poproxy360 asks: I have a really hard time falling asleep and I am tired each day. Any advice on how to quickly fall asleep? I searched the Internet, but nothing works.
Hi poproxy360 –
Sleep is one of the strangest things about life. We don’t pay it nearly as much attention as we should. Think about it – we spend maybe an hour every day eating, and maybe ten minutes total drinking fluids, and the history of the world tells huge amounts about the searches for food and water, and how important that’s been. But sleep is just as important as they are. And while it’s no problem at all to go a while without as much sleep as one would like (everyone does that at times – certainly everyone who’s ever taken care of a baby!), true lack of sleep can be injurious, or even fatal.
What’s so fascinating about it is the process. What exactly is it? Sure, we’re tired after a long day. But what exactly happens when we “conk out?” What happens in the brain? How do we switch from awareness of what’s around us to a dreaming state? How much of sleep is about dealing with what’s happened that day?
When Handsome was training me, I would often get very confused with the lessons. “Something’s going on where when he says the word Sit, and I don’t do anything, or walk over to him, he gets bothered, but if I put my butt on the ground he gives me a treat. Why is that? What should I do?” I would feel kind of dizzy afterward, exhausted. And then I’d take a nap. And while I was asleep, my brain would put the information I’d gotten together. And then I’d wake up, and suddenly “get it!” I knew to put my butt down when he said Sit, and that if I did so I’d get a treat and all sorts of affection from him. Great!
The difference between me on those days, and you today, poproxy360, is very important. I was falling asleep instantly, the second I had the chance to, while you’re having trouble doing it at all. This is bad for your body, and bad for your brain!
I do have some simple suggestions. But if none of them work, I urge you to seek out a medical doctor. There are hormones and other bodily chemicals that affect one’s ability to sleep, and you might need to have those checked. This could be an early sign of something really important.
But for now…
1) First of all, let’s make your diet really boring. I want you to eat the way I do. And by that I mean to cut out all caffeine (that means coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, all that), any alcohol, tobacco, or other sleep-affecting drugs you might use, and all chocolate (I’m so sorry!) for a while. None at all. I’d even like you to cut way down on sugar – and especially to avoid having sweets after the sun goes down. Sugary soft drinks would be a great thing to skip out on. And most candy, cakes, etc. Do I mean that you need to skip dessert if it looks really good? Maybe. Or at least don’t have much of it. The thing is, all of these foods affect your body’s sleep patterns (what are called Circadian Rhythms), and we want your body to have the control over those patterns all to itself.
2) Make sure you exercise, every day. If you’re fit and active, then great, go out and swim or run or play a sport. But if not, even a half-hour walk would be fantastic, just to help tire out your muscles, and to get your body full of oxygen and other good stuff.
3) Drink lots of water. More than you normally would. This will add to the diet in helping your body to center itself and take control over things. But don’t drink a whole lot in the last couple of hours before you go to bed – you don’t want to fall into a beautiful sleep, just to wake up in a sudden urgency where you have to get to a toilet in less than three seconds or you’ll explode!
4) Okay, if you can do all these, you’re off to a great start. Then I want you to do two other special activities. The first is to, at least every morning and every evening (but more often is great), sit down for a few minutes, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. If you like to meditate or pray, this is a perfect time for those. But if not, just sit there, focus on your breath, and try to picture it going in and out of your body. Doing this helps you relax at a very deep level.
5) The second is an anxiety-reducer that Handsome does, and it helps him knock off very well. When you turn your light off at night, ask yourself two questions: What was the worst thing that happened in my life today? And what was the best? As you try to answer these, your mind is going to go over all the things that occurred since you were last asleep, and you’ll focus on things you otherwise wouldn’t. You see, lots of times, we can’t sleep because there’s something we’re not thinking about, and our brain can’t relax till we do. Doing this activity helps us bring those memories up. (Sometimes they don’t help us get to sleep right away, because we’ll suddenly remember something we haven’t done: “Whoops! I was supposed to get my mom to sign that form for the field trip!” But once we’ve then done it, or at least written ourselves a note to do it in the morning, it’s then a lot easier to slip into dozing.) Also, if you ever have one of those days that are so great that you think over the whole time and can’t remember a single “worst” thing that occurred, it makes falling asleep such a happy experience that night!
6) Oh one other thing. No electronics for at least a half-hour before you try to sleep. That means no TV, no computer, no video games, no radio. You’re trying to relax, so you want something that will calm you down. In fact, if you’re still in school, one great idea is to use this time to work ahead in your most boring class! Sure, get that History (or Math, or Greek Literature – whatever it is that you find just suffocating) homework done earlier. But then take that book to bed and try… just try… to read the next chapter while you’ve got your head on your pillow! You might find that that book you despise is the best medication you’ve ever found!
Okay, poproxy360, those are my ideas. Now again, these suggestions work very well, as long as there’s nothing else physiologically going on inside you. So try them out and see. And if they don’t work, please, get yourself to a doctor. I want you happy, healthy, bright, and energetic. And all the mechanisms in our amazing brains that deal with sleep are there purely so that you can be just those things.