So last night was the first official night of my sleep challenge. My goal is to consistently be ready for bed by 11 p.m. and have lights out my midnight.
I was late on the first part of the challenge, primarily because I got home from Bible study hungry but then spent an hour on the phone talking with a friend. It was around 11 p.m. by the time I finished eating the late night meal I made of the left-over chicken and veggies from supper. But by being too tired to do anything to my hair before bedtime, I caught up and did indeed have the lights out by midnight.
There's more to being ready to sleep, however, than being in the bed in the dark. I am the sort of person who finds it necessary to wind down and relax before I can actually sleep. And last night I found it particularly hard to wind down because I had a lot on my mind. So I know it's important to calm the mind as well as the body in preparation for sleep.
One thing that has worked well for me is to have an external focus that is soothing. For some people a white noise or other sound generating machine is excellent for this. I've never owned one of these, but there are models that allow you a variety of sounds to play, including ocean, stream, wind, rain, and other nature sounds. The nature sounds I prefer to hear are the soughing of a gentle wind and the soft tapping of rainfall. As overcast as it was in my local area last night, I'd have loved to go to sleep to the sound of rain.
When the weather won't cooperate with me, however, I frequently turn to the sound of music to induce a sleepy head. The choice of music is very important for me. Although I am a serious beat-head, liking music with rich, complicated percussion and intricately harmonious instrumentation that is almost as rhythmic as the percussion, it can't be anything too uptempo, or I get revved up instead of winding down. The euphony of well-crafted music engages my mind and gives it an orderly path to follow away from whatever chaos might otherwise clamor for my attention. A frequently-played selection in my bedroom is Vineyard Music's Best of Acoustic Worship in which bongos and the occasional jingle of a tambourine provide the background over which the rhythmic strumming of acoustic guitars and syncopation of fingers dancing over the piano provide all the color to be complemented by harmonious voices raised in worship that is both comtemplative and passsionate. This recording works equally well, I find, as music by which to perform yoga, Pilates, or any other type of exercise that involves slow, deliberate movement with breath.
The right sound is not the only thing that induces sleep, however. Some people rely on warm milk or chamomile tea, both being touted to have properties that help one relax and go to sleep. I frequently drink milk in the evenings, but then I like milk and will drink it anytime, at any temperature. For sleeping, I like it with honey in chamomile tea, or I will drink just the warm milk with honey or agave nectar, or by itself. Other things that are said to induce sleep are other dairy products such as cheeses and yogurt, soy products, seafood, meats, whole grains, legumes, eggs, and some nuts and seeds. These foods are rich in tryptophan or have some affect in the body that contributes to sleepiness. Tryptophan is the amino acid associated with turkey. Foods not to eat before bedtime are simple carbs and caffeine. Caffeine revs you up, and simple carbs do not contain the calm-inducing tryptophan to go with the crash they can cause.
Another way some people achieve a sleepy head is to use supplements to regulate their brain. There are many herbs and neurotransmitters in potable form that a person may try in order to go to sleep. I've already mentioned tryptophan derived from food. It can also be taken in supplement form. Other good supplements are calcium, serotonin, any of the B vitamins, St. John's wort, and the aforementioned chamomile.
However, the thing that will probably help all these things be more effective is having a regular routine, which is what this sleep challenge is all about. Once the body becomes used to going down at the same time every night, the body's natural rhythm will send signals at the appropriate time to cause a person to get sleepy and be ready for sleep when lights-out time arrives.
So here's to a sleepy head every night!