Sleep Is The New Black: 5 Steps to Get What You Need and Want
October 27, 2009
Imagine a day when you can wake up naturally on your own, on time, without an alarm clock, revived and refreshed in the mornings, ready to face whatever challenges that may come your way. You work hard, and play harder, and when you hit the pillow, you fall asleep instantly, sleeping soundly and restfully, without a care in the world.
For most of us, however, things are very different. Getting a good night’s sleep is the holy grail of modern society. We all want it, but it remains as elusive as ever. So the question is: how can we get more of what we all want and need? The answer is simple: Change your mindset.
Can You Get Instant Sleep?
You may have guessed by now that this article is NOT about the latest sleeping pill on the market. Although it would be easier to pop a pill to get some sleep, the results wouldn’t last too long. In fact, many of the short term solutions out there that promise better sleep fast, only deliver just that: speed without substance. Also, if clinical studies are any indication, taking a sleeping pill isn’t proven to help you get to sleep faster than a sugar pill will.
Sleep in modern times has become commodity—something to be bought, measured and traded. In some cases, it’s even thought of as a nuisance. Who can sleep when there’s so much to do, and so little time to do it in?
More often than not, we ask ourselves, “What can I take (or do) to sleep better?,” rather than, “How can I think differently about my sleep in general?” By cutting out the initial step where we change how we think about sleep, we set ourselves up for failure.
However, if you’re willing to shift your mindset for the benefit of getting more sleep, here are some steps you can take to help you on your quest. Take the time and effort to go through each step and in no time at all, you should be getting the kind of restful nights sleep you need and desire.
Step 1: Learn From Sleep
In yoga or any other discipline where proper breathing is emphasized, observing your breathing before you take control is a common theme. This is what’s emphasized long before the stretching or the poses. Similarly, it’s good practice to observe your sleep quality and habits, being mindful of which activities, foods, or habits give you a good night’s sleep versus a bad night’s sleep. Write down these observations in a daily sleep log, including times you went to bed and woke up, and how you felt in the morning. Once you’re able to observe, reflect on and document your sleep qualities and characteristics, it’s time to either fine-tune your sleep or even undergo a complete sleep makeover.
Before you begin to make any changes to your sleep patterns, it’s important to get yourself in the right frame of mind. Rather than say to yourself, "I just want to sleep better," think about and even write down why good sleep is important to you. I know that this sounds elementary, but clarifying the end result in this way, rather than setting sleep up as the ultimate desired goal, can help you leverage more of what you want in the long run. After all, it’s not the sleep itself that you probably want, but the results that good, quality rest can yield, like your health and vitality. So ask yourself the following clarification questions:
• If you are able to achieve better quality sleep, what will it enable you to do, feel, or accomplish?
• Will it allow you to enjoy more of what life has to offer? Like more time to enjoy spending with friends and family without having to struggle with fatigue and exhaustion
• Will you look forward to getting up in the mornings and not dreading it like you do now?
• Would losing weight and feeling healthy be important for you?
Next, write down your answers to these questions and rank them as goals in order of importance. Then picture in your mind what you ranked as being the most important aspect of getting better sleep. It may be that you could play with your children without feeling a sense of overwhelming fatigue or being able to look and feel well rested and refreshed at work and throughout the day. Picture them until these visual images evoke the emotions you desire. Anchor these feelings to the specific goals you want to achieve.
Finally, think about the consequences of not doing anything at all. Will you continue to feel too exhausted to do anything? As I’ve stated earlier, without changing the way you think about sleep, as a means and not an end itself, nothing will change even after you get the sleep. This is why sleeping pills let us down, literally.
Step #2: Change The Way You Think About Sleep
Earl Nightingale, a self-improvement guru from the 50′s in his classic recording, The Strangest Secret, states, "We become what we think about." If you are constantly thinking about your ultimate goal, then your actions will reflect your ultimate goal. Just like every important habit in life, you have to take small consistent steps. Always keep in mind your ultimate goal. Then give yourself a reasonable timeframe in which to accomplish your goal and to set small manageable initial tasks for yourself.
How will you know when you’ve succeeded? Again, Nightingale states, "Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal." Stated another way, making gradual progress toward your goal is considered success. But this takes effort that you must ingrain into a daily habit.
I’ve written various articles in the past on specific steps you need to take to obtain better quality sleep. What I want to focus on here is the mindset that’s necessary to progress towards your worthy ideal, rather than specific steps. Take, for example, the common habit of eating close to bedtime. In New York City, it’s almost a norm that you’ll come home late and eat dinner just before crashing in bed. Or you may have erratic work schedules.
Eating late close to bedtime prevents quality sleep because juices from your stomach can be actively suctioned up into your throat, especially if you stop breathing once in a while (for most modern humans). This not only wakes you up (before you turn over), but also inflames your throat with stomach juices, causing post-nasal drip, throat clearing, chronic cough, and a lump sensation in your throat. (I explain in much more detail why this happens in my book, Sleep, Interrupted.) Drinking alcohol before bedtime is even worse—by relaxing your muscles, it aggravates the obstructed breathing episodes.
Many of you take my advice and have reported to me dramatic changes in not only the quality of your sleep, but your overall sense of well-being and improved productivity during the day. However, there are some of you who absolutely can’t or even refuse to change, for various reasons. Excuses include: I get home too late from work, I have to exercise, or I’m not going to stop going out with my friends. Some insist on a pill for the throat pain, hoarseness, lump or cough, despite the fact that changing your eating and alcohol habits alone may be enough to help. Even if a medication is given, there’s a very low chance that you’ll feel any better in the long run. It’s like giving a cough medication when you continue to smoke 2 packs per day.
Step #3: Don’t Fixate on Sleep
Another mindset change that’s necessary to achieve the goals you desire is to simply become more flexible. In the international bestseller, Thick Face, Black Heart: The Warrior Philosophy For Conquering The Challenges of Business and Life by Chin-Ning Chu, the author points out that one small blade grass, unlike even the tallest trees, can withstand enormous gusts of wind by yielding and bending to the force.
Similarly, the demands of modern society pose many challenges for sleep and rest. Although it may be true working late is an inevitable part of your job, you’d be amazed how well you can work around these challenges once you make sleep a priority.
Yes, we all have certain limitations with our schedules, our jobs and other commitments, but what I’m describing is the limitation of your mind. If your main priority is to sleep better, and you have obvious nighttime habits that are clearly detrimental to your sleep quality, you’ll have to first change your mindset. Only by changing your values and priorities can any real change begin to happen.
If you can’t change your work schedule, you can order out and eat while at work. You can exercise in the morning rather than in the evenings. You can have a large lunch and eat a small snack early after coming home from work. You also have a choice in whether or not to go out late drinking with your friends 2 times per week. Once you decide to make changes you’ll see that there are always options available. Whether or not you choose to make these changes, however, is up to you.
Simply by being consistent with and not resisting the natural biorhythms of our nature, many people have found that not only can they work better, they can enjoy the fruits of their labor that much more. Isn’t that, after all, the ultimate benefits of sleep and work?