here they are, in no particular order:

Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.

we all wanna sleep like this guy.

We all want to sleep like this guy. Image: Dynamite Imagery / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is just basic training. You’ve got to get your body into the habit of falling asleep and waking up. This means on weekends, too. No more late Fridays at the bar. It’s harder than it sounds, trust me.

Make your bedroom a shrine to sleep and sleep only.

Do not read, exercise, play video games, or watch TV in your room. I’m not just saying bed, I’m saying the whole room. This will train your body to recognize that when you are in this room, you sleep. Make sure you’ve got curtains that will block out excess light from the street, and that there isn’t anything in your room that could distract you from it’s one purpose: to put you to sleep. Yes, this is particularly difficult for someone with a one-room apartment, I know. Get some curtains for around your bed and make it its own room. Whatever you usually do before you go to bed should be done on the couch or at the table. As a guy I once dated said to me: “Beds are for sleeping and sex, and that’s it!”

Don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime.

You should definitely exercise every day to wear yourself out enough to sleep because most of our jobs demand very little of us physically. However, the adrenaline and other chemicals your body puts out while you exercise need to have some time to wear off in order for you to fall asleep. The two hours before bedtime should be a haven of relaxing, so do your exercise when you wake up, at lunch, or right after work.

Limit consumption of controlled substances.

Obviously caffeine is a huge culprit here. If you want to be sure to sleep at night, cut it out altogether. But most people get by with just skipping any caffeine after noon. Nicotine is also a waker-upper, so quit smoking already! And while wine and beer and booze have the reputation for knocking people out, it ends up alcohol stimulates the hypothalmus, so even if you do fall asleep, you’re not going to sleep as well.

Drink a glass of warm milk before bed.

Different studies speculate on why warm milk makes you drowsy, but the bottom line is that it works. A nightcap of chamomile tea can also help lull you to sleep, mostly because it is warm and soothing, like putting on a cozy blanket.

Take a bath before bed.

Before we fall asleep, our body temperatures dip slightly, and the cooling-off period after a warm bath makes your temperature dip in a similar way. This can help convince your brain that it’s bedtime.

Dim the lights.

Your brain interprets darkness as sleepytime, and starts to produce melatonin when it gets dark to put you to sleep in a couple of hours. If you’ve got lights on right up until bedtime, even if they’re not sunlight, you can disrupt the process. Computer screens and TVs count as light, too, so turn them off about two hours before you want to fall asleep. Try sitting in a dim room with only a reading light on and doing some writing or reading. (Of course, if you’re like me, putting on an old movie in a dark room will knock you right out. This does not, however, say anything about the quality of the sleep that follows. You may notice that sleeping with a light or the TV on makes you much more likely to wake up through the night, so pure darkness is really the ideal.)

Make a list of everything you need to do tomorrow before you enter your room to go to bed.

Again, do this at the kitchen table or on your couch. Write down everything that could possibly worry you throughout the night. Journaling can help, too. The idea is to empty your brain by taking care of everything mentally before you lie down. A lot of us spend the time before falling asleep addressing our issues because it’s dark and there’s nothing to distract us. Get in the habit of addressing it all before you turn the lights off, and spend the time falling asleep actually falling asleep.

Learn to meditate.

I’m not talking about finding enlightenment. I’m talking about focusing your brain on letting go. Counting sheep is the classic pre-sleep meditation. The idea is to let your brain drift into the place where thoughts aren’t necessarily about any one thing. For me, the trick is just letting my brain flit from one subject to the next without allowing it to stop and focus on any particular thing. Give it a whirl.

Try these tricks and hopefully you’ll be sleeping like a baby in no time.

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1 Response to “insomnia”


  1. 1 damfino
    September 10, 2010 at 7:09 am

    I’ve heard the “only use the bed for sex and sleeping” bit of wisdom but found that I need to lay in bed and read in order to sleep. Lay there and relax – I toss and turn for half an hour or more. Turn on the light and open a book – sometimes I can’t even make it through a paragraph. Saves me $$$ on sleeping pills LOL


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