When it comes to sleep, most people either don’t get enough of it, or they aren’t getting quality sleep. Either way, the results are that we aren’t able to inscribe our lives to the fullest.
Though lack of adequate sleep sometimes results in us being extremely exhausted (see picture above!), usually it manifests in more subtle ways. Without adequate sleep, we may find ourselves less effective at problem solving or doing our daily tasks, we may feel more irritable, or our bodies might not be performing at their best.
In my case, a few years back I went through an extreme period of sleep deprivation. For several consecutive months, I was waking up several times a night and staying awake for hours at a time. Even if I was tired, I wouldn’t be able to sleep when I laid down, and I would wake up earlier than I wanted to.
I was completely exhausted, and I was even tired of being tired!
It was that time in my life when I decided I’d learn more about sleep, and specifically what was keeping me awake at night. I wanted to feel fully rested when I woke up each morning, and I didn’t want to keep using "I’m tired" as an excuse for me to not do the things I enjoyed.
Over the couple of years that followed, I tried many different things to help me sleep. Some of them helped a little (like hypnotherapy and getting more sunlight during the day), and some of them helped a lot (like getting a larger bed, ear plugs, Deep Sleep 101, and repeatedly listening to Tranquil Sleep Now). Fortunately, when combined they all (including much of what I write below) helped me eventually get quality sleep.
And now that I’m sleeping well, I’m now exploring how I can use sleep-time for my own spiritual development. I figure if I’m going to be sleeping and not doing anything conscious anyway, I might as well make the best of that time.
For example, I’ve been exploring topics such as how I might be able to reprogram my subconscious while I sleep, how to use lucid dreaming for making changes in my waking life, having out of body experiences, and for how to have more meaningful dreams that help me discover more about myself.
I’m not saying I can do all those things… yet 🙂
In fact, until recently I couldn’t do any of those things. I didn’t even remember my dreams. No, let me rephrase that – on most nights, I didn’t even remember having any dreams. So why am I sharing this with you? Well, it’s simple…
I am personally interested in using my sleep-time for spiritual development, but that’s only possible -if- I am already sleeping well! I figure since I took me a couple of years to figure out the tricks for me to sleep well, I am going to share with you what I’ve learned in case it’s helpful to you.
It’s important to note that due to individual differences, some of what works for me might not work for you (or might be the exact opposite). So my best advice is that if what you’re currently doing isn’t enabling you to sleep well, try some or all of the stuff below and see what happens, then take the best of what works, and discard the rest.
How can you sleep better each night?
Our sleep problems can first be divided into two categories: Inner and outer environments. Our inner environment is usually related to the mental/emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of our lives. The outer environment consists of physical things like lighting, sound, and comfort.
First, I’m going to talk about the outer environment because that’s usually the easiest and quickest to change. And in my case, it’s where the majority of my challenges were. Also, I hope you’ll forgive me that I’m not going to explain every single one of these items in detail.
My recommendation is if anything I say interests you, consider looking it up online and learning more about it yourself. I’m not a doctor, so these recommendations are based on my personal experience and are for your informational purposes only. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, consider trying a few of these that may resonate with you to see what works, and be sure to consult your health care professional. 🙂
Tips to Improve Your Outer Sleeping Environment
- Your room should be as dark as possible, and ideally pitch-black. You may even consider using an eye-mask if necessary.
- If noise is an issue, consider either earplugs or some white noise. I personally like waves crashing, and for earplugs I prefer Mack’s Pillow Soft because they conform to my ear easily while I sleep.
- If you sleep with anybody else, make sure your bed is large enough that while you sleep neither of you are aware of the other person. If your partner pulls sheets, then consider getting him/her a second set just for their half of the bed. Get a larger bed if necessary. For me, getting a larger bed was extremely helpful in sleeping better with a partner.
- Also make sure your bed is the right softness. Some people sleep better on hard beds, some on soft. In my case, I have a memory foam mattress (a much needed gift from my parents a few years ago), and I sometimes use comforters or blankets underneath my sheet to get the desired comfort level. If you have a partner who likes a significantly different bed softness, consider either putting two full beds together of differenting softness, or getting something like a Sleep Number bed (very expensive though, so only try this as a last resort) so you can each have it the way you want.
- Generally speaking, you should be slightly cool, but not cold. Your body temperature lowers during sleep time, and so by having the room slightly cooler when you sleep can be helpful. In my case, I’m actually the opposite of what is typically effective – my body temperature already is naturally a few degrees cooler than the average person, so I love to bundle up and be really warm when I go to sleep.
- If possible, have fewer or no electronics in your bedroom. In fact, if you’re consistently sleeping well, you actually won’t even need an alarm clock anymore.
- Sometimes air quality can be an issue. If you’re having difficulty breathing at night, consider either getting a humidifier or having your air tested for mold and other possible irritants.
Tips to Improve Your Inner Physical Environment
You probably already ‘know’ not to have caffeine before you go to bed. What you probably don’t know, is how long before you go to bed you should avoid caffeine.
- Normal Healthy Adult: It takes almost 5 hours for -half- of the caffeine you drink to leave your body. Therefore, you should not have caffeine for about 7 to 8 hours before you go to sleep.
- Women taking oral contraceptives: It takes 5 to 10 hours for -half- of the caffeine you drink to leave your body. Therefore, you should not have caffeine for about 7 to 15 hours before you go to sleep.
- Pregnant women: It takes 9 to 11 hours for -half- of the caffeine you drink to leave your body. Therefore, you should not have caffeine for 14 to 16 hours before you go to sleep.
- People with severe liver disease: It takes 96 hours for -half- of the caffeine you drink to leave your body. Therefore, you probably shouldn’t drink caffeine at all.
If you can’t get through the day without caffeine, then it’s probably a sign that you’re not sleeping well enough at night. Also note that if you’re a heavy caffeine drinker, sudden changes to your intake can cause headaches. Consider instead having one fewer soda / coffee per day, or making sure your last one is an hour or a few hours earlier than normal. This is one way that you can progressively phase out caffeine without adverse affects. Or if you don’t mind the headaches, you may be okay just quitting entirely (again consult a health professional before doing something this drastic).
Alcohol / Drugs / Sleeping Medications
Though alcohol and some drugs will put you to sleep more quickly, unfortunately it is not quality sleep. Over time, using supplemental sleep aids like these will cause you to be more exhausted since your body’s natural regeneration during sleep is hindered.
For example, in my previous job, I would travel to Japan and sometimes take sleeping pills to help me adjust. I soon realized I was MORE tired each day because the pills prevented me from getting quality sleep. Once I stopped taking those pills, and just trusted my body to sleep when tired (often earlier around 6 to 7pm), I found I was better rested throughout the day.
Unfortunately, this is a stimulant so smoking cigarettes before bed may make it difficult to sleep. Fortunately, nicotine leaves your body -much faster- than caffeine. In fact, after 60 minutes only half of the nicotine remains in your body… so a general safe rule of thumb is to not have any nicotine for at least 90 minutes before you go to sleep.
Getting on average 30 minutes of exercise per day has been shown to significantly help people sleep better. What is not as widely known is that this doesn’t need to be 30 minutes of consecutive exercise.
For example, 5 minutes of taking the stairs (instead of an elevator) a few times per day can help a lot. Or do a few jumping jacks in the morning. Take a few walks around the block. There’s lots of options, just be conscious not to exercise too close to bedtime since this elevates your body temperature and can energize you.
Eating and Drinking
It’s generally best to not eat anything for about 2 to 3 hours before going to sleep, and particularly anything unusually spicy or with added sugar. This will give your body time to digest before sleeping. Try to avoid drinking liquids for a couple of hours before sleeping so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night just to go pee.
In my case, I often find myself thirsty right before I go to sleep. So rather than have a full (or even half) glass of anything, I just have a few sips of water… enough to quench my thirst, but not enough to fill my bladder.
I have heard (but not verified) that eating a generally healthier diet will also help you sleep better. The theory behind this is that the healthier you eat, the less damage your body has to try and fix at night while you’re sleeping. Personally, I eat a lot of healthy foods (and superfoods), so this hasn’t been an area I’ve needed to explore.
It’s best to stop using computers or watching TV (anything that directly stimulates you with artificial light sources) for about an hour before going to sleep. This will help with seratonin production so you fall asleep faster and more naturally. If you have a TV or computer in your room, strongly consider putting it in another room permanently so that you’re not tempted to use it late at night.
If you’re like me though, one thing I do enjoy doing is listening to relaxing music before I go to sleep. This helps me wind down, and is an excellent transition away from any electronics I might be using (for example, the laptop I’m using right now to write this email to you).
Another way to help wind down is to either take a warm bath, meditate, get a light massage (generally not deep tissue, but something more like a Swedish massage or a nice shoulder rub), some light reading, or do some light stretching.
Tips to Improve Your Inner Emotional Environment
This is the most difficult area to work on, because it isn’t as simple as just changing a behavior or buying some earplugs. The good news is, that when you’re able to change your inner emotional environment to make sleep easier and more rejuvenative, it has significant rewards that ripple through your life in many ways.
Things to Avoid Before Bedtime
First of all, it’s relevant to note that one of the most important times for reprogramming your subconscious is about 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Therefore, it’s important to avoid any disturbing content (images, books, movies, and especially the news) before you go to sleep. Disturbing content not only makes it more difficult to go to sleep, but can also cause you to have more disturbing dreams as well.
Also try to avoid discussing potentially challenging domestic issues before going to sleep – things such as relationships, finance, and parenting, are often very emotionally charged and can cause you to have difficulty going to sleep. Ideally, discuss those earlier in the day if possible.
Things to Do Before Bedtime
Having consistent patterns before going to sleep can help you wind down. For example, you might turn off the TV and put on some relaxing music while doing some light reading. Then after about 30 minutes, go brush your teeth, do some light stretching, a brief meditation, and then lay down to sleep.
By having a consistent pattern before you go to sleep each night, your mind begins to associate that pattern with sleep. The end result is that it will become easier and easier to go to sleep each night, as your body and mind learn to recognize the pattern.
Additionally, if possible try to go to sleep around the same time each night. In fact, it can sometimes even be helpful to set an alarm reminding you when to go to sleep.
Creating Healthy Associations
It’s best to make sure that the bedroom is only used for sleeping and for sex. Our minds create associations about what we do in each room, so if you were to also work in the same room that you sleep, then your subconscious may be confused as to whether you should sleep or work in the bedroom.
So things like bringing your laptop to bed, or roughhousing with the kids on the bed, can both be potential sources of sleep difficulties when it comes to the dark hours of the night. You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t use your sleeping space for charged discussions like relationship difficulties.
Overcoming Limiting Beliefs
One of the biggest challenges in our lives is overcoming limiting beliefs we may have about something, and in this case, about sleeping. Usually, these beliefs are subconscious and we’re not even aware of it.
Here’s a really short example of what I mean: A person may subconsciously fear going to sleep because she is scared of having nightmares. Therefore, by having sleep problems, she avoids sleep, and subsequently avoids the potential nightmares.
Usually, overcoming limiting beliefs about sleep requires the help of a trained professional. People experienced with EFT, NLP, guided hypnosis or hypnotherapy (not hypnotism – there’s a significant difference) can often help you get to the root of the problem more quickly.
Additionally, I have used computer programs (including Subliminal Power, audio technologies and CD products (such as Sleep Salon – which I have not tried, but have heard good things about) to help me reprogram my subconscious. However, before using any audio technologies or any method to help reprogram your subconscious, always do your research and make sure you know exactly what you’re putting into your brain before you do it.
Just A Few Things To Wrap Up
When you try but just aren’t able to sleep, or when you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, best thing to do is get up and do a low-intensity (non-electronic) activity. Light reading, a meditation, stretch, etc. The reason for this is that when you lay in bed agonizing over not being able to sleep, you do not only continue to frustrate yourself even more, but you also begin creating a negative association that the bed is not where you sleep.
Therefore, it’s best to just get up, do some other stuff, and when you’re really tired then return to the bed and try to sleep again. This way the bed is only associated with sleep, and not with the frustration you experience from being unable to sleep.
I want to reiterate that the above topics are areas that I’ve personally explored and experienced in relation to my own sleep problems, and they may not be helpful for your particular situation. Although long, this is not an exhaustive list, and though many of these strategies do have scientific research supporting them, do not take my word for it. Instead, if you’re having difficulty sleeping, then do additional research on any of the topics I’ve shared before trying them out yourself, and again you should consult with your health care professional. See what works for you because it may very well be different than what works for me.