“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” ― Akira Kurosawa
Theo, a fifteen-year-old high school student, was nodding off at class.
His busy schedule takes up a lot of his time, and unfortunately, it’s been cutting into his sleeping hours.
Between tests, reports, and projects, Theo also trains after school hours for the karate varsity team.
With so much to do, it’s become a challenge for him to balance his time.
As a result, Theo’s academic performance started to suffer. With him napping frequently and his grades dipping steadily, his teachers became concerned.
Ms. Guillen, the school principal, finally talked to Theo’s parents about what was going on.
She said, “Theo is a brilliant boy, but I’m a bit worried that he’s struggling to cope with his studies…and he’s so sleepy all the time.”
Theo’s parents shared that their son has been having trouble sleeping at night.
According to them, “(Theo) has been feeling more and more pressured by deadlines and tests, not to mention having to train for the upcoming interschool tournament.”
A Disheartening Trend
Theo’s case is hardly an isolated one. With classes starting early in the morning, most students his age end up sleep-deprived.
A study entitled “Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents” from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts found that a group of about 3,000 teenagers had the same problem as Theo.
They discovered that students starting class early in the morning (before 7:30 am) would doze off when the researchers pulled them out of class at 8:30 am.
It’s safe to say that this is NOT a healthy trend, and it’s been going on for decades now.
Sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker discusses this in his book, “Why We Sleep”.
According to him, high school students who start class before 8:15 am might as well wake up in the middle of the night.
Furthermore, he points out that schools in the U.S. used to start class by 9:00 am a hundred years ago.
So, Theo’s problem was to basically find a way around these unfortunate circumstances and get more sleep at night. It was the only way to pull up his grades and keep him from getting sleepy in class.
Ms. Guillen recommended that Theo’s parents see a friend of hers who worked at the Sleep Center of their local hospital.
With the help of his parents and their sleep specialist, Theo was able to work out a better schedule that would allow him to get enough rest. On top of that, he also started practicing certain habits to help him get to sleep faster.
While Theo benefited from these tips, pretty much anyone in high school or older can use them too.
Try them out starting tonight and see if it doesn’t improve the quality of your sleep as well:
#1: Make a sleep schedule and stick to it
Laying down the proper groundwork is half the battle when it comes to sleeping soundly.
Most people who have trouble drifting off to sleep at night usually don’t follow a general bedtime schedule.
Like with the other members of the animal kingdom, we’re designed to function based on a routine.
But the problem is that we’re the only species that deprive ourselves of sleep on purpose.
This is why you shouldn’t brush off the importance of setting up a sleep schedule that gives you enough time to rest at night.
The more you make a habit of ending your day right, the better you’ll wire your body and mind to sleep right away.
When babies and small children have a consistent sleeping schedule, they fall asleep effortlessly. It’s easy for them because they’re trained to expect their bedtime at a certain point in the day.
The thing is, adults are no different. Now that you’re all grown up, it’s up to you to create this structure for yourself.
Decide on a time to wake up every day, then set aside enough hours to sleep before then.
If you want to be up by 7:00 am, be in bed by 10:30 pm the night before so you’re out by 11 pm.
When you plan your day around a “deadline”, your body will learn to fall into this rhythm.
Granted that it takes a bit of time to do this, you’ll fall asleep quickly once you’ve settled into your schedule.
The good news is that once you’ve gotten this out of the way, the next tips take way less time to implement…
#2: Get into a healthy bedtime routine
Before the grueling lifestyle of the industrial age came into the picture, our ancestors were used to following their natural circadian rhythm.
Now that everything’s changed, you need to create a set of rituals that tie into your regular bedtime schedule.
Like babies and small children, you can also set up similar cues to signal that it’s time to sleep.
For instance, reading is a good habit to practice, much like how kids settle in with a bedtime story.
An academic study conducted in the UK shows that reading at night is an effective stress-reducing activity – this makes it easier for you to take your mind off things.
Other people like to play some music to relax instead, although it’s slightly less effective than picking up a book.
Nonetheless, it can still help you decompress after a long day and get you to sleep.
#3: Do a bedroom audit
Is your bedroom a place conducive for rest? Or is it a source of worry and distraction?
If you answered “yes” to the latter, remove everything in your bedroom that can detract from a peaceful sleep.
A lot of people don’t realize how important this is, so paying attention to the details will get you to sleep faster.
First off, make sure your bedroom is in the 60-70 F range as this is the ideal temperature to help you relax.
Of course, your bed also plays a huge role in helping you sleep peacefully. Check your mattress, blankets, and pillows so that they provide the comfort you need.
Also, the best bedroom is a dark one. Light disrupts the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone that makes you drowsy.
Keep the windows covered and lights switched off when it’s time to sleep. While you’re at it, remove anything noisy from your bedroom that might disturb you in the middle of the night.
This includes your TV, computer, or mobile devices – which brings us to the next tip…
#4: Make your bed an electronics-free zone
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s for a good reason.
Like I said earlier, your body stops producing melatonin when you’re exposed to bright light. This is doubly so with the blue light that screens typically emit.
One of the best things you can do is switch off all screens 2-3 hours before you hit the sack.
Your body and mind need time to unplug from the day’s distractions – you can’t just switch off the minute before your head touches the pillow.
Otherwise, you’re just cheating yourself out of precious time that could have been spent sleeping.
#5: Cut down on stimulants and other substances
Certain drinks are a no-no when it comes to sleeping well at night. This includes coffee (for obvious reasons) as well as liquor.
While caffeine keeps you awake, you might think alcohol has the opposite effect and help you relax.
Sure, knocking back a few drinks will make you drowsy, but the quality of your sleep won’t be as great.
We cycle back and forth between REM and non-REM sleep, and alcohol disrupts this process.
As such, you need to give your system enough time to process any coffee or alcohol present to enjoy quality sleep at night.
By the way, the same goes for sugary snacks or heavy meals. It’ll take you longer to sleep if your body is busy digesting.
#6: A warm bath works wonders
One of the benefits of going to bed squeaky clean is that it acts as a natural sedative.
Your body temperature goes up during a hot shower (ideally no higher than 104 F and not longer than 20 minutes), which then goes down when you go back into your bedroom. This drop triggers a change in your system which tells you that it’s time to sleep.
Do this about an hour before sleeping, and you’ll have enough time for your body to shift gears. As your breathing and heart rate goes down, it’ll be easier to fall asleep.
#7: Get out of bed
There are times when you just can’t go to sleep for one reason or another.
In such cases, staying in bed and forcing yourself to fall asleep is counterproductive.
The best thing to do is get up and do something else, but NOT in the bedroom.
Listen to music, read a book, or answer a crossword puzzle, then come back to bed when you feel sleepy.
The important thing is to associate your bed with relaxation, and not a place to engage in any stressful activities.
#8: Load up on melatonin
While coffee, booze, and sugary treats are a no-no, there are snacks that can actually help you sleep.
Try some of these melatonin-rich foods about 45 minutes to an hour before sleeping:
– Other fruits like apples, avocado, dried prunes, grapes, and goji berries
– Oatmeal-based snacks like cookies and porridge
– Warm milk (or almond milk) – also other beverages like chamomile or peppermint tea
– Nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, and pistachio
– Whole wheat toast with jam, peanut butter or almond butter
– A turkey or chicken sandwich
– Cheese (with toast, crackers or fruits)
– Green veggies like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus
Remember, “light” is the operative word. Don’t fill up too much or you’ll be stressing your metabolic functions which will make it harder for you to sleep.
#9: Quiet your mind
Like Theo, many of us spend sleepless nights with our minds going a hundred miles an hour over things that concern us.
Whether it’s taxes, bills, your job, the kids, your pets, a big project you’re working on, or a visit to the in-laws, there’s always something occupying your thoughts.
The trick is to learn how to block these when you’re about to sleep.
After all, thinking about them at night doesn’t help since you’re in no position to deal with them at that moment.
Awareness is key – when you catch yourself going into worry mode, you need to consciously step in and shut down those thoughts.
Try saying something like, “Dear Brain, this is NOT the time to guess what Sheila meant when she told everyone at the meeting that you didn’t answer her email…you’ve got plenty of time to chew on that tomorrow!”
Take comfort in the fact that most of our thoughts are actually inconsequential.
They’re often not as bad as your mind makes them out to be, so get into the conscious habit of switching off that mental static at night.
#10: Visualize and meditate
If you’re having a hard time keeping out distracting thoughts, you can train your mind through a couple of relaxing mental exercises.
For instance, meditation teaches you to disengage from negative thinking and focus on the present moment instead.
A 2012 study at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India documented this phenomenon and proved how effective its role is in sleeping more soundly.
You can do this by sitting upright with your eyes closed and thinking about nothing else other than your breathing. It also helps to focus on the sensations your body is feeling, such as your heartbeat and the weight of your feet on the floor.
As for visualization, this also keeps your mind off your troubles by replacing them with something pleasant.
Use your mind’s eye to picture a relaxing image, like being at the beach and watching the waves gently crash into the shore.
A 2002 study done at the University of Oxford called “The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction” proves the power of visualization is quickly falling asleep.
You can either do visualization as a standalone exercise or combine it as part of a meditation routine.
Either way, you’ll be taking the fast track to sleep and avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck of unproductive thoughts.
The more you apply these tips in your daily bedtime routine, the quicker you’ll perfect the fine art of falling asleep on demand.
Like any other skill, effective snoozing can be learned – so you should start practicing as early as tonight!