There are three main things that can keep you awake, and if you address them – sleep can become effortless and effective in rejuvenating your energy.
What’s Keeping You Up
- Disturbed senses
- Tense muscles
- Tense mind
What To Do About Them
- Soothe the senses
- Release muscular tension
- Release mental tension
Step #1 – Soothing The 5 Senses
Soothing the senses is the easiest, most immediate thing you can do. You have a five senses, and all of them can play a role in keeping you up.
Here are the senses and ways to soothe them, some of these points will feel obvious – but make sure to address them before moving on to the other two, more complex steps.
- Be consistent with your posture during sleep. Avoid sleeping on your back if you have tight hip flexors and your lower back arches. If your lower back is fine, sleeping on your back or to one side is best. No belly sleeping, it is hell for your neck.
- Get the temperature right before going to bed, whether it’s air conditioning, heating, open window, blanket density, clothes or no clothes, find out what is best for you.
- Experiment with pillows if you are sleeping on one side, I like one pillow between the legs and/or one to hug. Pillows can help you avoid bone to bone contact, which is unpleasant.
- Dim the lights, close blinds, and use blindfolds if you still have light coming in.
- Avoid electronics before bed, mainly for the light, but also for all the information that can bombard and disturb your mind.
- Get rid of any unwanted sounds, by either closing windows, or ear plugs if it comes down to it. Ticking clocks can also be annoying.
- Add in any soothing sounds, such as repetitive music/sounds at low volume.
- Get rid of any unwanted odors, including dinner smells if you cooked at home. Close bedroom doors when cooking and open bedroom windows to ventilate.
- Add in any soothing smells, such as aroma from candles, incense, and essential oils.
- Brush teeth and clean mouth, not just for the hygiene, but to keep the taste of any food you ate from triggering thoughts of food and eating.
Soothing the senses is a practical thing that you need to do when it comes time to sleep, or right before sleep. The next 2 steps are more proactive things that require tending to throughout your life – not just right before bed.
Step #2 – Release Muscular Tension
Muscle tension can build up through physical exercise, poor posture, injuries, and/or stress.
We can address muscular tension through things like:
- Myofascial Release – most commonly through foam rolling or massage. Here’s a great resource to find your trigger points and release tension in muscles and on joints.
- Stretching – 5-10 minutes is all you’ll likely need per muscle group to regain optimal flexibility. The tighter you are, the longer you’ll need, so it is important to stretch whenever you sense a muscle getting tight, not just right before bed.
- Yoga – Yoga can achieve muscular tension release through warming up the muscles and providing light stretches.
Addressing The Causes of Muscular Tension
Exercise: Muscle tensions are almost inevitable if you do strength training, so it’s not practical to stop just so your muscles won’t get tight. Just make sure to balance training with flexibility work.
Poor Posture: You can avoid poor posture by changing the way you work and addressing muscular imbalances. The two most common posture issues are anterior pelvic tilt and thoracic spine kyphosis. Learn to identify and fix both issues: Anterior Pelvic Tilt, Thoracic Kyphosis.
Injury: There are non-exercise injuries and exercise injuries. For non-exercise injuries, being attentive and moving with care are generally good ideas, but there are lot of uncontrollable variables. For exercise type injuries, understanding a movement and which bones, muscles, and soft tissues are involved in it can make a big difference. For example, see how pushups, when done in a certain way, can avoid a lot of shoulder issues.
Stress: We can avoid the buildup of stress through being attentive, honest, and innocent with our moments awake. This is covered in step #3.
Step #3 – Release Mental Tension
This is the most complex step and the one most struggle with. One popular method to release mental tension is meditation.
Here is a quick meditation to try to reduce your mental stress:
- Go to a quiet place where you can be alone.
- Get into a comfortable position, sitting in a chair is fine if you can’t sit on the floor comfortably like monks.
- Start noticing your breath, as you inhale and exhale, so you can start turning your focus inwards.
- Closing your eyes isn’t necessary, but it can reduce the amount of variables from the outside, so focusing inward becomes easier.
- Once you have a few moments of focus on your breath, turn your attention to your whole body, including the mind.
- As thoughts come and go, don’t judge, don’t touch, don’t compare, don’t philosophize. Just watch.
If you can do the last step, truly do it for just 5-10 seconds, you’ll feel your mind starting to flow and ease. Depending on how much tension you have bottled up, it might take a little or a lot of work to let go of mental tensions.
Ultimately, a silent mind is a side-effect, not a primary goal to achieve. If you try to shut your mind up, it will only revolt with more noise.
A great source of meditation and reflection is Osho, who spoke for numerous years around the topic, and a great volume of books have been published from his speeches – here’s a good starting point to his teachings “Learning To Silence The Mind: Wellness Through Meditation”
I also talked about meditation and spirituality briefly in the post “Life Beyond Fitness“.
Getting No Effort Sleep
Once your senses are soothed, muscles are nice and relaxed, and the mind is not running in circles contemplating uncontrollable things – sleep requires no effort.
If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to see if you have any of the problems mentioned, so you can be purposeful in your efforts for better sleep.
Hovhannes Mkhitaryan from The LA Trainer
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