It’s almost funny that in such a supposedly advanced age, we’ve gotten worse at mastering the art of sleep. More and more people have difficulty switching off at night and there are a million and one things to blame: the always-on techno-society we live in, or the always-busy capitalist society we live in, or… the list goes on, growing longer with each and every person you ask—because, of course, everyone knows exactly why this is so.
It’s a pretty complicated question to tackle with, I’m sure, many contributing factors: why is it that society as a whole has seemingly gotten worse at getting good sleep? I don’t pretend to know exactly why, though I have my suspicions, but I do know a few tricks that can help you nod off quicker and wake up feeling more refreshed than usual.
1. Get Up Earlier
That’s right, you slacker: if you want to get to bed earlier and easier, set your alarm for 5am and haul yourself out of bed the second you hear it go off.
The catch is that for this to work, you’ve got to muster all the self-discipline you’ve got and not only get up as soon as that alarm goes off, but get up as soon as that alarm goes off every single morning. No matter what. Even if you only had an hour of sleep the night before.
Try going for four or five days on two hours of sleep and then try to tell me you haven’t felt sleepy and ready for bed earlier than usual. This is the best way to reset your sleep schedule.
But boy, does it require some self-discipline—more than some people have got.
2. Read the Right Material
I make a point never to read nonfiction before bed. I suppose I should clarify since some wise-mouthed kid reading this may reason that any time during the day is “before bed” and try and get out reading a textbook, and I don’t really need a mob of enraged parents after me. There’s a time of day when you’ve got to shut off your active mind and let the passive mind take over, and this can happen just an hour before bed or just after you get home from work.
In any case, you’ve got to figure out how long you need to transition out of that active mind that’ll keep you thinking and awake all night and keep yourself from partaking in any really mind-chatter-activating activities during that time.
For me, in the past, reading nonfiction before bed killed my hopes for sleep. I’d undoubtedly begin thinking about the content I’d just consumed and how I can apply it, and this could wrap my head up for hours. Eventually I decided to enjoy only fiction works, like a good Terry Pratchett yarn, after 9pm.
This small restriction fixed my thought-induced insomnia immediately.
3. Extinguish All Sources of Light
I have a Mac mini in the bedroom that I use as a media player when I’m too lazy to get up and go to the living room or office (I realize this doesn’t fit in with number one but you only need to use that technique to reset or fix your routine, not to maintain it). Like most Macs, there’s a small light on the front that pulsates on and off.
If you’ve seen the mini, the light is tiny. Way smaller than the lights on the old iBooks, more like a pinpoint. I started to notice that my sleep was better on nights when the mini was switched off completely, and then realized it must be the light (it is noiseless).
I’d would never have thought that such a small light would affect my sleep if I hadn’t read a few years back that any light, even in the minutest amounts, can affect your quality of sleep. But it’s true: if there is a light source in the room, it will decrease your sleep quality. Kill it. Pitch black is the ideal situation.
4. Sweep Your Mind for Stray Thoughts
Often, we’re kept up by worry: did I complete all the tasks I needed to complete today? What if I forget that I need to call Bob in the morning? Oh, I need to get a brief for that article in by tomorrow evening or I’ll lose the job…
It only takes a couple of minutes to sit down with a pen and pad (or a keyboard) and perform a mind sweep before tucking in for the night. Get every thought on your mind out of your head and into a tangible form. Afterwards, it literally feels like you’ve tipped your worries out into a bucket so that you don’t have to deal with them until you’re ready, and it’s a great habit if you want to get more organized.
Sweep for tasks you’ve got to complete, people you’ve got to contact, ideas you’ve had throughout the day but failed to capture (tsk, tsk) and make sure you get everything on your mind written down—no matter how insignificant it may seem.
5. Avoid Computer and TV Screens
While the picture on your computer screen might look like a bunch of windows and images standing still or moving the way things in real life move, the reality is that the screen is being redrawn so fast that the illusion of motion, or even solidity, is present. The same principle is at work when it comes to television; it’s not motion being shown, just static pictures being displayed in rapid succession.
While you might not see a bombardment of repetitive flashing, your mind certainly gets hit with the strain of it, and your eyes and brain get stimulated further by it—meaning you’ll find it harder to get to sleep. If you log off the net at two in the morning and wonder why you can’t get to sleep, it’s probably because you spent too much time with your eyes glued to the screen. Steer clear of screens before bed.