Tools to Implement This Week to Get Better Sleep
Ok, now let’s get into some actions you can take this week that will help you get better sleep and on the right track to overcoming chronic insomnia.
Get out of bed: The Counterintuitive Solution to Sleep Better
If you only listen to one thing I say this week, let it be this:
Get out of bed when you can’t sleep, or aren’t ready to go to sleep.
This is absolutely VITAL if you want to overcome insomnia.
You need to disassociate your bed from wakefulness and stress starting tonight. And you need to do this even after you overcome insomnia and you have a random sleepless night. If you go to bed and don’t fall asleep in 20-30 minutes, get out of bed.
I can’t stress how important this is.
Chronic insomnia is a conditioned response. Somewhere along the line, you started to associate your bed with anxiety. To overcome insomnia, you need to work on reconditioning your brain.
If you are not familiar with the concept of conditioned response, it is based on an experiment by Ivan Pavlov. His famed experiment, Pavlov’s dogs, involved reconditioning dogs.
Before the experiment, the dogs would salivate when someone would bring them food (conditioned response). When a metronome was heard, it was a neutral stimulus that dogs did not salivate to (unconditioned response). Pavlov then performed the experiment in which he would turn on the metronome and then feed the dogs. The dogs were now conditioned to salivate at the sound of the metronome (new conditioned response)1.
A Workout for Your Mind: Pump Up Your Sleep Muscle
That’s why even if you prepare yourself perfectly for bed, sometimes you just can’t fall asleep. You can tell yourself over and over that you’ll sleep, but your subconscious mind is hard at work to prove otherwise because it’s a conditioned response.
If you only go to bed when you are sleepy, you’ll recondition your brain to associate your bed with sleep rather than restlessness and stress. Every time you stay in bed when you’re tossing and turning or ruminating, you are reinforcing that bed = stress, wakefulness, and being alert.
Same goes with scrolling on your phone, watching TV, and potentially even reading. If you’re reading a really engaging book that you can’t put down, get out of bed.
If you’re just reading for a couple of minutes because it’s part of your bedtime relaxation routine, then that should be fine. But as soon as it interrupts your sleep, you’ve got to – you guessed it – get out of bed.
You want to start associating your bed with ONLY sleepiness and sexual activity. Nothing else. So if you’re not sleeping or having sex, get out of bed.
If you need to set up an air mattress so you can lay down in another room, do it. Just don’t associate your bed with stress. When you feel yourself getting tired, try going to bed. If you don’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes…
👏 Get 👏out 👏of 👏bed.
If you end up falling asleep not in your bed, that’s ok. But you want to try to get to bed before you fall asleep to create that positive association with it.
Control your nervous system to get better sleep
Remember that F3 alarm bell I spoke about early this week that causes you to be anxious and not sleep, even when your conscious mind is like ‘ok, tonight will be fine, everything is good’?
Let’s calm that part of your nervous system down so you at least have a chance to get to sleep.
Here’s how you do 4-7-8 breathing:
Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then open your mouth and exhale completely, making a “whoo” sound for 8 seconds.
The reason you do this is because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system which slows down your heart rate and increases oxygen in your bloodstream2. This also helps to override your F3 alarm that is occurring in your autonomic nervous system. You’re essentially telling your monkey mind “what’s happening now is relaxation. There’s no room for stress right now”. Do this 10 times, or for as long as you feel the need.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is where you purposefully tense muscle groups for five seconds, and then relax them. You can start by doing individual body parts like feet, lower legs, upper legs, butt, abs, etc. until you go through all major parts of your body.
If this is the relaxation response that works for you, note that the ‘goal’ of progressive muscle relaxation is to eventually do your entire body at once. So if you clench 16 different parts of your body, try doing larger sections and do 8 once you feel comfortable to do so. For example, instead of dividing your legs into upper and lower, do your entire legs at once. Then once you feel comfortable subdividing your body into 8, try doing 4. Then 2. And finally, you’ll be able to relax your entire body at once.
Passive muscle relaxation
Passive muscle relaxation is much the same as progressive, except you don’t tense your muscles – you say in your mind “I am relaxing my feet”, “my calves are now relaxed”, “I’m softening my jaw”, etc.
Picture a peaceful scene
This really depends on you as a person and how imaginative you can be. Some people can get lost in the details of a peaceful scene that they have created in their head. Or they paint a detailed picture in their minds. I personally pictured my fish in my fish tank, and imagined watching them swimming around. It can relax your mind.
Distraction (reading in low light, plan something not too exciting)
Sometimes distracting yourself can help from spiraling into anxiety around sleep. Reading in low light, for example, can take your mind off of stress without signaling you to ‘wake up’ with a bright light. Or you can try to plan something in your head. For example, I would plan outfits I would wear. I’m not exactly fashion-forward, so it wasn’t very exhilarating for me to think of outfits.
Another way to potentially relax yourself (again, depends on the type of person you are), you can listen to music that is calming to you, whether that’s something you’d hear in a spa or death metal. As long as you find it relaxing, it’s worth a try.
I’m not a big advocate for turning on the TV, and it’s generally not recommended. But if it helps you to settle and distract yourself from anxiety long enough to fall asleep, put on something relaxing but set a timer so it turns off after 30 or 60 minutes.
If you can’t sleep, do not go on your phone unless it’s for listening to something calming. DO NOT mindlessly scroll through social media. Do not read the news. Do not play a game on your phone. All of these activities are all too passive and designed to keep you on your phone.
Pledge to Commit: A Fundamental Component to Get Better Sleep
This week, I want you to pledge to yourself that you are willing to put in the work to get better.
The thing about taking committed action is it should relate to a value of yours rather than just achieving a goal. This is true for anything in life.
For example, if you look at weight loss goals, someone is more likely to stick with eating healthy and exercising if they are basing it off of their values of good health, individual improvement, or mastery. Whereas someone who bases their weight loss off of a goal like seeing a certain number of the scale or on a measuring tape, it disincentivizes the continuation of eating healthy and exercising once those numbers are achieved.
The same goes for sleep – it’s a lot easier to be persistent with getting a regular sleep schedule if it relates to a value rather than a goal of sleeping ‘X’ hours per night. This is for three reasons:
- If you don’t reach your ‘goal’ of sleeping ‘X’ hours per night, you’ll feel like you’ve failed yourself (whereas you haven’t failed if you’re working towards a value and you’ll try again tomorrow night to take committed action towards a restful sleep)
- Once you do reach a point where you have a good sleep schedule, you may be inclined to fall back into habits that make it difficult to sleep again if you don’t base it off of a value
- When you do relate sleep with a value, sleeping well then becomes something greater than getting a good sleep itself – you are sleeping because you want to live a fulfilling life in some way
📍 Quest #2: So what values does having a good sleep relate to?
Does having a good sleep serve you in the sense of having more energy for your kids?
Will sleeping well serve your value of being more creative?
Will a regular sleep schedule help you towards the value of showing patience?
If you’re not sure what your values are, here’s a giganamo list of values. See which ones resonate with you, and how sleep can be conducive to helping you take committed action towards your value(s).
It takes persistence every day to take committed action (like having a regular sleep schedule) to live by your values. But it’s what makes life feel fulfilling and worthwhile.