Sleep - improve it!
Rest and sleep can be achieved and organised in many ways. If it is not working these suggestions can help and can also help improve the efficiency of your sleep. If you break all or some of these suggestions and are happy with your sleep then ignore what I am saying.
1. Value sleep
- If you do not value sleep then it is hard to commit to having good sleep.
- Understand the value and importance of sleep – for functioning well in life.
- Sleep is the recovery time for a good life.
- It is like fertilizing and watering a vegetable plant – both necessary for the plant to be productive.
- None of this applies – or at least you have no choice – if you have young children or other special circumstances.
- Success in life comes from the right balance between doing and not doing, of activity and recovery, which helps you return to effective activity. Many people understand and value doing but not recovery, thus they undervalue sleep. Then, their sleep difficulties may not be difficulties with sleep but a failure to value it. Value sleep and sleep is more likely to happen.
- Make the time for sleep.
- Commit 8 hours each day to sleep — only sleep.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days each week to sleep = 56 hours a week.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days x 52 weeks each year to sleep = 2,912 hours a year.
- Commit 8 hours x 7 days x 52 weeks x the number of years you will live to sleep.
- Eight hours before the alarm goes off – lights out, mobiles off, computers off, music off, television off — sleep time.
- 1/3 of each day; 1/3 of each week; 1/3 of each year; 1/3 of your life — committed to sleep.
Study and sleep
Study and learning are more efficient when you are well rested. It is, mostly, a false economy to reduce sleep, to do more study. When you reduce sleep to study, what usually happens is that you get less efficient at learning and then you need more time to study; then you reduce your sleep time even more, so that you can have more study time, and so on it goes – a dangerous vicious cycle. Now, if what you are doing is producing good grades then keep doing it. However, if it is not producing good grades or is exacting a very high price psychologically from you, then change it!
Many activities can be done while you are tired: sometimes manual work can be done with less sleep; surfing the internet; chatting online; face booking; texting; speaking to friends; watching television; socialising. You just need more willpower to keep pushing yourself. Study, however, needs a well-rested mind.
Do a realistic number of things in your life
What are you trying to fit into your life? Some people cannot sleep because they have committed themselves to so many other things that there is not enough time left for proper sleep. Or there may be just enough time for sleep and their commitments but not enough time to think about things, so they do their thinking in bed and do not get enough. These people need to reduce their other commitments if they want better sleep.
The biological rhythm of sleep
The biological rhythm of sleep involves shifts in the depth of sleep so that, often, people either rise out of deep sleep and move close to wakefulness or even wake up. If we accept the naturalness of these shifts, they will not disturb us as much so we can then sink back down into deep sleep, rather than our thinking mind waking us up even more by worrying about waking up.
2. One activity at a time
- Many sleep problems are caused by trying to do two things at once — sleep and thinking (problem solving or worry). Ofcourse, if you do this you will have trouble sleeping.
- The bed should be for sleep — nothing else.
- You should not bring study to bed.
- If you make the bed a space that is for sleep then it will be much easier to switch the mind off when you are in bed.
- Of course, you can use the bed as a transitional space from waking to sleep.
- If you cannot sleep that is okay — it should be a time of rest so that even if you wake up you are resting.
3. Thinking, problem-solving and worry
- Do not do thinking in bed, commit the time to sleep.
- Find another time and place to think, problem solve, or worry:
a. eg after waking up
b. in the shower
c. on the way to work
d. some other time – but not too close to bed time
- If you start to think, make an appointment with yourself to do it in your thinking time and thinking place the next day.
- It helps to remember that if you cannot solve a problem, sleep deprivation is not going to solve it.
- Many people have the belief that if they cannot sleep they might as well use the time productively to think about things. The problem with this strategy is that it quickly turns into the habit of thinking while you are meant to be sleeping. And then you end up not being able to sleep. BOREDOM is a great precursor to sleep. If you do not like being bored then it will be harder to go to sleep. If you can accept boredom then you will naturally go to sleep.
4. Transition from waking to sleep
- It is useful to think of waking up as a process of raising your energy levels and sleep as a process of lowering your energy levels. In the transition phase you want to lower your energy levels and do things that lower them. Excitement tends to raise them.
- The art of reading to transition to sleep (see below).
- A ritual as part to the transition process: having a shower, a non stimulating drink, sleep inducing reading, prayer, etc
Traps before bed time
- Movies that finish long after bedtime – do not start to watch them.
- Only watch television shows that finish by the time you need to go to bed.
- Internet surfing.
- Internet chatting.
- Phone conversation or texting.
- Engaging novels.
- Do not have serious conversations near to sleep time.
- Energetic exercise in the evening can wake you up and make it difficult to sleep.
- If you work at night it seems to take people a few hours to unwind after work.
- There is an art to choosing reading that helps you relax and transition from waking to sleep. It needs to be something that calms your mind down and does not engage you so much that you want to keep reading. Reading that engages, excites or hooks you should be done earlier in the night, on weekends or holidays.
- Study is best not done in bed and best not kept near the bed. How can you stop thinking about study if you have study related things near your bed? Same for lap tops.
- For some people it is better not to read and watch television in bed – do it somewhere else and keep bed for sleep.
Setting up the room for sleep
- Of course, it is ideal to sleep and study in different rooms however most students have to sleep and study in the same room.
- Position the clock so you cannot see it from your bed.
5. Replacement activity
- Have something to engage the mind with if you cannot sleep or are thinking – a replacement activity
- nursery rhythm
- breathing meditation
- loving kindness meditation
- relaxation exercise
- sleep inducing music
- counting sheep
- When doing a replacement activity – have no preconception about how long it should take. It is better do it all night than worry because doing the replacement activity will be more restful than worry. The subjective sense of time is very misleading, while in bed, you cannot trust it. If you have the attitude that it is better to say a poem 1,000,000,000 times than think, then you will either, and most likely, fall to sleep because your mind will be so bored it will go to sleep or you will be more rested because this is more restful than worry. Often, there is a deep seated belief that you must solve the problem before you go to sleep. If you cannot solve it in your thinking time then you probably cannot solve it now.
- Commit the time to sleep
- Commit the place (bed) to sleep
- Find another time and place to think, problem solve, or worry
- Make a proper transition to sleep
- Use a neutral mental activity to stop thinking while in bed
Complete the timetable below and include:
- study commitments / work hours / spporting activities / recreation activities / relaxation time / other commitments and time allocated for sleep.
- Are there 8 hours for sleep?
- Is there a transition time leading to sleep
- Is there a thinking time outside of sleep time?
Weekly timetable for auditing your commitments to see if there is enough time for sleep
This article is used by the Counselling Service, The University of Adelaide, by permission of the author Mark O’Donoghue who owns the copy right 2008.