How to Get Better Sleep

in sleep •  11 months ago  (edited)

Back in 2015/2016, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Likely caused by the stress of dealing with my former employer while also dealing with mental health issues that I hadn't yet identified, I was starting to look into how to get better sleep - because at the time, I found that I was getting little sleep during the week, and wasting my whole weekend catching up.

I eventually managed to find a few things that worked, and worked those practices into my daily life. Now, 3+ years later, I'm still getting quality sleep.

Recently, a colleague of mine started experiencing issues sleeping as well, and I gave him my advice for what worked for me, and it worked for him as well - so after a barrage of photos from Assassin's Creed Odyssey, here's something with a little more substance.

I can't guarantee it'll work for everyone - and if you're having trouble sleeping and these little tricks don't work, please see your doctor.

What you should be aiming for

My process is actually pretty simple, and divided into three parts.

Step One: The Science Bit - Light!

Here's a bit of background for you. We, as mammals, are subject to a cycle known as the Circadian Rhythm. It is a complex collection of processes within the body that regulates how we respond to our day/night cycle, based on external stimuli such as light and temperature, and internal generation of chemicals that trigger it.

A very basic run down of the cycle as as follows:

External light enters the eye > the frequency of the light sends a signal to the brain and the production of melatonin occurs in the pineal gland > as the sun sets, the colour of light signals that the day is over and tells your brain to fill up with melatonin > once the gland is full (generally over the course of about 16 hours), a sleep signal is sent to the brain and you (hopefully?) fall asleep > melatonin ebbs throughout the night

So I probably grossly offended every person with a basic biological knowledge.

I don't have any formal training, so sorrynotsorry if I got all that frightfully wrong. It's how I understood it with my primitive ape brain, anyway.

So the regulation of melatonin in the pineal gland is started and ended by the frequency of light. Light on the blue part of the spectrum, such as blue skies (and even overcast daytime skies) triggers the cessation of melatonin production. Light on the red part of the spectrum, such as that at dusk, causes the opposite.

The pineal gland - that little nugget there

It's how we evolved, effectively - rise at dawn, sleep at dusk. Only we have a pretty strong issue these days with artificial light; especially with screens. Blue light from screens has been in the media a bit of late, and for good reason - every time you look at your phone, tablet, TV, or computer, you're getting a dose of that blue light, which makes your brain think it's nowhere time to sleep. The same issue occurs from the light from your lightbulbs.

So what did I do to solve that? For screens, I started using blue light filters. Though pretty commonly built in these days, it wasn't always the case.

  • For computers, Windows 10 has a setting built in called 'night light,' which lets you set it up to your preferences, as well as the time it comes on - or you can set it by your location, so it enables as the sun sets. If you don't have a computer with this or a similar setting, a program called f.flux was my go-to before it was built in.

  • For phones, if there's no built in filter, try seeing if you can change the temperature setting to something a little warmer. Failing that, just minimise use after dusk.

  • Same goes for your TV and tablets.

  • For any devices that don't have any of these options available, try and restrict usage after dusk, and for at least two hours before bed.

  • As an alternative, you can also purchase blue light screen protectors, or blue light glasses.

  • For light globes, the culprit lies in the globes that are marked as 'cool' temperature ranges. Try swapping them out for ones marked as 'warm.'

Step 2: Letting Thoughts Free!

The second part came after I watched a pretty decent video called The Third Space. While I usually disregard things that have silly names like that, I realised that I was putting a lot of its recommendations into practice already.

Give it a watch if you have 20 minutes to spare - well worth it!

The long and short of it is simple: people need to transition between modes or selves, and need a time and place to do it - to transition themselves from work mode to family mode, or work mode to meeting mode. I realised that every night after work, I got on the tram or bus, and 10 minutes later I was home and trying to relax to no avail.

My breakthrough came when I started walking home instead. It took me 30 minutes to get home, but I felt more relaxed than if I got the bus. Some research suggested it could be the light exercise, or practising a form of mindfulness by letting my thoughts go free as I walked home, but either way - it gave me a way to transition from work mode to relaxation mode.

Step 3: The Same As Above, But Before Sleep!

The last step I found was when I actually started looking into apps like Headspace to try and relax before I went to bed. The app asked me to spend minutes at a time analysing how the parts of my body sat and felt, and to be honest it felt silly - but then I recall reading something, somewhere, about a practice of 'no expectations bed times.'

The way it basically boiled down was this: Say you go to bed at midnight, with the expectation you'll be up at 8am. You walk into your bedroom, turn off the light, and go to bed at midnight, and lie there trying to fall asleep. You don't, though, and then it's 12:30. You look at the clock and realise you lost half an hour just trying to go to sleep. So you try harder. Only your brain is more active now with thinking about sleeping, and now it's 2am. Shit, you have to work out how many hours you'll get, but overthink it. Now it's 3am, 4am, and you only finally sleep because you're exhausted.

Instead, the idea is to give your brain time to adapt to the new situation, let it process and wind down, without any expectations to sleep. My process is this: I go to bed half an hour earlier, but don't try and sleep. So I go to bed at, say, 11:30pm, turn off the light, and just lie there with my eyes closed. I let my thoughts wander as they will, and as they start getting less and less coherent, I drift off more naturally and have a more solid sleep.

With this method, I can even go to bed at 1am for an 8am wake-up and be more refreshed than if I went to bed at midnight without this wind-down process.

I would also recommend limiting caffeine and sugar before bed - I try and avoid caffeine for 4+ hours before bed, and limiting sugar (such as desserts) for an hour before bed.

So if you're finding yourself struggling with sleep, maybe give these things a try.

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My clear conscience used to work well, but that was before 2006.