It is a Friday afternoon, and the weekend is starting early. Clouds have rolled in, thunder rumbles in the distance, and much-needed rain begins to fall on my part of Houston. If I weren’t involved in multiple projects and deadlines, it would be a good time for a nap.
The great comedian W.C. Fields said, “The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” It seems obvious, and yet sleep eludes many.
The best solution for sleeplessness, and in the long run, the easiest, is to change your lifestyle to one which supports you in your desire to sleep well. Most people would rather take a pill, or purchase a gadget or special bedding, or eat a miracle food that will help them to sleep. Changing your lifestyle seems a bit daunting. What would it take?
It’s easier than you think. One of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your ability to sleep is to re-purpose your morning and afternoon coffee breaks. Instead of drinking a cup of coffee, or having a sugary snack, take that time simply to sit quietly, by yourself. Close your office door, even lie down on the floor if you can. Set a timer to go off in 10 or 15 minutes. Close your eyes and get comfortable. Observe your breathing for several cycles. Chances are, you will be awakened by your timer! This quiet time, whether you go to sleep or not, will “unplug” you from your daily stress cycle. Do this twice a day, and you will be much less stressed at the end of the day. Lower stress levels during the day lead to improved ability to fall asleep at night.
When people ask me for help in this area, and I describe this little experiment, I usually hear protests. “That is so hard! I can’t break away from my work for that long! What will my colleagues think if I’m not hanging around in the break room with them? I’ll be out of the loop!”
And you wonder why you can’t sleep?
I teach a series of powerful pro-sleep techniques called the Sounder Sleep System®, which elaborate and expand upon this theme of quiet time-outs during the day to lower your overall stress and promote a good night’s sleep. As a practice becomes part of your lifestyle, you begin to make room for what once was perceived as an intrusion or an inconvenience. The value of a practice grows over time: the more you do it, the better you become at it. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play the piano well after just one lesson, would you? However, practicing the piano each day supports the intention of one who wishes to become a pianist. Likewise, when you create just a little space during your day for quiet and calm, that supports your intention to have a good night’s sleep.
Your lifestyle creates a certain set of conditions, the results of which can be seen in your overall health. If your lifestyle creates the conditions for sleeplessness, you can’t expect that continuing to do the same things will lead to a different outcome. Try my suggestion for a week, and let me know your results!
- How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (movesleepeat.com)
As I write this afternoon, I am seated in the sunny kitchen of a beautiful home in York, PA. It is a day away from home, and a day that is far from my routine.
Life is full of disruption! Yesterday was a travel day. Up WAAAAAAYYYYY early to get to the airport. My exercise for the day consisted of schlepping my suitcase and backpack through Houston Hobby, DFW, and BWI airports. Too much sitting to fly, and then to drive, I can tell that I need to MOVE. There is a treadmill in the upstairs bedroom, which I will use later. I’m planning a walk in the neighborhood after dinner. It is what I can do, and it’s the best I can do — so that is the solution for today, and probably for the next few days.
Sleep is disrupted as well. I function best on 7.5 hours of sleep each night. My internal alarm clock is reliable. However, two short nights — the night before travel, and then the long settling in process last night in a different bed — and I can tell I am under-slept. Since I am on vacation, there’s the tantalizing possibility of a nap later in the afternoon. I’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, and perhaps that will hit the internal “reset” button and tomorrow will be better.
Since I started following the Eat to Live plan eleven months ago, I have been able to create a food environment at home that is supportive of my health goals. Since I don’t travel for a living, I don’t really have routines and systems set up so that I can eat constructively when I do travel. However, so far I have been able to stick with the plan while I am at my cousin’s home. I had a glass of wine (or two) last night while visiting, and that was my splurge. We’re going out for a family dinner tomorrow after my aunt’s memorial service, and I will probably have another small splurge — a glass of wine, or a bite of dessert. It helps me to tell myself, “It is easy and convenient to stay on this plan, even when I travel. It is easy to make good choices 90% of the time.” If I instead told myself, “This is so hard! How will I ever do it? There are so many temptations!” I would be completely focused on what I don’t want, instead of what I DO want.
It is not my intention to say, “Am I not amazing? Look how resilient I am!” However, perhaps people would feel better, stronger, and more in-control of their lives if they would say that to themselves. Humans have survived as a species because we are adaptable to a wide variety of circumstances and environments. Our internal regulatory systems strive to bring us back into balance — homeostasis — so that life systems can continue. Emotional shocks, or threats to the comfortable and familiar, are sometimes less easy to take in stride. Moshe Feldenkrais spoke and wrote extensively about the various adaptations, positive and negative, that individuals devise to “get through” particular situations. To do the best you can with what you have to work with in any moment — that’s the best you can do. Surely, when I remind myself that I do have the capacity for resilience, and I do have the resourcefulness to adapt, each day can be enjoyed for what it is: a gift of opportunity and possibility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a national health epidemic. Forget the summer blockbusters: “zombies” are everywhere, “undead” and chronically exhausted, driving on the highways, operating heavy machinery, piloting oil tankers, monitoring air traffic, taking care of our children, staffing our hospitals — you get the idea. If you are one of the 50-70 million Americans who suffers from a sleep or wakefulness disorder, it is small consolation to know that you are not alone.
If you google “insomnia cures,” 2.4 million results will appear in under one second. The top article is from the Mayo Clinic, entitled “What medications are used to treat insomnia?” You can tell a lot about our culture and its expectations by what comes up in search results. People expect to take a pill to “cure” their insomnia. And yet, many are apprehensive, and do not wish to take medications.
Other authorities will recommend the long list: a cup of herbal tea before bed, a darkened room, shutting off electronic devices well before bedtime. Some will purchase a new mattress, sheets, bedding, blackout curtains, and white-noise generators, to no avail. Even the “natural remedies” are in line with the same mindset: take a pill or buy a pillow — you need something you ain’t got.
While I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to explore solutions to find what is right for them, it seems that the conventional approaches don’t address the core cause of insomnia. Most insomnia is caused by stress, pure and simple. The non-stop stress of modern life leads to a chronically over-stimulated nervous system. Your brain just won’t stop, chugging and chattering along until the wee hours. Unless you deal with the over-stimulation, you’ll be spending a lot of time watching those late-night infomercials.
I find that most folks don’t want to hear this. They tell me how their life is way too stressful, and nothing can change. They want a pill, or a trick, so that they can keep going along their merry way and not be bothered anymore. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) sleeplessness is an early warning sign of possible health problems to come. Insomnia has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and depression, and cognitive decline. The sooner you intervene and get a handle on your insomnia, the better. The question remains: how can you deal with the stress that is keeping you up at night?
Rather than throwing money away on pills, gadgets, and gimmicks, a simple investment of your time will pay you great dividends. If you want a good night’s sleep, be willing to practice a bit. Night-time rituals are important. However, after a stressful day, it is almost impossible to de-stress rapidly enough so that your brain and nervous system can be quiet enough to allow you to fall asleep. Here is the secret: you must take breaks during the day to be quiet. Only then can you have a hope of falling asleep.
I like the analogy of an overflowing bathtub. The tub is your life. The water is stress: job, family, finances, relationships, the news — you name it! You can’t always control the flow from the faucet. Stress keeps pouring in. In order to prevent damage beyond the bathroom, you have to drain the tub before it overflows.
A wonderful set of tools, called the Sounder Sleep System®, was developed by Michael Krugman, author of The Insomnia Solution. The system relies on a set of gentle practices, designed to work together so that you can “drain your tub” of stress every day. If you have allowed most of the daily stress to drain away before bedtime, you have a much better chance of falling asleep, and of getting back to sleep in case you wake up. The simple techniques are powerful and effective: natural breathing and small movements allow your zooming thoughts to quiet down enough so that you can get the sleep you need. It takes only a few nights to begin to put the practice into effect. Sleeplessness becomes a habit, and habits learned can be unlearned. That is very good news!
I love to teach my clients how to use the Sounder Sleep System, because the results are so dramatic, satisfying, and rewarding. Don’t lose another night’s sleep! Find a teacher at SounderSleep.com.
This blog and website is the new and public face of the Feldenkrais® Center of Houston.
Posts will be varied, with the major interest categories being Moving, Sleeping (or not), and Eating.
I want to give you resources and actionable ideas to improve your life. How to move better, sleep better, and eat better.
Pretty simple and direct.
I’m looking forward to the minimalist approach: make things as simple as possible, and no simpler. I think Einstein said that.
If you are interested in “the examined life,” or mindfulness in general, I hope you will visit here often. Fruitful digressions will include Awareness, Mindfulness, Compassion, Kindness, Culture, Transformation, the Feldenkrais Method®, Vegetables, and as much silly stuff as I can curate.
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