In Charlotte Arene’s remarkable stop motion animation, La mer à boire, the bedroom takes on the qualities of an angry sea. To me, it captures the restless agitation of not sleeping well, as though the sleeper is in the thrall of the sea’s fierce rhythms. I know many people who experience that feeling, as sleeping well has become an endangered and illusive state to many people.
It was so much so for me that I literally had to learn to sleep again. My sleep had become chronically, disastrously “broken” from years of sleeping in the same room where I worked, with the light on, from stress, from aging… Sleep medications worked for a while, and then stopped or majorly backfired, waking instead of calming me, a common occurrence known as a “paradoxical reaction”.
I discovered that there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself sleep. Although they are simple, many people resist them for all sorts of reasons. But mainly because they can be uncomfortable and something of a pain in the ass. For example, I know a number of people who won’t turn the tv off in their bedroom because their need for the sound of “someone there” trumps their need to sleep. Or so they think.
The important thing to remember is that if you are not sleeping well, chances are over time your nervous system has become more activated and hence you are more sensitive (And not sleeping in itself can make you more sensitive). In my case, I can clearly track the old habits that contributed to sleep disorder. Gently stopping those habits and replacing them with ones that let my nervous system repair over time allowed me to sleep again. It’s a ongoing practice.
Here is my list of tiny steps that can help you sleep, learned the hard way by trying them on myself. Taken altogether, they may seem daunting and seem like too much of a radical lifestyle change. In that case, do some, or one, start anywhere, test things on yourself and see what works. Do you in fact sleep better with the tv off and unplugged, or with your cell phone in another room, or if you don’t eat before bed? What works for you?
Take time to wind down before you go to bed.
Expecting your body to go from sixty to zero is unrealistic. This means getting in the habit of doing quiet activities before bed to bring your mind and thoughts into a calmer state. Turn lights down (to signal your brain you are winding down), and read something quieting —NOT alarming news or violent thrillers. I find reading kid’s books can really take my busy mind elsewhere.
Doing some tai chi or recounting the moments of grace in the day can help greatly as does quieting music (Whale songs are amazingly effective) . I found that sending these concrete messages to myself —in the form of a changed environment and behavior — really does help.
Sleep doctors recommend starting this two hours before bed which I find unrealistic. An hour will do, 30 minutes is better than nothing.
Sleep in a tranquil room.
Do what it takes to make your bedroom a tranquil environment that calms you down. That means not working there, if possible. If you do work in your bedroom find a way to hide it. For years I used a wavy bamboo screen to hide my workspace. Be sure to shut the computer down completely at the end of your work day.
My bedroom is dedicated to sleeping, although I do watch tv there occasionally. It has wonderful art given to me by friends, a chunk of a tree I hauled in from the park across the way, and a pale pink wall that never fails to cool me out.
If your partner snores and keeps you awake, know that love does not mean you have to sleep through the night together. You can go to bed together, and later move to another room to actually sleep; then climb back in the morning.
Being ultra-sensitive to sound, I use a white-noise generator to create “fill” sound that keeps my attention from irritating ones. The best I’ve found is by LectroFan (both tabletop and mini models) which have have very neutral, soothing sounds (no birds or oceans).
Sleep in a darkened room or with a sleep mask.
A number of people advised me to do this and I’ve found that it works.
For years, I read in bed until I fell asleep often with the lights on. I didn’t consider that always-on lights, or lights on until 4-in-the-morning until I woke to turn them off would have any effect. Gradually, the “endless day” caused by light being on caused my circadian rhythm to get out of balance. I am still in the process of retraining it. I’ve found that a sleep mask remarkably comfortable way to achieve darkness. I like Alaska Bear’s Sleep Mask.
Sleep in a cool room.
You are less prone to wake if you don’t get hot and trigger night sweats. Crack the window, turn off the heat.
I’ve made a study of which sheets (percale cotton), mattress and/or topper (NOT memory foam; cotton or latex are way cooler), comforter or blanket (ultra-light down) work for me. It’s totally subjective. Hone in on what works for you.
Exercise daily if possible, or at least take a walk OUTSIDE, preferably in nature.
It DOES help to exercise, or at the very least walk, preferably in nature, a park etc. Exposing yourself to sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm AND helps your body make essential Vitamin D. Trees are known to have a calming effect on the nervous system.
Stop looking at screens late in the evening.
The blue light of screens has been shown to activate the brain and disturb our circadian rhythm. Turn off everything — computers, tablets, tv’s no later than 11 pm or an hour before your go to bed.
Turn off all electronic devices in your living space.
Computers, tablets, televisions and smart phones emit a lot of energy, even when they are turned off. Turning them OFF — not just putting them to sleep — reduces agitating radiation.
I’ve found that unplugging electronics in the bedroom makes a huge difference. Like cell phones, flat screen tv’s emit radiation that can stimulate the nervous system.
Don’t sleep with your smart phone by the bed; keep it in another room.
Smart phones emit a lot of radiation that can be agitating for many people. (The sleep tracking or music apps you take to bed may actually add to your sleep disturbance over time.) NOT having your cell phone by your bed keeps that radiation away from you can help you sleep better.
Keep the phone in the other room. Get an alarm clock.
Don’t eat before bed.
Digestion is an activity that can keep you awake as you get older. Not eating up to 2 or 3 hours before going to bed can be amazingly helpful in creating good sleep. It’s also a good way to maintain and lose weight. (It allows your body to fast for a good chunk of time from dinner to breakfast, also known as Intermittent Fasting.)
Try turning off your wi-fi router.
Wi-fi has been shown to activate the nervous system of very sensitive people. Turning off the router before bed can help give you a break from the constant bombardment of radio waves.
You may be skeptical of my practice of unplugging the tv in my bedroom, keeping my cell phone in the other room, shutting down computers completely (not putting them to sleep), and turning off the wifi router. There are many studies that show that these electronics left on or close by can activate sensitive people. My empirical tests show they do. For me. I will absolutely have a terrible night’s sleep if I accidentally leave my cell phone in the bedroom or a computer fails to shut down.