“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.” -Annie Dillard
I’ve always been jealous of those people who can get 4-5 hours of sleep every night and still seem to function perfectly every day. Alas, I’m not one of them. I’ve come realize I rather need at least 8 solid hours of sleep every night or else feel my sanity rapidly decline. I end up thinking slower, reacting slower, even moving slower, and I definitely notice a swifter tendency to grumpiness.
What’s more, as long as I can remember I’ve had trouble falling asleep. It can take me anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours (yes it happens) to get that rapid eye movement going. So not only do I need a lot of sleep, but it also takes me an extra long time to get started.
So naturally this has been an area of concern that I’ve been meaning to address for some time now, which made it a perfect goal to work on this year as The Productive Artist.
This year, I intend to reset my internal clock to hopefully address my insomnia and start getting a consistently solid night’s sleep. After reading much on the subject, and consulting doctor’s advice, I decided the key ingredients I need to conquer are my sleep pattern and my routine before bed.
My Sleep Pattern
Studies have shown it is essential to commit yourself to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time every day. Doing so would not only help your body realize it is sleep time sooner, but will also increase the quality of sleep you get once asleep, and help ease you into the following morning more smoothly as well.
So my first step was to decide on a set bed and wake time to stick to. Given that a lot of my creative moments come later in the day, and that I’m really not a happy morning person, I decided to aim for a 1am bedtime every night, and then set my wake-up alarm for 9am every morning.
Now the difficulty is sticking to that schedule, especially when there are always anomalies such as parties or special events that keep you out later, or an earlier-than-normal morning meeting. But as long as I try my best to stick to it, and manage to do so the majority of the time, I know it will still be a vast improvement for me. And that’s part of the benefit of setting goals isn’t it? Because even if you don’t reach your full goal, you’ll still have accomplished something more than if you hadn’t set the goal in the first place. Shoot for the moon and you’ll at least reach the stars.
My Pre-Bed Routine
That decided, the other difficulty is how to be able to fall asleep faster. This will partly be addressed as my body adjusts to the more consistent bedtime, but that won’t happen immediately. So I’m going to need some help in the beginning to conquer this.
Upon further study, I uncovered a few key daytime practices that can affect how well you fall asleep that night:
1. For one, you should avoid eating less than 2 hours before bedtime, particularly spicy or fatty foods, to give your digestive system time to relax and settle down. Drinking lots of liquid too close to bedtime can also disrupt your sleep cycle, when you get up to use the bathroom. If you must drink something however, researchers have found that tart cherry juice may contain a high content of melatonin, the sleep chemical in your brain. And if you get the late night munchies, an empty stomach can actually keep you awake. So try to eat a light snack that’s high in tryptophan – which can also boost your brain’s melatonin levels – such as pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, eggs, meat (why do you think you get sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving?), cheese or chocolate (that’s right, chocolate).
2. Along the same lines, you should avoid any other consumable stimulants, such as caffeine or nicotine, at least 2 hours before bed, since they can linger in your system for that long. I have a pretty strong relationship with caffeine, so that’s what I need to focus on here.
3. You should also avoid strenuous physical activity or exercise too soon before bedtime. Like the other stimulants above, this will elevate your heart rate, making it harder for your brain to slip into the calm of slumber.
4. Lastly, and possibly most importantly for me, you should avoid computer and phone screens at least 2 hours before you hit the hay. These types of electronic screens are lit with a blue tinted light, which falls into the daylight side of the light spectrum and will thus trigger your brain to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that signals your body to fall asleep. So it’s important to avoid the blue light at nighttime.
Now if you’re like me, and find it very hard to put down the laptop and avoid the phone for that long before bed, there is a solution for us! It’s called the F.lux app, which you can download for Mac, PC, or even your iPad or iPhone. What it does is removes the blue hue from the light in your screen at sunset, leaving a more yellowish glow that may look a little odd but certainly does the trick.
Your screen will then return to its usual blue brightness at sunrise, which is also a very useful thing for your sleep schedule for similar reasons. Since blue light halts the production of melatonin, it has also been recommended as a good way to help your brain wake up faster in the morning. Exposing yourself to either a blue light machine or the blue light in your computer screen will have the same affect as if you stepped out into the sunlight first thing in the morning, since all fall into the same daylight spectrum.
You can now also have that big glass of water you resisted drinking before bed. Since most people are dehydrated first thing in the morning, coffee would only worsen the problem. So water is the best bet to boost your hydration, and in turn, your energy.
So now that I have my newly set bedtime schedule, and new ways to better prepare myself for sleep the few hours before bed, I feel confident I will see improvement in my sleep quality and quantity. And hopefully, I’ll see an improvement in my insomnia as well, though that may be a bit longer of a battle.
I hope you found these suggestions and ideas useful for your own sleep schedule as well, and can find ways to reset your own clock for better results.
Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell us about your sleep routine and how you can make sure to get a consistently good night’s sleep.
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