Chronic insomniacs will relate when I say that sleep is oh-so-very precious. Few things can make me become a complete mess of a human being than having more than a couple of nights of sleeplessness. Since law school, I’ve tried every prescription and over-the-counter drug for sleep. Admittedly, Ambien is a sure bet for knocking you to sleep-land but sleep on Ambien always made me feel slightly less functional the morning after. Here are five things that I’ve personally found to be highly useful for falling asleep — naturally.
Good Night Sleep Starts With A Good Morning
When you get a lousy night of sleep, you may be tempted to rely on caffeine to keep you going throughout the next day. Be mindful of how much caffeine you consume throughout the day as it may have an impact on your ability to fall asleep at night. I have a strict noon cut off for caffeine and I notice this makes a big difference. If you need something to sip on, try tea in the afternoon.
As you go about your day, practice pausing even just for a few seconds and check your stress level. Left unchecked, your stress level can go through the roof without you even realizing it. Intentionally creating moments where you check in and let go of stress and anxiety throughout the day will help you to fall asleep at the end of the day.
Create An Environment Conducive For Sleep
Do you find yourself in bed with your laptop or your iPhone? Screens emit a blue light that mimics sunlight and this sends a message to your brain that it’s daytime! Additionally, nothing will get you out of sleep mode faster than seeing an email from your boss or your opposing counsel. (Or for those of us that practice in Federal Court, seeing the ECF notices come through at midnight.)
The bedroom should be reserved for two activities: sleep and sex. No work and no screens allowed!
Additionally, take a look at your bedding, pillow, curtains, mattress, etc. and make sure they’re comfortable and soothing. I also find few drops of lavender oil on the pillow very soothing. Create an inviting and relaxing space that’s conducive to sleep.
If you use your iPhone as an alarm clock, do yourself a favor and invest in a good old-fashioned alarm clock for $20. This will cut down on the temptation to check your email or play Candy Crush.
Move Your Body!
You probably know this already but it’s worth mentioning because it’s so important. Getting regular exercise that gets your cardiovascular system into high gear will help to release stress and get the body ready for sleep. Note the key word: regular. Going to the gym a couple of times per month won’t cut it. Also, find an enjoyable activity. I enjoy going on a hike or biking where I’m surrounded by nature.
Try These Breathing Exercises
Sleep is such an elusive thing. The harder you try to fall asleep, the more challenging it becomes. Instead of trying harder to fall asleep, focus on relaxing the mind and body. Try a short meditation or diaphragmatic breathing.
Here’s a breathing technique that I’ve found to be particularly useful:
- Lie flat on your back and scan the body — head to toes. Notice any parts of the body that feel tense. You can breath into that area, or try tensing and relaxing the tense areas.
- Place one hand over your chest (over your heart) and the other hand over your belly button.
- Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7, and exhale for 8 counts.
- As you inhale and exhale, focus on the hand that’s over your belly and intentionally deepen your breath so that your belly rises and falls with each inhale and exhale.
Quieting The Mind — The Worry Journal
Ever try to fall asleep but your mind is going at 150 mph, and you’re going through your to-do list, and your mind won’t quiet? Or perhaps you remember something that you need to do the next day. I keep a “worry journal” on my nightstand. On those nights where the mind is full of worries, emotions, or simply restless, try jotting down everything in the journal and release the worries.
Finally, remember to bring a “beginner’s mind” to each night. Every night is different—just because you couldn’t easily fall asleep last night doesn’t mean this will be the case tonight. Approach each evening with curiosity and an open mind.
This post was first published at Above the Law on October 19, 2015.
Jeena Cho is co-founder of JC Law Group PC, a bankruptcy law firm in San Francisco, CA. She is also the author of the upcoming American Bar Association book, The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Happier, Saner Law Practice Using Meditation(affiliate link). She offers training programs on using mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress while increasing focus and productivity. She’s the host of the Resilient Lawyer podcast. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jeena_cho.