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3 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep

You’ve probably read all the common-sense advice on how to beat insomnia. Drink warm milk, no TV an hour before bedtime, no murder mystery novels, and pop a couple of Valerian capsules if all else fails. Well, what do you do when all else – including the Valerian – fails? Here are a few proven suggestions that may help you to fall asleep, so that you can awake refreshed and ready to start a new day.

1. Define your core values and live by them.

I’m not going to preach to you about living a moral life. But guilt will eat into your dreams, haunt you, and cause you to wake in a cold sweat. The fear of being discovered as something less worthy than you would have others believe will leave you wide-eyed, biting your nails instead of sleeping. Guilt doesn’t come from doing the wrong thing; guilt comes from knowing the difference between right and wrong, doing the wrong thing, and having enough of a conscience to be ashamed of it. So, live according to your own values and principles – act ethically towards others in the pursuit of your happiness – and guilt should never be an issue.

“Not so easy!” you say? No, it’s not, but it should be. Just as there is “productive pain,” or pain that tells us there’s something wrong and we must act or risk injury or death – and “unproductive pain,” such as a stress headache that we know does not signal a brain tumor, and so can safely take Advil to banish it – there is “productive guilt” and “unproductive guilt.”

Productive guilt is that which drives us to atone or make amends for our wrongdoing. Unproductive guilt is what we feel when we’ve done wrong and fear the consequences, but aren’t sincerely sorry enough to proactively set things right. Unproductive guilt is simply a form of fear.

2. Make your bedroom a safe sanctuary and banish fear.

First of all, make your bedroom uncluttered, clean, fresh-smelling, and soothing. Clean the room, rid it of clutter and other distractions, freshen the linens, plump the pillows, and indulge in a little aromatherapy if that works for you. Avoid candles; lit candles have no place in the bedroom, when you are trying to sleep. Do use soft lighting – maybe just a closet light – to signal your mind and body that it is night and time for sleep. In Alaska, they have heavy, black “blackout curtains.” I’m tempted to get some for my own windows, because even a little light bothers me at night.

Next, crawl into bed. Savor the feel of the sheets and blanket. Be aware of the sounds and smells surrounding you.  Breathe deeply, slowly, rhythmically – and relax. Breathe by letting your tummy lift up as your lungs expand into your diaphragm. Remember that you are safe, secure, and will be ready to tackle any challenges tomorrow brings, once you are rested.

Finally, let go of fear.

There is internal fear – for example, that unproductive guilt and fear of being discovered as a wrongdoer or a fraud. There is worry – usually about things like “how to pay the bills,” or “how to finish that big project at work,” or “will the plane crash while we’re on vacation?” Some fears concern things that are within our control; others do not. Learn to recognize the ones that are outside your control, and work on releasing those fears – let them go like a child’s helium-filled balloon, into the cool light of the moon. Trust in your higher power, and let go. Visualize each worry-balloon. What does it look like? Is it a monstrous perversion of a giant balloon like the ones carried in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Is it a tiny, little worry that looks like a shriveled prune and flies off in curlicue formation, making high-pitched, whiny noises as you let it go? Open your fingers – are you clutching it with white knuckles? Let it go.

As for the worries you do have some control over, table them until morning. There is nothing you need do or fear, tonight. Your body needs rest; if there is one thing you should fear – because it is within your control – it is keeling over from sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Take back your control and sleep.

In fact, if you just relax and sleep, your mind will continue to work on solving the problems that have been occupying it all day. When the noise and distractions are gone, and you have laid your body to rest, your mind begins to unravel the Gordian knots of the day. You need do nothing at all but sleep, and let it work. The less you interfere with the unfettered workings of your subconscious mind, the better. If you wake, breathe deeply, reassure yourself there is nothing to fear, and sleep. Your conscious mind likes to distract your creative unconscious with niggling doubts and insecurity. Left alone, your subconscious will simply solve its puzzles and enjoy the challenge. There is no doubt about its ability, but that the conscious mind tells it to doubt.

3. There is no party.

I’ve had many sleepless nights, but rarely is it due to a real inability to get to sleep. More like an unwillingness to shut everything down, for fear I’ll miss the party. I use the term “party” loosely. It’s more like watching a venomous snake – it’s as if looking away, for even a second, would cause it to strike out with venomous fangs. Recently, this has been dubbed “social media insomnia,” but in truth, for some of us, it predates social media. Let me clue you in: There is no party worth attending at 3 AM. There is no “breaking news” that won’t be running on endless repeat at 6 AM, 11 AM, and again at 6 PM and 11 PM – and everything in between if it’s really all that important. Yes, I was awake when the tsunami washed over northern Japan. I watched in horror, and I watched endless replays…for days. Weeks. After 9/11, I couldn’t sleep unless the TV was on – something new and awful might happen. As if there was anything I could do about it, if it did. I lost a lot of sleep for nothing.

This guy thinks there’s a party – look how miserable he looks:

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About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at http://jahangiri.us/new.

About Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri lives in Texas and claims to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry and Erma Bombeck. She has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a professional writer. Holly is a technical communicator whose imagination is allowed free rein in her short stories, children's books, and poetry. You can visit her personal blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective," at http://jahangiri.us/new.

Comments

  1. Sleep is a problem for a lot of us..i try to work out during that day and hopes I crash by bedtime.works for me

  2. I really enjoy the advice number 2. I started to take better care of my room, I could sleep better. Excellent text.

  3. Teenagers, Border Collie, hard work, a smoked turkey and a hot tub.

    I’m good unless my wife asks me a hard question…

  4. Holly, to sleep the sleep of the just is to luxuriate in the conviction that you have truly lived the day according to your principles. Your three secrets are part of a vast repertoire of mental adjustments that many of us have forgotten:

    “Don’t go to sleep angry”;
    “Don’t go to sleep on a full stomach”;
    “Take a small libation”;

    And so on. Your third secret reminds me of Christmas Eve as a child. That was the only night of the year where I was too excited to sleep AND I was desperate to do so. The eve of other festive occasions simply left me a tempest-tost wreck (which had the benefit of allowing me to sleep on the drive to said festivities.) To this day, I still don’t know how I got through Dec 24th – but, when Santa was no longer a factor, I managed to soothe myself on that night by placing a small speaker under my pillow. It played wonderful music from Percy Faith and other easy listening instrumentalists (WWSH-FM, for any Philly old-timers up in here.)

    That leads to my favorite sleep-inducing secret of all time: a little pillow speaker with music.
    You can buy them – imagine my surprise when I saw my invention on TV!

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • Hahahah… poor Mitch! That’ll teach you – next time you invent something, make a prototype and PATENT it. That wouldn’t even have been difficult to prototype.

      Bet you remember the “Bone Fone” or whatever that thing was called…

      I love relaxing to music, but sound tends to interfere with sleep, for me – just like light. I’m really sensitive to both. (I actually can hear a pin drop. But we’ve had this conversation, elsewhere, haven’t we? We see silence differently…)
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Courage to ContinueMy Profile

  5. Hello Holly,

    Excellent article as expected. I was thinking about the first paragraph and I would agree that this is true. But just a thought, what is ethical is relative. Thoughts that could “allow” other people to sleep may not allow another person to sleep. Even the universal principles are now being questioned or “thwarted,” like the tenet, “thou shall not kill” can now be rationalized in several ways: “it is just to render lethal injection,” to do mercy killing, to kill people because of religion, etc, etc…Well, I couldn’t sleep last night, because I saw this kid in the streets and all I did was to give him money, when I should have brought him home, dressed him up, fed him and spend for his education. It is the right thing to do, but there are many “buts”, I am not well off, I have my kids to take care of , etc, etc.(well, my religion says that i should share whatever i have.but…)

    I called social workers to help him out, but still, I played it safe not ready to share what is really on my table.

    It takes true courage and conviction to give something and sacrifice to help other people. I mean really help, and get your hands dirty instead of giving donations etc. I guess i will be spending a century trying to be that kind of person…lol…I still don’t have the guts to share “myself” the little that I have with others.

    Being able to do that would give me a sound sleep during the night, but that’s me, I know you and many others may not agree with me.
    Jena Isle recently posted..How to Know If It’s Migraine: Be Aware of These Migraine SymptomsMy Profile

    • Jena, I think only good people really struggle with this, so you shouldn’t lose sleep over it, either. I started to say what you did, here – when I say that “Guilt doesn’t come from doing the wrong thing; guilt comes from knowing the difference between right and wrong, doing the wrong thing, and having enough of a conscience to be ashamed of it” maybe I should have said “doing the wrong thing on purpose, and regretting it.” I didn’t want to write this in a way that would leave people feeling righteously justified in never feeling remorse or shame for doing harm to someone.

      You did more than most would have done – most people would simply have passed by the kid and done nothing. Or given him money and not a second thought. You called social workers to look in on him and try to help? That was probably the best thing you could do.

      To share is one thing – to share so much that you or your own family are at risk of financial trouble is another. I was raised that “charity begins at home” and “take care of your own, first.” CERT trains people to look to their own safety first – so as not to become part of the problem. I find it much more satisfying – to ME – to “get my hands dirty” and volunteer my own time and effort when it’s needed, though I don’t do that nearly as often as I could or want to. Having said that, many organizations could put donated money to more effective use, so provided the organization is reputable and uses donated funds to help people, you do well to help that way, too.

      I think, sometimes, it’s enough that you keep your family’s needs met. At least that way, they don’t need charity, and charity can be shared with others. That IS sharing what you have.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Ahh, but I Digress…My Profile

  6. And btw, I can’t sleep at all without my thick blackout curtains. Even in the wintertime when it’s dark outside at 4pm. The reason why I can’t go camping in the summer is that it’s light outside 24/7!

    • I’m glad it’s not just me (again!)! Seriously – I really cannot stand light at night. And I live in a house that’s plagued (from my viewpoint) by light pollution (there are tall parking lot lights a whole block over that manage to creep through my upstairs blinds); neighbors have motion-sensitive floodlights outside; I can see car headlights behind the fence behind the house. No one else here cares or is bothered by it – me, I want blackout curtains!

  7. Well, you know, I never remember being able to just go to bed and fall asleep as a kid so I’ve always had that problem. My problem is a) chemical (nerve ends not grabbing some stuff they’re supposed to grab to make me sleepy, so that b) I’ve always had all the time in the world at night to think about life, the universe and everything. And it’s *very* difficult to stop doing b) when you’re an adult and got some medicine to guide your misguided nerve ends. So ever after years of medicating, I still catch myself wondering about all the wonderful wonders of the universe late at night. My latest success though is to start a dream sequence in my head; let the imagination loose but only within certain limits: I start a conversation with someone I know, or don’t know, in my head. Usually I can’t get past 10 sentences without falling asleep. This is a major breakthrough for me!

    P.S. That damn party isn’t worth losing sleep over!

  8. The first one doesn’t touch me but 2 & 3 are definitely me. My core values are fine, but I do worry and have fears about other stuff when I turn the lights off, imagining that when I awaken someone will be banging on the door for something and saying “you know you did this or that” or “you’re responsible for this or that”, all stupid stuff that has no basis, but sometimes it’s how you feel when you work for yourself and mainly work from home.

    As for #3, I do tend to stay up late, checking and rechecking stuff because I feel like I’m going to miss something, and don’t want to awaken to find out that the world has exploded and I only have an hour to live before it’s all gone. Yeah, I go there; how goofy, right? lol Nicely written post; stuff to work on for sure.
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..Making Money By Blogging – Let’s TalkMy Profile

    • You, too, Mitch? I used to think it was just me – so “goofy” is just reassuring, somehow. My daughter starts to stress out over something and I tell her to stop and ask herself, “What is the WORST that could possibly happen if I totally eff this up?” She’ll start to say something, and I look at her and ask: “Are you or anyone else going to DIE?” After I’ve run through the litany of horrible things that aren’t going to happen, we usually end up laughing a bit, and she looks much more relaxed. I’ve always told my kids there are mistakes we cannot afford to make (like driving drunk), but that most mistakes are actually survivable and might be more positively called, “learning experiences.” So if you can realistically say “Nobody’s going to DIE if I table everything for a few hours and SLEEP,” then let it go and get to sleep.

      • Holly, as a kid I always worried about aliens and other bad things coming out to kill us all. I’d stay up late and be looking out the window, and of course I didn’t sleep. One night my dad must have heard me and came in to ask me what was going on. I told him and he said “You live on a military base with jets, guns, missiles and all sorts of other military equipment. If we can’t stop it there’s no reason to worry about it because we won’t be alive long enough to fear it.

        Strange guy my dad, but he made a great point. Too bad it would only last a few months or so, and I don’t even have that to fall back on now. lol
        Mitch Mitchell recently posted..Go Ahead, Interview MeMy Profile

        • LOL – I think I like your dad. I’ve said things like that to my kids. People look at me funny, like, “I cannot believe you just said that to a CHILD,” but truth’s truth.

          When my son got around to asking about the birds and the bees, I said, “Son, you remember that chat we had about six months ago, where I explained to you where babies come from? Well, birds and bees have sex, too.” WHATEVER.
          Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Scavenger Hunt!My Profile

  9. Bill Hicks says:

    I can fall asleep, but wake up at 4:44 nearly every morning and then can’t go back to sleep. Any answers for that 😉

    • That’s weird, Bill. Just weird. My daughter always looks at the clock at 11:11. Any time someone asks my husband for a number, whether it’s a phone number, a dollar amount, a social security number, he starts out saying, “Four four four, four four, four four four…” (Recently, he’s caught on to the fact that I pick up a heavy paperweight just before asking – and he’s started to bite his tongue.) For me, the number is any multiple of three.

      I guess if your number is 4:44, I should ask J.J. if he’s got any advice. I’ve got nothin’. Go to work early? 🙂 (Yeah, that was just evil. Sorry.)
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Ahh, but I Digress…My Profile

  10. Never heard of Social Media Insomnia before, but it makes sense. My brain seems to kick into high gear the minute I get in bed. Maybe I should try working from the bed one day with my laptop.
    Larry Lourcey recently posted..Its Monday, So I Must Need HelpMy Profile

  11. Wow…I was never knowing it. Thanks for teaching me this new thing…Power Nap…cool !!
    Btw, Holly…it happens very rarely but whenever it happens, its exposed to all :O
    Hope it doesn’t happen again..:)
    Aswani recently posted..Lessons learnt from blogging – Top blog tips for bloggersMy Profile

  12. Hi Holly, great post. I really enjoyed reading it. Sleeping is one of the things which makes me feel better but at times, gets me in trouble..especially when I start sleeping in my office :O
    But anyways, that’s very rare. Hmm…your secrets are worth reading and it will surely make my good nite sleep better and enjoyable..:)

  13. Kwan Nam
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’ve been taking pills for last couple of years. I don’t necessarily have problem falling asleep but cannot stay a sleep for long. 1 pill gives me 4~6 hrs and 2 pills 5~7. I am at a point where I can’t go to sleep with out it now…

    • Some sleep aids are highly addictive. Have you considered having a sleep study done, Kwan Nam, maybe try to wean yourself off the pills? Have you tried Valerian, instead? (It’s a pretty effective, but more gentle herb.)
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Ahh, but I Digress…My Profile

      • Kwan Nam
        Twitter:
        says:

        I used to take unisom but it had little after taste when I wake up.. I changed to Melatonin, it’s supposed to be just dietary supplement. I still take unisom 3~4 nights.. I’ve been working on my startup…I cannot afford to try new stuff now. I’ve been trying little meditation techniques lately. I am not sure if it is helping much but plan to stay on it for awhile. Your article gave me some things I haven’t thought about.. “missing the party”.

        • Okay – I thought maybe you were taking prescription meds. I need to preface what I’m about to say with I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I am not licensed to dispense medical advice. Please check with your doctor… you know the drill. 🙂

          You know what the active ingredients are in OTC sleep aids? Older antihistamines (the drowsy kind). Same ingredient as in Benadryl, if you’re taking the Unisom with diphenhydramine (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000704/ ). And a little pain relief (usually acetaminophen – same as in Tylenol). So no, you’re not likely to be addicted – unless when you don’t take them, you itch or get a stuffy nose. 🙂 And they’re pretty safe.

          Acetaminophen can be a little hard on your liver, though, so you might want to just compare dosages and NOT take the one with pain relief, if you don’t need it. Never take more than the recommended dosage. And if you do take the one with Acetaminophen? Don’t drink alcohol. At all.

          When you feel it wouldn’t interfere too much with working on your startup, try some moderate physical exercise (a good vigorous walk, a little time on the treadmill, a bike ride) to get the natural endorphin rush. For most people, exercise helps with sleep; for a few, exercising within about 5 hours of bedtime may interfere with sleep. So experiment with that – keeping an open mind. I can drop off to sleep more easily after a moderate workout and a warm shower.

          But yeah – that 3rd one – that’s the killer for me. I’ll be falling asleep at the keyboard, and still want to read, click, or post one more thing – as if something really cool or important might happen. It never does. Trust me on this – never has anything earth shattering happened in the middle of the night that wouldn’t still be there in the day. This is not so much a “social media” problem, I think, as a peripheral awareness of just how interlinked we are around the globe. I joke with my blogging friends in the Philippines and India – “Don’t p*ss off tomorrow before I get there!” It’s only half joking, though.
          Holly Jahangiri recently posted..Ahh, but I Digress…My Profile

          • Kwan Nam
            Twitter:
            says:

            Thank you, Holly. I do take prescription pills time to time. And Vicodin… But I try to stay away from them as much as possible. I know it is mostly mental, but knowing it and doing something about it, there’s quite a big gap 🙂

    • Kwan, I am sorry to hear you have trouble falling asleep at night. it must be quite tiring for you to cope during your day? Pleased to hear you are learning how to meditate…hows its going? Also have you tried yoga breathing exercises or gentle yoga before going to bed…might help to unwind the mind and get you back into your body. Let us know how you get on. Peace