Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream. If you have trouble settling down at night because your mind is racing, you need to first determine what is keeping you up at night. Are you trying to remember your to-do list for the next day? Is your mind brimming with ideas for a big project you are in the midst of? Sleep deprivation is serious — it can lead to weight gain, memory loss, and chronic disease. And, of course, it steals energy and productivity from the next day–so you don’t get as much done, and the cycle starts all over again.
Here are five ways to clear your head and reclaim the power of sleep back into your life.
Unburden your memory. Eradicate the need to worry about what you might be forgetting, by having a reliable system for capturing to-do’s and ideas all day long. Get yourself a single, consistent planner-and commit completely to it–recording every to-do, call, task, project and meeting as it occurs to you throughout the day. Get an individual notebook for ideas–just one notebook, so that once a genius idea is written you know exactly where to look to find it again.
Do NOT keep a notebook on your bedside table. Granted, this is the exact opposite of what many recommend, but I discovered this technique in my early years as an entrepreneur, when my mind would be brimming with ideas almost 24-7 on how to grow the business. The “bedside notebook” is an enabler – a bad influence – it sends your mind a message that it’s ok to never shutdown. If an idea is really worth recording, get out of bed, pad down the hall to your office or kitchen or living room and write it down. This sets a boundary between work and relaxation, so you can let go and get some rest.
Create a bedtime ritual. Establish a soothing routine with sensory indicators that tell your body it’s time to sleep (even if your brain refuses to listen). Begin the ritual at the same time every night-an hour or more before bed. Try deep stretches, soft music, candles, a cup of tea. Lay out your clothes for the next day, walk around the house locking the doors, straighten the sofa pillows and bookshelves. Train your mind to make a habit of rest.
Black out. At least 1 hour before bed, avoid turning on anything with a screen–TV, computer, email–communication devices which contain messages that stir you up, rather than calm you down. Reading can be relaxing–but gravitate towards novels, short stories, poetry, not the newspaper or a how-to book. And, cover all electronics that emit light in your bedroom (alarm clocks, laptops, cable boxes, etc.) Those hazy green lights can be stimulating, making it hard to relax.
Change your mindset. Here’s an interesting question: Do you think of sleep as the end of one day or the beginning of the next? I find that people who think of sleep as the “end” of the day often have trouble letting go at night – like little kids who refuse to leave a party for fear of missing out on some fun. Try flipping your thinking–when you view sleep as the start of your next day–you can’t wait to get into bed, excited to charge up your batteries, and fill your fuel tank for the day’s adventures.
Changing habits may take a little planning and mindfulness, but think about the rewards. With a good night’s sleep, you’ll bring the best of yourself to your work, friends, family and goals. You’ll feel much more productive each day, which will boost your sense of security and allow you to turn off at night. Sweet dreams!