“I love the image of being a baby again,” Zen Habits author Leo Babauta once wrote, “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.”
While difficult to change, Babauta notes that sleeping habits are indeed changeable–though have many inputs. Which is why before you go unconscious, you have to be conscious of quite a few things.
Babauta catalogs four common sleeping problems. Let’s recap them here:
- Not tired: you’re used to going to bed later, so if you head to bed too early, you can’t get to sleep
- Too tired: in rare cases, Babauta says, you could be too tired to sleep–though we’re a tad incredulous.
- Worried: If your mind is racing, it won’t be resting.
- Wired: If you’re putting the lap into laptop by browsing BuzzFeed or “fitting in” emails while you’re in bed, your mind won’t unwind.
So how do we iron-out these sleepy wrinkles? Let’s take a look.
There’s a handy quote attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci that’s useful to sleeping (and living) problems:
“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death”
in his deep understanding, the Renaissance master captured the reciprocal relationship between doing and resting (he also captured the nature of how dying well requires living well, a topic of another post). In other words, understanding how we spend our nights requires understanding how we spend our days.
One of the keys is exercise: as we’ve noted before, Olympic athletes sleep an absurd amount–evidencing that intense activity necessitates intense rest. The key, then, is to give your day more intense activity: Babauta recommends a hard workout, a long run, or a solid yoga session–which, as a bonus, builds life-enriching mindfulness.
Of course, a key to how you go to bed is how you wake up: Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin advises to simply look at when you’re supposed to get up and count backward for the seven hours you need. In other words, while your parents aren’t mandating it, you still need a bedtime.
But more than knowing when you’re going to bed, you need to understand what you’re doing in leading up to sleep. The mind, it seems, wants a gradient of activity from the working (or social) day and the restful night. Email or Game of Thrones don’t count as part of that stimulation slow-down. To that end, Rubin says to step away from any computer or television at least an hour before bed–that’ll let your mind wind down.
Getting ready for bed before you’re overwhelmingly tired is similarly crucial: Rubin admits to feeling too tired to get bed because of the hassle of taking out her contacts, brushing her teeth, and changing her clothes. If you get ready while you’re still somewhat awake, the whole sleep thing becomes less stressful.
All of this is a long way of saying that you need to make getting ready for bed a ritual. Rituals, as we know, give structure to life–and, being habits, they take away the cognitive load that comes with doing a new thing.
If you make it so that you’re drinking chamomile tea and reading a book by 10 p.m. every night, the restfulness will become automatic.
“By doing the same thing every night,” Rubin writes, “you will cue yourself to start heading to bed.”