For babies, it appears so easy. Remember, you were once an infant who could surrender to slumber without much of a fuss, short of colic, a dirty diaper or unmet hunger. But today, as an adult, do you find yourself struggling for something once so simple and now so elusive? There are a zillion sleep tips out there, a barrage of Dos and Don'ts. But how do we bring the simplicity back to falling asleep?
Think of it this way: Our biological sleep needs have not changed, but our behaviors have, leading to sleep deprivation on a grand scale. None of us need more to do. We likely need less. So, what's this have to do with falling asleep? We need to bring back simplicity to sleep, something we cannot live without. Short of an undiagnosed and/or untreated sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, bona fide insomnia, or others), you have the ability to fall asleep and experience the quality and quantity of sleep your body, mind and spirit require for optimal functioning during your waking hours. Here's a simple pathway...
#1 -- COMMIT TO HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS that support good sleep. There's lots of information available about what sleep experts call sleep hygiene, the Dos and Don'ts as suggested by the National Sleep Foundation. Without these, your ability to fall asleep... and stay asleep... can be challenged.
#2 -- PREPARE FOR SLEEP like you prepare for exercise, cooking or work.
• As you embark on your sleep improvement path, make sure your sleep environment is optimal for sleeping (cool, dark, quiet, uncluttered). The National Sleep Foundation takes you on a bedroom journey with your senses. Think sleep sanctuary! If you need to make bedroom modifications, do the best you can within your budget and living quarters.
• Have a planned sleep prep routine that you can stick to, e.g. shower/bath, journaling, conversations with family or friends, reading.
• Put technology to bed an hour before you plan to fall asleep. If this is a BIG challenge, set your smart phone alarm to go off an hour before bed to start your routine, with turning off technology as your first step. Make a commitment to do this for at least a few weeks and be aware of the impact.
• If you use an alarm to awaken, set it now so you are not looking at the clock, be it on your smart phone or a real clock, when you get in bed. Free yourself from time.
#3 -- GET IN BED
• Now what? If you need some transition time before falling asleep, consider reading with a dim light, NOT on a device but a printed book. Choose something not too stimulating but of interest to you. A few bedtime reading suggestions: Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. And coming in April, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington.
• Mindfulness is a big buzz word these days. My favorite fall asleep relaxation technique is a combination of breathing, gratitude and body awareness. It's efficient and can be very effective: Start by having the intention of breathing into your feet. Just feel them. Thank them for all they did for you all day and night, telling them that they can now rest. Proceed up your legs and your body, stopping at different parts to do the same process: Breathe into the area, express gratitude. Your heart deserves special focus as it NEVER stops and deserves attention and gratitude. When is the last time you thanked your feet, your digestive system, your heart or your eyes for all they do for you? Note: If you are experiencing an area of pain in your body, take a moment to linger there as you breathe in and out, expressing your appreciation for healing. If mindfulness is new to you or seems too new age like, give it some time. Your body, mind and spirit crave some peace, quiet and surely a good night's sleep. And who doesn't like to be appreciated!