Could It Be That Simple?

Three days have elapsed, and I went to bed when I was tired without much fuss or friction. Why did I ever make a problem out of going to bed? Could the tentative experience of observing what was going on in mind when I was on the point to go to bed have worked so readily?

It is, of course too early to say, but let me share two patterns I have observed. The primary one is that before going to bed, I have a strong feeling that something is missing and I have a strong draw to seek the comfort of social interaction. Probably related, the second pattern is that I am attracted to the dopamine boosts provided by the virtual world of social networks or online entertainment. Lastly, there is the feeling that I have not managed to do enough during the day and that I would feel much better if I could cross an extra item from my to-do list.

On Friday, my partner wanted to watch a drama episode of a series that we have started following – something we enjoy doing together. Even though I had not moved much during the day, I was already tired and was apprehensive that it might stimulate me and give me a second wind. I know that sometimes watching a film or TV programme before going to bed switches my thinking on! But I decided to go with it and remained curious to see what would happen if I was more conscious about the process. Once the show was over, I took a cold shower and did not think about the show I had just seen. I went to bed at around ten o’clock but tossed for a little while. After resisting the urge to get up, I somehow found a balance between observing what was happening in my head and letting go of the day.

On Saturday, something similar happened. I had a conference call which I was committed to attending. Because of different time zones, the call went on until quarter past ten, and I was anxious that it would interfere with my experiment. I relaxed into the call and stayed tune to my body – I could have left the call before the end, but chose to finish with everyone else. Once the meeting was over, I went to bed pretty much straight away – without taking a cold shower this time. I fell asleep quite soon after hitting the pillow.

Was it just luck? The critical step has been to ignore the draw for mind stimulation, to listen instead to my body and to retire quite quickly when I felt ripe for bed. Not sure if I have gained new insights about how my mind works – but I may have dislodged a problem I had built over many years about not going to bed when I was tired.

This series of posts are part of Incrementally– a 366-day writing challenge.

Photo by Cris Saur

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Tonight is the New Tomorrow

Our days are a reflection of our nights and our nights are a reflection of our days. In other words, ,the quality and quantity of our sleep will greatly influence how we meet and deal with our days and vice versa. So where does one start the virtuous cycle towards a healthier, happier and more effective version of ourselves?

I would like to suggest that working on our nights is a better place to start.  Firstly, unless one suffers from a sleep disorder, our nights are overall more simple, and controllable than our days.  Secondly, sleep is the activity we do the most and therefore plenty of experience to draw on. Lastly, it is very likely that we are sleep deprived and the earlier we remedy the issue the better!

So before I enquire further on the topic of fearlessness, commitment and freedom, let’s establish some basic healthy habits and sleep must be one of the most crucial one. If we are to be ready tomorrow we have to be ready tonight. Here are some of the most common tips for better sleep:

  1. Turning our bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment
    (Dark, cool, quiet, stimulation-free and comfortable)
  2. Sleeping for at least 8 solid hours per night
    (recent studies have shown that apart from some very rare exceptions we nearly all need the same amount of sleep)
  3. Keeping our internal clock set with consistent sleep
    (establishing basic rules about bed time and wake up time)
  4. Avoiding chemicals that interfere with sleep especially in the evenings
    (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine…)
  5. Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light
    (exposure to natural daylight during the day & keeping the room dark during the night)
  6. Limiting daytime naps to 30 mins
    (for some, regular early-afternoon naps may be beneficial)
  7. Balancing fluid intake and eating light meals in the evening
    (Drinking plenty during the day and less prior to bed)
  8. Exercising daily 
    (stretching, walking, swimming, running…)
  9. Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine
    (warm shower, light stretches, relaxation, reading a book…)
  10. Remembering that not all nights will be good nights
    (Avoiding, feeding worries, moving, looking at clock)

Everyone will have their own issues: not enough exercise, caffeine in the afternoon, looking at screens in beds, waking up too early and the list goes on. For me, establishing a regular and healthy bedtime routine has perhaps been the hardest. There always seems to be things to be done, conversation to be had, email to be checked, etc…, and until quiet recently I nearly gave up on the idea.

Today’s exploration, however, has uncovered that it is where I need to focus, so without further adieu, I am off to plan my ultimate night routine with the help of an article on Lifehack I just stubbled on.

Sweet dreams and remember tonight is the new tomorrow.

L.

Photo by Krista Mangulsone

Some useful links:

[1] The Strength of She: The Importance of a Nighttime Routine
[2] Business Insider: What your nightly routine should look like, according to science
[3] Pick the Brain, Grow Yourself: The Best Night Routine for a Productive Day
[4] Little Might: Nightly Routines and how to sleep hack your way to a productive morning
[5] Mark’s Daily Apple: Primal Starter: Is Your Night Routine Encouraging Fat Storage?
[6] Cosmopolitan: Six minutes of reading before bed will help you sleep, dream and live better
[7] Zapier: 12 Morning and Evening Routines That Will Set Up Each Day for Success
[8] The Muse: 5 Bedtime Routines That Will Make Your Mornings So Much Easier
[9] Pick the Brain, Grow Yourself: The Best Night Routine for a Productive Day
[10] National Sleep Foundation: Recommends New Sleep Times
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Go to bed

Go to bed

“Go to Bed” was perhaps the sentence I disliked most when I was a child and I heard it every night. It was just a sentence but it often felt like a little death sentence. The days never seemed to be long enough and even if I was tired, going to bed meant turning my back to all the people that were still up and all the exciting things I suddenly felt like doing. Going to bed was a battle.

Later on in life, I realised that it wasn’t just me, most of the people I’d ask admitted that they usually went to bed too late to their liking. In other words, we do not listen to how tired we are and stay up to find more exciting things to do. In the short term, it is not a big problem, we either catch up by getting up later or just adjust to less sleep. In the long term, however, it can develop into unhealthy rhythms and sleep deprivation – both of which can have adverse health consequences.

Everyone is different, and some people may feel more productive at night than in the morning, and it is not for me to judge what is right or wrong on the matter. However, I have learnt to listen to my body and know that I feel so much better when I go to bed early and wake up early. Even more so when I have a regular rhythm.

This does not mean that I do it, though. I regularly go past my bed time and regret it the next day. It is always surprising to me how knowing that something is right for us, does not necessarily make us act upon it – even when we want to. I guess it is often tied to poor habits, and this is why it ‘s hard to do something about it.

Learning to go to bed when one is tired is perhaps one of the most basic skills of the art of living. For lack of energy and vitality affects everything we do. So it may be worth it to change our habits. There are three relatively simple things we can do to put ourselves on the right track:

  1. Go to bed as soon as we feel tired
  2.  Wake up at the same time every day – even on the weekends
  3. Exercise daily

It is very likely that you and I are going to ignore this advice totally and continue to go frequently to bed late. And, as I discovered as a child, it is not enough for someone to tell you: “Go to bed,” the change has to come from within, and we have to be clear about the benefits and the trade-offs. Having plenty of vitality and not feeling tired throughout the day is wonderful – and it starts by making peace with the idea of going to bed before one is ready to drop.

Paradoxically, it is eleven as I write these words. I shall follow my own advice “Go to bed” immediately!

Breather*

Photo: Alex Pavlou

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Breathing Balance

Nostrils onfire

A healthy mind in a healthy body” is probably on everyone’s wish list. Yet putting this simple wisdom into practice proves to be quite elusive.

Improving one’s breathing is a great place to start. There are many type of breathing exercises but one of my favourites is the simple exercise of alternate nostril breathing. the Sanskrit name for the exercise is Nadi Shodana and  powerful breathing practice with wide reaching benefits. It is quite simple and you don’t have to be a yogi to practice it. It is a great way to start the day with but it can be practiced almost anytime (preferably not after eating) and it is particularly helpful if you feel a little overwhelmed or stressed. Some people also practice this exercise just before going to bed to help them fall asleep and improve the quality of their sleep.

There are many variations of the exercise, but here is a simple instruction that I was taught and which I have been practicing every day for the last three weeks:

  1. Take a comfortable sitting position, making sure your spine is straight.
  2. Relax your left palm  into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
  3. Bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest below the thumb of your right hands as shown below. The fingers you will be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
    Vishnu mudra right hand
  4. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
  5. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
  6. Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
  7. Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  8. Inhale through the right side slowly.
  9. Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
  10. Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.

Repeat 5 cycles allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales. A slow regular breath is recommended.

Alternate nostril breathing is both calming and spirit lifting and a perfect way to develop and maintain balance. When practiced daily, it provides the foundation on which to build a heathy mind in a healthy body.

Breather*

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