Anyone living with a smartphone can attest to having this nightly addiction. Phone in hand, lying in bed, scrolling email, news feeds, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Editing photos from the day. Last minute check on texts.
I cannot remember how I used to fall asleep without this nightly ritual. I end up staying up an hour later than I really should, and never feel refreshed when the morning alarm goes off. Why the addiction?
According to Dr. Shanna German, a clinical psychologist in New York City, "Research has shown that our brains produce dopamine when we receive an email, text, or a ‘like.' Dopamine is strongly associated with the pleasure seeking and reward center of your brain and is what perpetuates other addictions including drugs and gambling. It makes us feel good, important, wanted, and popular when we are aware that others are thinking of us." (1)
But in sleep, we need to care for our own body and mind. We need physical rest and a mental break. We need to cultivate a time and space to completely unwind from the external world, so that our internal world may find stillness and revive.
Recently I reviewed some rituals that foster healthy sleep hygiene:
Give yourself enough time to unwind. Most people need 30-60 minutes before bedtime, though it may take some even longer to completely relax.
Turn off the phone, computer, TV. Light and noise from these devices are stimulating to the brain.
Keep a routine: Start your nightly ritual at the same time and wake up at the same time.
Exercise during the day, preferably at least 5-6 hours before bedtime. Or do some slow, restorative yoga poses in the evening.
Drink Tea, preferably herbal such as chamomile or mint.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. After drinking alcohol, one stays in lighter stages of sleep rather than entering deeper stages and REM. Nicotine also makes people stay in lighter stages and wake up earlier in the morning from nicotine withdrawal.
Take a bath, maybe with epsom salts and essential oils. Not only is the warm water soothing, but when you cool off afterwards the drop in body temperature is conducive to sleeping well.
Keep a comfortable temperature in the bedroom.
Read outside of bed: Your bed should be for sleep, not for finishing a stimulating murder mystery or catching up on the latest political news. If you read in bed, pick material that is light and relaxing, such as poetry, or even something that will bore you to sleep. Avoid the murder mystery or novel that you cannot wait to know the ending.
Get out of bed if you cannot fall asleep: Find something light to read or listen to soothing music. Or lately I have been coloring mandalas. Lying in bed awake and trying to fall back asleep can actually contribute to more anxiety about insomnia.
Sleep Latency Time
The normal amount of time it take to fall asleep once putting your head to the pillow is 10-20 minutes. If it is taking an hour or longer, either you are sleeping too much, or need to follow better sleep hygiene guidelines. If you are in deep sleep immediately, then you need to allow more time for snoozing regularly.
Rise and Shine
The habitual rituals we follow on both ends of the sleep cycle are important to our well-being.
Ask yourself: "What is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning?"
I typically reach for my phone, turn off the alarm, and again begin to check email and social media. But maybe I can give my body and mind a few more moments to gradually become accustomed to the day. Why rush into high mental activity and overstimulation? The world's messages can wait 10 or 20 more minutes, until I have brushed my teeth, made my tea, and am ready to sit down with full attention.
Take a nap!
Even putting your head down on your desk for 20 minutes will help you rebalance. Try not to snooze for more than 30 minutes, so as not to disrupt your regular nightly sleep schedule. Or take 5-10 minutes to do breathing meditation or simple yoga stretches.
Now I am using an old fashioned alarm clock instead of my phone. Before going to brush my teeth, I put my phone in another space away from the bed. And don't look at it again until I have my morning tea.
(1) German, Shanna, PsyD. "iPhone or I-You: Being Present in Our Relationships." http://www.drshannagerman.com/iphone-or-i-you/
Nightlight, LA from Griffith Park