Friday, January 20, 2012

A Good Night's Sleep: A Systematic Approach

Something I get asked about a lot is how to get a good night's sleep. And though I've blogged about this before, I  wanted to share this systematic approach. It basically starts with the essentials and progresses to more specialized cures. The idea is to start with the first phase, and give it a week or two to see if your sleeping improves. Then, if you need to, to continue to subsequent phases, giving each a week or two as well. This goes along with the idea that the simplest solution is usually the best. What's more, this approach will streamline your efforts, insuring that you don't employ a cure that you don't really need.

Phase 1

1. Exercise rigorously - for ideally at least 30 minutes - daily, or at least 5 times per week.
2. Be sure your bedding is clean and comfortable, and make your bed daily. (Making your bed resets you psychologically and creates a visible invitation to rest.)
3. Clear all clutter out of the bedroom and create a calm, organized atmosphere.
4. Remove energizing items from the bedroom, including computers and exercise equipment.
5. Remove any items from under the bed.

If, after 1-2 weeks of following the above instructions, you do not notice a substantial positive change in your sleep patterns, or if you have already been following the above instructions, move on to phase 2.

Phase 2

1. Cover or remove all mirrors from the bedroom. (Mirrors can be unsettling and energizing to some.) If you have mirrored closet doors, consider curtaining them like sliding glass doors.
2. Be sure your windows are covered at night in a substantial way (i.e. very little light or movement should be visible through window coverings).
3. Cut back on caffeine. If you have two cups of coffee per day, for example, you might try cutting back to one, or even simply replacing one with a cup of green tea.
4. Finish your evening meal at least 2 hours before your bedtime, and forgo the after-dinner snacking (unless it's something light like an apple). 

If, after following the instructions in both phase and phase 2 for 1-2 weeks, you still find sleeping to be a challenge, progress to phase 3.

Phase 3

1. Drink a cup of chamomile tea (or a blend containing chamomile, such as Sleepytime by Celestial Seasonings) before bed.
2. Take a calcium and magnesium supplement before bed.
3. Decide to give up on sleep altogether. What I mean is, see if you can just enjoy lying in bed comfortably rather than feeling that you have to make sleep happen. Tell yourself: "good rest is almost just as good as sleep anyway! So why don't I just relax my body and rest?" (I don't really mean that you should not hope to sleep, this is just a sort of psychological trick to play on yourself.)
4. Consider experimenting with a white noise machine or app.

Once again, after 1-2 weeks, if necessary, move onto the next phase.

Phase 4

1. Experiment gently with kava and/or valerian tablets. You might, for example, start with two valerian tablets the first night, then try two kava tablets the next night, then, on the third night, try one of each. Kava tends to be more of a body relaxer, while valerian is more of a mind relaxer. You can gently up the dosage to 3-4 total tablets per night (but keep the kava total to 1 or 2).
2. Keep an amethyst crystal under your pillow or on your nightstand. Cleanse it weekly with sage smoke, cool running water, and/or sage smoke.

Photo: flickr / Facing North East


  1. Good tips all. I'll throw out two things. A nice foot soak can also be a great help before bed time. It can draw that energy which can keep you up, down and out of you.

    And I know a lot of folks swear by valerian but there are a significant number of folks where it has the opposite effect on them (I'm one of those.) Still for most it can be helpful.

    - Michael

  2. Thanks, Michael, I love the foot soak idea! I like hot baths too. And yes, good point about the valerian. I have heard that about it, that it is energizing for some people. So interesting, isn't it, how herbs can work so differently with different people?

    1. Isn't it interesting? The differing affinities between herbs and people is always amazing to me.

      The funny thing about the foot soak is that I looked for a official foot soaking tub in vain in the Boston area. But then I noticed that every hardware store had big dish pans (for soaking/washing dishes) that work perfectly! :-)

  3. Nice - great insider info about the soaking tubs. Thanks!

  4. Hi Tess! I have had trouble sleeping for the last year or so, for various reasons, but I had a very interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. My water heater broke, and I was without hot water for three days, during which I took a cold (VERY cold) fast shower at bedtime followed by a quick sponge bath with water I had heated on the stove. I noticed on those nights that I felt immediately incredibly drowsy and went right to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow -- I didn't even read, which I always do! I know most people would be reluctant to take a cold shower, even a speedy one, but seriously, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, it was pretty miraculous. (That doesn't mean I'll be trying it again anytime soon. ;-)

  5. I have tried something for years and suggest it to others- always with good results. Typically, when you _can't_ get to sleep, this causes anxiety, resulting in your body tensing up. When I was a teen I found this suggestion incredibly helpful. Tense your entire body. Starting at your toes, relax each body part...toes, ankles,calves,thighs,hips,torso,arms,shoulders,neck. When you have reached your head, unclench your tongue from the roof of your mouth. You will find when you are tense, your tongue glues itself to the roof of your mouth. Relax it so it falls naturally into the back of your mouth. Breathe deeply. Friends who have tried this thought I was initially crazy- but it works.

  6. I know some people swear by valerian, but in many cases it can cause grogginess, nasty headaches, and occasionally, memory problems the next day. It does help sleep, but it's better to use when you are say, ill, and don't have to worry about waking up early the next day. It works too much like an antihistamine. I'd go for lemon balm instead, which has a mild sedative, and soothing effect. Or perhaps a lemon balm/valerian combination, which I've heard is much more effective. And definitely yes to the daily exercise.

  7. I love these comments and suggestions, you guys, thank you!!! Lunaea, I know what you mean about cold showers - I haven't taken them for help sleeping but while doing a detox to get my circulation going. SO healthful but SO unpleasant. So intriguing that you found it to be a sleep aid!

  8. Hi Tess, why is is important to not put things under your bed?

  9. Hi! That's because it's generally good to have a free flow of energy around and under the bed. Sometimes limited space makes it necessary, and in that case (if you really have cleared all possible clutter), I suggest nothing but linens under the bed which still allow for a simple, restful energetic flow. Also, too many items in the bedroom (even ones you can't see) can be distracting and disruptive to a good night's rest.

  10. I'd like to add to the first phase, pick a bedtime that works for you and stick to it. Every night, even on the weekends and on vacation. Repetition helps set your body's clock. And remember, your body changes throughout your life. Honor that and work with reality.


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