As I stared at the ceiling, tired and exhausted yet unable to sleep, I wondered if there was anything I could do or change to possibly get some sleep. With prescription sleep medication no longer working, I began to research, and over time I saw a bigger picture emerge. With the proper systems in place, maybe I could support better sleep or rest. So, with the information I had gathered, I developed my own little process.
In my research, I learned some concepts that helped me get better sleep. You can look further into these concepts to see if they might support your sleep and rest as well. Here’s a summary of the two concepts I discovered that worked best for me.
We humans have an internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. In short, daylight signals the brain to stay awake, and darkness signals a gland in [the brain to make melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep. If you want to learn more, the NIH and Sleep Foundation are two good resources.
We humans have an odd habit; we slam the lights off, jump into bed, and expect to immediately fall asleep. But the human body isn't designed to work that way. The sun sets gradually, it doesn't jump from daylight to darkness. That gradual shift from daylight to darkness is what signals our body to start producing melatonin, the hormone that causes us to get sleepy and fall asleep. Simple. Except we humans have made it very complex and unnatural.
Tips That Helped Me
- An hour before I want to be asleep, I dim the lights around the house. This is easier in winter than summer. Following the natural rhythm of the sun means I may sleep less in summer and longer in winter.
- I use a filter on my phone to block out blue light, as these wavelengths signal the brain to stay awake. Things like the TV, the computer, our phone, and light bulbs all produce blue light. Blue-light filtering glasses have also been known to help.
- I use a salt lamp at night because it produces a warm glow as well as some negative ions. This is the salt lamp I have and it's lasted 7 years so far: Salt Lamp -- it produces such a soothing warm light.
- I do gentle stretches for 15–30 minutes. This helps me relax and signals to my body that it’s time for bed.
Eventually I was able to fall asleep without medication, but my sleep was fragmented and broken. I would sleep for three or four hours, wake for two, and go back to sleep for two. From my research, I learned that this was actually not at all unusual for humans. In fact, years ago it was common for people to sleep for a few hours, get up to read by candlelight or go outside to associate with others, and then go back to sleep.
This is called "polyphasic sleep," or intermittent sleep, and was a temporary solution that greatly reduced my stress about having a broken sleep cycle. If I woke during the night, I would read or study on my phone with my blue-light filter and would eventually fall back asleep. It wasn’t ideal, but at least I was sleeping, and I felt less stressed about times I didn’t sleep. This reduced my anxiety, and the sleep I did get was restful.
I saw progress, and my hope grew. Which of these tips can you implement right away to support better sleep? Do you know someone else who would benefit from these tips? Send them a link to this post!
Here's a quick diagram of Circadian Rhythm
Read Part 3 here:
Four part series: