How to Sleep
Some of us feel more alert in the morning (sometimes we’re called “early birds”), while others of us think most clearly in the evening (we’re called “night owls”). Researchers call these biological tendencies “morningness” vs. “eveningness”, and they are connected to our circadian rhythm. These questions might help you figure out your default setting: https://rebrand.ly/circadian.
Our circadian rhythm is influenced by our internal body clock, which resets every day based on cues from light, the temperature, and our schedule. For those of us who regularly experience trouble sleeping, I have heard that one way to reset our circadian rhythm is to go camping for a week. Living in nature without the modern conveniences of artificial lights, thermostats, and days spent inside buildings exposes us to a consistent sunrise every day, with a gradual increase in light, which builds until peak brightness at midday, and then gradually diminishes until the night wraps around us in darkness. Increasing light in the morning tells our body to wake up, and decreasing light in the evening invites sleepiness. This pattern of light and darkness repeats day after day at approximately the same time each day and night.
Another pattern we would notice if we were camping is a fairly consistent shift in temperature each day, with the weather feeling warmer during the day and cooler in the evening. The chillier temperature instigates our desire to snuggle into warmer clothes and blankets. Feeling warm and cozy invites feelings of sleepiness. Our body takes the information it receives about light and darkness, and translates it into the temperature fluctuations of our circadian rhythm that control activity and inactivity in our cells and organs (see https://rebrand.ly/body-temperature and https://rebrand.ly/sleep-temperature), waking us up and lulling us to sleep.
If you’re not able to go camping right now, here are some ideas for replicating these light, temperature, and schedule cues for better sleep at home:
Turn off overhead lights after supper, and use only dim lighting for the last couple of hours before you go to sleep (see https://rebrand.ly/light-sleep). Using only LED candles in the evening is a relaxing way to wind down before bedtime.
Use blackout curtains at night. If you wake up in the middle of the night, seeing the darkness will remind your body that it’s still time to sleep.
Turn off all screens (i.e. phone, iPad, laptop, television, etc.) at least one hour before bedtime. The “blue light” emitted from screens is “most disruptive at nighttime” (https://rebrand.ly/blue-light), since it suppresses the production of the melatonin that causes you to feel sleepy.
Go to bed at the same time every evening, and wake up at the same time every morning (even on weekends!). Maintaining consistent wake times reinforces our “sleep drive”—the overwhelming pressure to sleep each night (see https://rebrand.ly/sleep-drive).
To simulate an external drop in temperature when you’re not camping, set your thermostat a few degrees cooler at night than it is during the day.
Which sleep tip will you try? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!