While Richard’s taking a break because of a root canal, *I’m going to go it alone today. Because I work late at night and in the morning, I thought I’d share my top sleep secrets; most of which are aimed at solving the sleep-light problem. (The “backstory” follows the tips).
Tea: Around 9:00 at night I start sipping a medicinally herbal tea. It definitely relaxes me, but doesn’t put me to sleep. I can still work. I might make another cup at 11:30 or so. I use a really strong herbal mixture. If you are taking medication you must check for drug interactions but generally speaking, peppermint, spearmint, and chamomile are safe. (Some people find mint teas stimulating, so you have to experiment and see what works for you.)
Dim Lights: I dim my desk and overhead lights a few hours before I go to sleep. Even if I’m working on the computer. Again, I can still function but it’s like putting on the brakes, slightly. If I am taking the night off and, let’s say, reading a book, I only keep a book light on and turn off the overheads.
Eye Mask: When I go to bed, I wear an eye mask/shade that also covers my forehead. I read years ago that the pineal gland, which produces melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, can even detect the most miniscule dot of light-kind of like a shark detects a drop of blood in gallons of water. Apparently covering the “third eye,” the point right above where the nose joins the forehead, is as important as covering the eyes. Of course, you do look a bit silly. But who cares?
Green/Amber/Low-Level Night Lights: Any light, even a hall or bathroom light, can disrupt the sleep cycle. Some studies suggest that sleeping with lights on, even some night lights, can cause problems for both children and adults. There are special night lights that give off a low-level green or amber light (the experts don’t agree on which is best), which apparently do not disrupt the system as much as bright white or yellow lights. Use those. (I don’t want to link to them because I don’t want to sell products, here, but try Googling Low Blue Lights, Amber Lights, Green Lights, etc.)
Trash Bags: So now you’ve got your house nice and dark. What next? The AMA, warns about light pollution from outside, too. Long before, an alternative medical practitioner taught me to use black-out blinds. If I use them, I can’t wake up. So I have a compromise. Each night I stick up some black plastic trashbags beneath my regular blinds. They really do block out streetlights, but they let in enough sunlight in the morning so I can begin to wake up. When I take them down, then I really wake up. (Best bet: Live in the country where the stars and moon are the only outside lights and the sun can come in early in the morning and wake you naturally).
Bonus: Cover the red lights from digital clocks. Just throw a black tee shirt or something over it so you don’t miss the alarm.
Evidence shows that lack of proper sleep is related to a whole bunch of issues including obesity, some cancers and other physical health problems, as well as mental health issues. Bipolar Disorder, Depression and other mental illnesses all are correlated with sleep problems. Sometimes lack of sleep causes problems, sometimes the problems cause the sleeplessness or restless sleep, and sometimes the causality/effect relationship is unclear.
I have my own sleep issues. It seems I can accomplish a lot late at night, but I also like to get things done in the morning. The two obviously don’t mix. My top creative hours seem to be from around 9:00 at night until 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. and then again from 9:00 until around one or two. (Really, when I get to sleep early enough, that morning creative flow starts as early as 6:00, but that was when I lived in the country and could go for a morning walk). If I lop off the nighttime hours and get to bed early, I lose a chunk of “work time.” If I lop off the morning hours and sleep late, I’m miserable because I’ve missed some daylight creative time.
But it’s hard to wind down when I get done with work. The old tricks such as turning off the computer a couple hours before bed, dimming lights, listening to relaxing music, meditating and regulated breathing are all effective in winding down. They work really well in fact, but honestly, I just don’t have that kind of lifestyle. I need to get in some extra work hours somewhere. If I get a really deep sleep by following my tips above, I feel great after only six hours (otherwise even ten hours won’t invigorate me).
*That’s me. C.R. Richard’s co-blogger.
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Last reviewed: 2 May 2011