A simple 5-step formula for better sleep

CC BY 2.0 PeterBirkas

Plus: The weird wonderful trick that ended my insomnia!

As far as I can tell, we are becoming a nation of sleep-deprived zombies. The CDC estimates that 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have sleep disorders – if you count yourself amongst that mob, I feel your pain. Whether you have trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night, or wake up long before you need to in the morning, it can all lead to muddled thinking, irritability, clumsiness and exhaustion. And worse. The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

Meanwhile, understandably, an estimated 9 million Americans take prescription sleep aids. The benefits of moving away from pharmaceuticals are many – from a reduction in packaging/waste to cleaner wastewater to a healthier body. Which is why I love this formula spelled out by Craig Ballantyne on his Early to Rise site. It basically takes five oft-repeated sleep hygiene tips and packages them into a very clear-cut and easy-to-follow routine. As Ballantine notes of his 10-3-2-1-0 formula, “this system helps you get to bed on time, sleep better, and wake up the next morning well rested and ready for battle.”

10 hours before bed: No more caffeine
Stop drinking all caffeinated beverages ten hours before bed. This is generally the amount of time required for your body to clear it from the bloodstream and eliminate its stimulatory effects.

3 hours before bed: No more food or alcohol
Finish eating big meals and drinking alcohol three hours before bed. This will help you avoid heartburn (gastric reflux) and interrupted sleep. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy, but it impairs your natural sleep cycle and interrupts valuable deep sleep.

2 hours before bed: No more work
End all work-related activities two hours before bed. No more taking phone calls, checking emails, reading reports, or thinking about tomorrow.

1 hour before bed: No more screen time
Turn off all electronics one hour before bed. The blue light emitted from screens makes it difficult to fall asleep. Spend the final hour reading real books, talking with your spouse, meditating, taking a bath, or enjoying “other” activities in the privacy of your bedroom – but do not use your iPhone or tablet, unless you want to stare at the ceiling for another hour.

0: The number of times you will hit the snooze button in the morning
The last temptation to avoid comes first thing in the morning. If you wake up to the sound of an alarm, you will be tempted to hit the snooze button. Don’t. Not only will it make you late for your scripted day and interfere with winning your morning, but going back to sleep for a few minutes actually makes you more tired than if you had started your day immediately.

So, do you do any, or all, of these already? Do they help?

Conquering the almighty crazy brain
As for me, I have struggled with “midnight crazy brain” for as long as I can remember. It feels like someone fed my brain too much sugar in the middle of the night and several dozen thoughts at a time begin their manic somersaults in the gray matter: When was my last dentist appointment, what are all the lyrics of Hotel California, I should have said this instead of that, now is a great time to mentally compose a letter to my third-grade best friend, what should I make for dinner, I sure love penguins, where do the socks in the laundry go, it would be cute to replace that zipper with ribbons, remember that time swimming in Greece, I need to respond the emails from A B and C, can you make a carrot cake with parsnips, duckbilled platypuses! and on and painfully on.

I once devised a very complicated guided counting meditation of sorts to get me off the crazy-brain cliff and lull me back to sleep, but have found that a much simpler solution works wonders for me … even easier than counting sheep! I start at 99 and begin counting backwards, very slowly, drawing out the mental recitation of each number in tandem with a long inhale/exhale. That's it. I barely get lower than 80; it’s wild that I’ve been an insomniac all my life, and this silly counting backwards knocks me out. Sometimes I need to think about a few more things then try again, but it is strikingly effective. It may just be me, and I may just be weird, but I thought I’d pass it along.

So there you have it ... between 10-3-2-1-0 and 99-98-97-96-95-zzz, may you sleep easier soon!

P.S., an update. I just did a Google search to see if anyone else has ever tried counting backwards, and uhm, it's kind of a thing! So it may not be exclusively my thing, but I stand by it nonetheless.

A simple 5-step formula for better sleep
Plus: The weird wonderful trick that ended my insomnia!

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