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Laying Awake These Days? Improve Your Sleep…without sedatives

Sleeping cat knows what Christopher Michael, therapist, sometimes has to say to humans about sleep

OK, these are the times that keep us awake at night, if we’re not busily trying to prep and maintain for the crisis about us lately. Also, sometimes we don’t need a crisis like this one to make it hard to sleep. Sometimes it’s just hard.

Improving sleep will improve health, including mental health, and immunity.

Many of you might have already heard about sleep hygiene, but the versions easily available online are confusing to me in their differences or omissions of detail. These tips are part of what I have typically considered sleep hygiene. Here is a good, usual source. Take a look at it first; then, read on:

What to add? Mainly some details…

  • The ‘same bedtime, same arising’ routine needs to be fairly rigid. Unless you are in a safety job and must avoid drowsy driving and drowsy working, no naps during the day if you could not sleep well. If you get tired, you will be better able to follow the bedtime.
  • If you are are so sleep-deprived that you are a danger in a vehicle or do a safety-related job, don’t do those things until you can rest. If there is no option, take naps but try to taper them off over time. Also, stick to the nighttime sleep time frame regardless.
  • If your sleep is extremely bad, go get checked by a physician.
  • As noted, there are to be no activities in bed except sleep or sex. I am more specific here because people I talk to are always saying something is an exception. No exceptions.¬†With some exceptions I probably cannot predict, the only time the fortune cookie game of ‘in bed’ is correct is if the paper slip somehow says, “Sleep”.
  • For the ‘get up if you can’t sleep after ~20 minutes’ part, go do something passive and not very activating. For example, if you read something, don’t make it about the pandemic, the stock market, horror, action, extreme drama, etc.
  • After you start to feel sleepy again, try the bed again. Repeat.
  • If the routine is not working and begins to feel ridiculous, go lie down somewhere to at least rest your body–but NOT on the bed. Couch, recliner, floor, etc., are OK.

The overarching principle

Once you’ve covered things like don’t have caffeine before bed, don’t have too much alcohol, make sure it’s dark, and so on, the principle is that we are getting the unconscious parts of the mind to automatically associate ‘bed = sleep’.

Like sex and over-learned behaviors like driving, the best way for these behaviors to take place is almost automatically. Laying awake and thinking, “Just go to sleep!” and “Why, why, why can’t I sleep?!” won’t work. They are like trying to will your sexual response to occur (paradoxically, it usually fizzles).

So, quite important: give yourself a break about sleep. Do not insist in your mind. I am working on a short source about a related technique I use, but all of this hinges on letting go. Do the preparation, yes, but then stop trying to control something automatic. Then, it will happen.

If your mind is always thinking, wait for some different thoughts and then follow them, like a story. The story doesn’t have to make sense, just flow with it and observe with interest. More on this later.

More than about sleep…

In these times, these lessons about getting to sleep are good overall. Do the preparation (but don’t overdo it), then let go. Make another action only if it is called for, then let go again. Things will move along.

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