By Leo Babauta
Problems sleeping can be a major drag on happiness — if you can’t sleep well, you can’t function as well during the day.
Today a reader asked, “I want to spend less time rolling in the bed, and more time sleeping. I wanna be a baby again. Help!”
I love the image of being a baby again — in my head, it conjures up not only sleeping peacefully (though in reality many babies don’t), but growing magically young again, care-free, without the worries that normally plague us and keep us up at night.
I don’t have the magical pill that will make you young again, but I can offer some help with sleep. I’ve changed my sleeping patterns a number of times, and know that it can be difficult. Sleep is a deep part of the body’s rhythms, and it’s one of the harder habits to change. That said, it’s changeable.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the problems that keep people rolling around in bed (not in the good way, pervert):
- Not tired yet — your sleeping pattern is set so that you usually sleep later, so if you go to bed earlier, you’re not tired enough to fall asleep.
- Too tired — it’s possible to be so exhausted that sleep is difficult. This tends to be a problem less often than “not tired enough” though.
- Worries — you’ve got something spinning around in your head, so the sleep doesn’t come. Sometimes it’s replaying something that’s happened, or things that someone said, and other times it’s worrying about something coming up, or planning.
- Computers — if you’re on your computer (often in bed), you might be tired but have a hard time sleeping because your mind isn’t unwinding.
There are other issues, but I’ve found these to be the most common. Let’s look at how to help with them.
Formula for Becoming a Baby
So how do we solve the problems above and become baby-like in our sleep? I don’t have all the answers, but here are some of the things that have worked for me:
- Exercise. A good hard workout or run, bike or swim will get you nice and tired. A good yoga workout is a wonderful way to do that, as you learn mindfulness at the same time. Even if the workout is early in the day, I often go to bed with a tired body, and look forward to the rest. Don’t workout right before bed though.
- Get up early. You can get your body to shift its sleeping schedule by slowly getting up earlier. Try 15 minutes earlier than normal for a week, then another 15 minutes. If you get up earlier, you’ll be a bit tired during the day, and when it comes time to go to sleep, you’ll enjoy the rest.
- Establish a bedtime ritual. It takes time to unwind the body and mind. At least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down. Turn off the computer. Floss & brush your teeth. Put away things you were using in the evening. Lay down and read a book (not on your laptop). This kind of ritual helps establish in your mind that it’s time to sleep, and your body takes this cue and begins to prepare itself.
- Keep your room only for sleeping. Don’t eat, watch TV, use your computer, or do other kinds of activities in your room (OK, perv, just one other activity is OK). Keep those activities in the living and dining rooms, so that when you go to bed, there’s just one thing to do. Be sure to make the room dark when you go to sleep too — your body reacts to light.
- Focus your attention. Once you’ve done your bedtime ritual and unwound, and your body is nice and tired, you need to quiet the mind. My trick for doing that: close your eyes, and visualize what you did first thing today. That might be opening your eyes and getting out of bed. Then visualize the second thing you did — let’s say you peed and washed your face, or drank a glass of water. Then you started the coffee but first had to grind the beans. Visualize these tiny steps in detail. I never get past the first hour before I’m asleep.
- Change slowly. Be patient with sleeping changes — they are difficult, because when we are tired, our mind doesn’t have the discipline to stick to changes. Our body and mind want to do what they’re used to doing. But if you change a little at a time, and forgive yourself for “messing up” (there’s no messing up, actually), then you can make changes.
I hope this helps. I will admit that I don’t always sleep soundly — sometimes I have trouble sleeping, but when I use these methods, I can usually cure the sleeping problems.
Sleep is a blessing that I wish on all my friends, all of you included. It’s a much-needed rest that helps us to be truly awake once the glorious new day has come.