COMMENTARY, Aug 5 — Our days and our nights often feel as though they’ve exchanged places.
We struggle to get up in the morning, hitting the snooze button as many times as we can, delaying the inevitable. Bleary-eyed, we are incoherent till our first cup of coffee — black and strong — or our third or our fourth...
And by the time we feel fully awake, ready to attack a hundred items on our To Do list, it’s time to go to bed. This is when we stay glued to our devices, screens flickering surreptitiously in the dark while our spouses snore, buzzing as though we were full of electricity or energy drinks.
Add to this dilemma the past year and a half of the pandemic, and it doesn’t take a genius to guess what some of the worries that could be keeping us up at night are.
How to stay safe. How to make ends meet. How to take care of our loved ones. (And of ourselves; let us not forget that.)
So yes, partly it could be cabin fever from staying indoors so much but there are many ways to beat the lockdown blues.
One, I have found, is to start the day right. A structured morning routine with easy habits to follow to help us get cracking on our day.
Well, then surely we could just as easily develop some beneficial evening habits when night falls, to prepare us for bed and a good rest? To let go of the day’s toil and troubles, and to rejuvenate us for a better day on the morrow.
Habit #1: No caffeine, please
According to Andrew D. Huberman, an American neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, we have “sleep” receptors called Adenosine, which is a molecule that builds up in our body the longer we are awake, thereby creating a need for sleep.
The problem comes when we consume too much caffeine during the day or late in the day. Caffeine essentially wakes us up because it blocks the effect of Adenosine.
When you consider that the half life of caffeine is around 5-6 hours, our bodies might still retain a quarter of the caffeine from the cup of coffee we had at midday!
So while I enjoy my coffee as much as the next person, I now limit my cuppas to the morning. Basically I try to avoid coffee from midday onwards and hopefully sleep better as a reward.
Habit #2: Meditate
Another round of meditation in the evening, to mirror a morning practice, can help us live in the present moment, and that moment might be the few quiet minutes before we turn in.
Meditation can be challenging, our minds getting distracted by a million things (the busy day we have had finds its way of creeping in). The practice isn’t about eliminating distractions, of course, but observing these very thoughts that arise in our mind.
Some of us may benefit from using meditation apps. There are tons out there, such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer and the 10% Happier app based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name by Dan Harris.
Once you’re done with the apps, though, it’s time to...
Habit #3: Switch off your devices
YouTube is my blessing and my bane. Rather than doomscrolling on Twitter, there is video after video of people making, eating and — best of all — talking about food. Which is an escape in itself.
For you it might be the involved and passionate debates in your Facebook comment thread. Or the hilarious (to a point) memes on TikTok. Whichever your infinity scroll poison of choice, there is no end to the stream of stuff you can consume.
Which is the point.
Being so relentlessly engaged when we ought to be disengaging and allowing our bodies and our minds to rest? Is it any wonder why we can’t sleep.
There’s a simple way out: Just switch off your devices and let those enticing screens go dark.
Habit #4: Get lost in fiction or poetry
Your devices are turned off. Now what?
How about reading? An actual book, I mean. Made from paper.
Rather than non-fiction (or worse, work reports), which I find causes my mind to race further, trying to analyse and decipher data, at a time when I’m doing my best to slow it down and allow it to rest, my preferred bedtime reading material is a narrative I can get lost in.
Fiction fits the bill, whether it’s some fantasy novel or a sublime short story. We follow someone else’s life and adventures and this prepares our minds for our own adventures whilst we dream.
Poetry, often too brief to hold our attention during the day (or perhaps we are too distracted), is the perfect length to read, aloud if possible, before we sleep. The cadences of the words spoken aloud and the tenor of our own voices might well be the best lullabies.
Habit #5: Stretch
After reading, you might want to get up and do some light stretching (rather than strenuous exercise). Doing so, we send further signals to our bodies and our mind that we are relaxing ourselves. That we are ready for Dreamland.
Habit #6: Lower the lights
Circadian rhythms — our physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle — might explain why we get up when the sun rises and get ready for bed after the sun sets.
Or that was the idea anyway.
With the lights on at full blast, even in our bedrooms, it’s no surprise that we often stay up till well past midnight and a sensible bedtime.
Lowering the lights by switching off the ceiling lights and turning on gentler bedside lamps might help. (Plus: No blue light from flickering screens thanks to Habit #3.) It’s certainly more conducive to the final habit, which is...
Habit #7: Follow your breath
So you’re now lying in bed. Not quite asleep. Not much else you can do, right?
Time to follow your own breath. Whether just observing it or practising a form of relaxation breathing, this action allows you to centre yourself and drift into gentle slumber.
If you’re like me, you won’t even notice when that happens. And before you know it, morning arrives. A new day begins, full of promise and possibility.
For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.