Sleep is so incredibly important to one’s health and well-being. There are numerous studies that show how sleep deprivation will adversely affect the quality of one’s life and one’s health. Yet often people will make sleep the one thing that they will deprive themselves of in order to accomplish something that really has no effect on their well-being.
For example, when I was preparing for an exam in University my peers would be staying up all night cramming for the exam, showing up completely exhausted and depleted and hoping that they will get a decent mark. I, on the other hand, would study for a number of days before the exam, take naps, go to bed by 11pm, wake up refreshed, do my workout, eat breakfast, lunch and supper, and study throughout the day with decent breaks. I am not saying I was the wise one. I was just one who knew the importance of sleep. I went into University as a “mature student” at the ripe old age of 22, having worked for 4 years after high school graduation. When I entered University, all the other first year students looked like babies to me because they were, of course, so much younger. And they thought that the way they had functioned in high school was the way they would make it in University. They were wrong. I had already discovered that to make it in University one would have to give up the “party life” and focus on organization of time, keeping healthy through diet and exercise, keeping stress as low as possible, and cross referencing information from one subject to the next. That is why I generally had higher marks than most of my peers. I had learned how to educate myself and not rely on simple regurgitation of information. Some of my peers went on to get a PHD. I chose not to. By the time I had finished with my degree I had had enough of academia. It was time to get on with my life.
One of the things that people have often expressed to me is that they have difficulty falling asleep. I get that. There have been very stressful times in my life when sleep was more elusive than normal. But there are a few things about that which are definitely in our control. First off, we need to look at diet. By that I mean looking at foods that will break down into sugars and thus stimulate us. These types of foods need to be avoided closer to bedtime. So eating a bag of potato chips while watching a movie is not the greatest thing in the world to do. Second is caffeine. That pop that you consume with those chips is a stimulant. Do you really expect to be able to fall asleep with a stimulant in your system? Avoiding coffee after 6pm is also a good idea because, guess what? Coffee is a stimulant as well. Recognizing when your body is TIRED instead of hungry is really helpful. We get similar messages from both of those states. Some folks will need a quick “top up” of food before bed, otherwise they will not be able to fall asleep. So something such as a cracker or two with almond butter or some such non-sweet thing on it will suffice. So would 4 or 5 cashews. Avoid chocolates because, again, chocolate is a stimulant. Replacing sugar with Ceylon Cinnamon will do tremendous things to help your blood sugars to balance out, and that is something that many diabetics need to know.
So beyond the diet (and those were just a few suggestions of many available…research that further if you will) there are also bedtime rituals. We often think of ritual as simply religious. Ritual is something that can also be spiritual or habitual. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Get a large turkey feather from a craft store. Designate this as your “brush off” feather. Before going to bed, brush off your energy field with the feather. As you do, the feather does not actually touch your body. It simply brushes past your body, creating air flow around you. Start at the head and brush down toward the feet. When it feels like all the “stuff” of the day is off of you, blow across the feather pointing it toward the window (does not have to be an open window). This clears the feather for the next night. But this technique can also be used for clearing negative energies throughout the day.
2. Before bedtime (so, like, an hour before you are going to be getting into bed) light some light incense and leave it in the room to uplift the energy of the bedroom.
3. Mist your sheets with lavender water. Lavender is proven to enhance sleep and the transition into sleep.
4. In the 15 minutes before you are getting into bed, light a candle in the bedroom and turn out all other lights. Candle light has a very calming effect on the psyche. It also serves to burn off toxic energies. Let that burn while you are brushing your teeth and washing your face etc. Before you get into bed, wish yourself a good night’s sleep and blow out the candle. This is something that has been adapted for the birthday cake…make a wish and blow out the candles. But that tradition has existed for many centuries before a birthday cake was ever invented. *NOTE: some folks are very sensitive to scented candles. So if you or your partner experience this, choose the unscented candle option. And NEVER leave a candle burning while you fall asleep.
5. Visualization. This could be anything. You might find it comforting to imagine yourself floating in a lake in a canoe. Or you might find it relaxing to visualize yourself being gently wrapped in a cocoon. Or you may find it helpful to see yourself gently floating upward to the stars. For some, the sensation of gently sinking into clay helps them to feel grounded. Whatever the visualization is that helps (try as many as you like) do that.
6. Breathe. Breathe in Peace, Breathe out Love. Let the breaths be long, slow, and relaxed…not labored in any way.
7. As you breathe in, contract your muscles. Then as you breathe out, relax the muscles. Do that three or four times, then just leave the muscles relaxed and focus on the breath.
8. For some, soft music is important. If that is the case, I would suggest you try out Healing Ragas. You can look that up and download it. Put it on repeat so that you will continue to have that play throughout the night. Do NOT be playing pop music and expect yourself to wind down. Some might find the sound of gentle rain and thunder relaxing. If you do, again, download that from iTunes.
9. Should you be the type of person who, once you get into bed, obsesses about absolutely everything in your world, it is important to retrain your mind. How do you do that? First, remind yourself that there is absolutely NOTHING you are able to do about any of that stuff right now, so you might as well let it go. Second, have a burden basket available. This is a basket into which we mentally place all our burdens. Traditionally that would be outside our front door. However, it is also useful to have it, say, at the foot of the bed. It does not have to be large. Just a small basket of some form sitting there is fine. Visualize each obsession moving down your body and dripping into the burden basket. Not to worry, you can always pick those burdens up again in the morning, but for now the burden basket will keep track of them for you so that you are able to get some well-earned sleep.
So those are but a few suggestions when it comes to night time rituals. I should also mention some practical things. For example, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. You do NOT need to be disturbed by a cell phone beeping and buzzing throughout the night. In a world where we have become obsessed with “staying connected” we have to also recognize the value of disconnecting. Pillows. Have enough of them. Invest in good ones. Comfort is important. So is room temperature. Make it ideal for you. Some folks need a weighted blanket. Even if your partner does not, if you need one, use one for just you. Take at least a half hour off from T.V and other visual stimulants such as computer, social media etc before getting ready for bed. The mere light from the screens of the T.V., cell phone, IPad etc is a stimulant for the brain. You need transition time. Take it. And, as I have often said, meditation is useful. It really doesn’t matter when you insert that into your day or evening. The mere fact that you meditate…go into the internal silence…helps your mind to relax and to increase its ability to focus.
There is nothing quite like feeling rejuvenated in the morning after a good night’s sleep. This is important beyond words, so if you have difficulty sleeping and staying asleep, try some of these methods. Make a habit of it. The more you do them, the more effective they become. I will leave you with a valuable quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
He said, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety. Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”