Have you ever tried... going to sleep?
Like *really* tried?
Sleep is the most important thing you do all day. Although the mechanics of sleep are still somewhat mysterious to medical sciences, failing to get sufficient sleep has a number of verifiable negative impacts on every aspect of your life. If you are not getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, you are selling yourself short. If you’re already getting enough sleep, you can stop reading here because this article won’t be very helpful to you.
As someone who struggled with sleep problems for years, and has finally overcome them, I’ve tried pretty much everything in the book. Sadly, there isn’t a magic pill or item you can order off of Amazon that will solve this problem for you. Correcting this issue takes time and lifestyle changes. Below are a few steps that worked for me.
Start literally right now. Believe me, I know how it goes. You read something online and think “That’s a great idea, I’ll start that soon.” And then you press a button on Amazon or whatever, and maybe you try it for a few days, but you eventually lose interest. Please, I am begging you, if you’re not getting enough sleep every night, make doing so your top priority. There is literally nothing more important for you. There will always be an excuse not to fix your problem. Whatever you think is keeping you from getting 8 or more hours of sleep, I promise it can wait.
Blue light glasses. Screens emit light at specific frequencies. “Blue light” which often accompanies these screens, sends the signal to your eyes that it’s daytime. This makes it extremely difficult to go to sleep. Pick up a cheap pair of blue light-filtering glasses and wear them for at least 2 hours before bed.
Leave your phone outside your bedroom. This is often the hardest step, and it’s one of the most important. The way you develop a good sleep schedule is by making sleep time predictable for your body. When you decide to go to bed, you need to be doing nothing other than attempting sleep. If you bring your phone in, you are sending the message to your body that when you’re lying down in bed at night, it’s not necessarily time for you to go to sleep. If you have a high demand job, OK, I get why you might object, but most people do not need to be reached 24/7. Leave the phone in the hallway outside your bedroom, it will improve your life so much.
Keep your bedroom cool. Your body needs to be about two degrees lower than its normal temperature in order to fall asleep. This is often difficult to achieve through relaxation or exhaustion alone, but much more manageable in the days of air conditioning. I try to keep my bedroom noticeably colder than the rest of the tiny carriage house I live in. It sends the clear signal to your body that you are in the place where you go to sleep. Ideally, you shouldn’t be doing anything but sleeping in your bedroom. I don’t even keep furniture in the room besides a bed.
Correct your circadian rhythm. Your body is very smart. It knows what time it is, literally. Your brain and sensory organs naturally fall into a consistent 24-hour pattern. This pattern tells different parts of your body when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to close up shop for the day. Modern conditions, be they lack of direct sunlight, a sedentary lifestyle, or things like blue light screw up your circadian rhythm. If you want to reset your biological clock you can go camping for a few days, waking up when the sun rises. A less time intensive method is to just go outside and get direct sunlight on your body as soon as you wake up. A few days of doing this and you’ll find it much easier to sleep in the evenings.
Have a 45 or so minute routine before you go to bed that doesn’t involve any active thought. For me, it’s doing the dishes, cleaning up the living room, taking a Scottish shower, and then go to sleep. Again, the goal is to make your pre-bed routine as predictable as possible so that your body knows whenever you’re doing these things it’s about to be time to go to sleep.
Artificial sleep aids. I wouldn’t recommend these except as a last resort. The only good sleep supplements I’ve found have been Glycine and CALM Magnesium powder. Melatonin works pretty inconsistently and honestly it always gave me nightmares. Glycine dreams are vivid too, but for some reason have a much friendlier flavor. I’ve never had great results from alcohol (which reduces sleep quality substantially) or tea or anything like that. If you have a heavy workout schedule, Glycine can help with muscle recovery a lot.
I realize that this advice gets repetitive after a while but if it’s a (figurative only) wake-up call to at least one person who reads it I’ll consider the article a success. Please do this for yourself, it really will make a massive difference in your life.
The Conundrum Cluster is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.