A Sleeping (And Waking) Guide for Insomniacs

I have an insane schedule: half the week I am a student, cyclist, and yoga instructor, living and working hours like normal people. The second half of the week, I am a server at a really busy bar, and am basically running laps (eh, ok - so maybe power walking...) until 3 AM.  I feel jet lagged all the time... there is actually a term for this: social jet lag, when your personal and professional schedule switches drastically and often, affecting your sleep. 

This makes it really hard to get into a sleep routine that works and that will support me through cycling season (here in AZ it's just about that time!).  I've been experimenting with some techniques to help me fall asleep and get up at reasonable hours so I can be rested enough for life + cycling.  Here's what has been working for me: 

Getting to Bed: I have two tips. First, no TV in bed. Here's why: I was shocked to learn in my nursing classes that the blue light rays from TVs and electronic devices actually effect our circadian sleep rhythm, which is controlled by a tiny gland in our brain just behind the eyes. Typically, this gland is signaled to release melatonin, the natural sleep hormone, via the optic nerve's exposure to light and dark.  But when you introduce too much blue light from TVs et al, melatonin production can be altered. So give your brain a break and read a book or something else relaxing right before bed. Second, when you finally do shut your eyes, try the yogic relaxation technique of "body checking," where you start at the toes and run up the body, adjusting for comfort (you can also listen to a Yoga Nidra podcast, which leads the body check for you). When you feel you're in your best sleep position, slowly move the eyes left and right, synching the movement with your breath. I know it sounds weird, but it's like the adult version of getting rocked to sleep! 

Make A To-Do List: Before you go to bed, jot down a reasonable list of what you plan to do the next day. Keep it simple and specific, but not too specific.  For example, if I have a list that says:

groceries, wash car, laundry, study for micro exam, bike,

I tend to fit all those things in (this was my list today! and i even fit in a blog post and baking a quiche!).  But I have made lists before that included times for each event, pages and websites to study, possible cycling routes, etc. Thinking about all of that right before you go to bed can make you super anxious. Figure out those details when you wake up! 

AM Ayurvedic Elixer: Ayurveda is the ancient, eastern approach to wellness.  Ayurveda morning practices include brushing your teeth and tongue before eating anything, which for us westerners is a great idea anyway, and drinking warm water with lemon before eating anything. It is said that these two acts together clean the digestive tract (including the mouth) and invigorate the body the way coffee can.  I'm still getting into the water/lemon habit, but having a simple AM routine is a nice soft-opening for the day.