There were a number of questions about optimizing sleep, so I will do my best to answer them all in one post.
As a quick recap, some of the best ways to optimize circadian rhythms (and therefore sleep) are:
Set your bed time to 10pm every night, as that this the optimal time in your circadian rhythm to fall asleep. Stick with it every night and build a routine around it. Allow yourself to wake up naturally whenever possible. If you have to use an alarm, pick something gentle rather than jarring to your system.
Make sure your room is dark and that there is no light to disturb your sleep. This is an important piece to consider if you wake up in the night or too early - it could be light signaling to your brain to wake up. Even small lights from clocks or a nightlight can interfere with our natural rhythm.
Use bright light (either sunlight or a happy light) immediately upon waking for 20-30 minutes, and some movement (this can vary from gentle stretching to vigorous exercise). This signals to your brain that it is time to start your day and sets the circadian rhythm pattern for the day.
Minimize electronic devices and unnatural light sources for a few hours before bed. If you are going to use electronic devices consider wearing blue light blocker glasses or download a program that onto your device that changes the spectrum of light to a more natural light (f.lux is a great one and can be found at justgetflux.com).
If you work nights, try to create as quiet and dark of an environment as you can for when you sleep. Use an eye mask and ear plugs if necessary. Create a routine if possible, where you go to bed at the same time each day. For those who do shift work that varies, this can be a little more challenging. Consider creating a bedtime routine for yourself that you can do regardless of when you go to sleep. This will help to cue the brain that it is time to settle down for the night.
For those that wake up in the night or too early, again be sure to minimize light sources in
your room. Also, exposure to bright light at the beginning of the day and getting up when you wake up (rather than staying in bed or hitting snooze) will help to reset your system into a more optimal and coherent sleep rhythm. The first day or so may be difficult if you wake up really early, but your body will quickly adjust.
If you wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep, try some form of relaxation practice. The free Insight Timer app has a whole section devoted to sleep, from guided meditations and music to nature sounds. Be mindful of not stressing about being awake. It is helpful to know that being in a state of relaxation also helps to restore your body and brain. This is why some monks and seasoned meditators need a lot less sleep. They are getting rejuvenated by going into the meditative state. So if you can't sleep, aim for relaxation. Stop the worry thoughts and pressuring yourself to fall back to sleep and simply aim to relax.
Finally, there was a concern about creating dependence on certain conditions or routines in order to sleep well. A routine around sleep and leading up to sleep is optimal for the brain and body. After a while, the brain becomes familiar with the routine (patterns of association) and will naturally start to make you feel sleepy just by starting your routine. Create routines that are portable, that you can do anywhere. For example, when I was traveling a lot for work, I would use an eye mask, ear plugs, and bring my own pillow. Those few consistent conditions made it easier for my system to sleep in strange hotel rooms easily and effortlessly. I know others who use nature sounds to help fall asleep. They play them on their device that they bring with them wherever they go. And while we may create conditions that the brain gets used to around falling asleep, most of the time the brain does not become dependent on those conditions. What often interferes with sleep when those conditions are not present is the hypervigilance and thought processes or worry a person has around being in a different environment or not having the exact conditions in place. It is the stress, rather than the absence of those conditions, that prevents people from falling asleep easily. If you notice this happening, again redirect those thoughts and aim for relaxing rather than falling asleep. Often by taking the pressure off yourself to sleep, it will come naturally by itself.
Until next time!
Next week: Tips for incremental training
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki
Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com