By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH
Want to know how to sleep better ? It’s to sleep like a Cave Person.
Lots of folks ask me if they should wear the ZENBand ( the headband, pillow speakers and eye-mask combo that I make) while they sleep at night. Everyone is different, but I recommend against it. I’m a fan of sleeping like a cave person, because that is what has worked best for me and those I work with. Below I’ll share a “Fall Asleep” routine that is all natural and may be useful to you. It may not be useful, and there are no guarantees. Good sleep is elusive and mysterious for many, made all the more complicated by diet, stress, hormones and underlying health issues. It’s best to have multiple “tools” available and to keep in mind that a lot of trial and error is involved. I also recommend exhausting natural approaches to a good night’s sleep, because sleeping pills can be addicting and come with an awful hangover feeling.
- Cavepeople went to bed when the sun set and woke up when the sun rose. Modern life doesn’t often allow for such a beautiful and simple routine. Still, set a time for when you plan on going to bed and stick to it.
- Do you drink coffee? I do. Don’t have any coffee at least 5-6 hours prior to your designated bedtime, because coffee has a very long half-life. This means it stays active in your system and keeps you up.
- Caves are dark. Survey your bedroom and make sure no light can get in. The smallest hint of ambient light, whether it’s from your phone, an adjacent room or from the street, will keep you aroused and make it difficult to fall asleep. Light inhibits melatonin, the “vampire hormone.” ( It’s called the vampire hormone, because it only comes out when it’s dark.) Melatonin is necessary for a good night’s sleep, which is why your room should be very dark.
- Cavepeople had no technology. I know that’s impossible today, but it’s possible to have no technology in your room. Phones, TVS, kindles, and computers all emit blue light which inhibits melatonin release. Using technology even only a few hours before bedtime can keep you aroused! Some studies suggest wearing blue light blocking amber lenses if you work at night to help minimize arousal.
- Caves are cold. Drop the temperature in your bedroom. Mine is very chilly. Studies have shown that higher temperature makes it harder to fall asleep; increases night-time awakenings and inhibits deep sleep.
- Cavepeople didn’t wear much, let alone to bed. About an hour before your designated bedtime, put on what you wear in bed. Less is best: t-shirt, underwear, birthday suit. Keep it light and cool.
The Next Steps are my Pre-Sleep Ritual. I do not do this every night. I do it on nights when I feel like I might have trouble falling asleep:
- I spray my ZENBand with a blend of calming essential oils. Studies show lavender has a natural anxiolytic effect and can help induce sleep. In general, I’m a big believer in combining the ZENBand with essential oil sprays to help rouse a desired mental state.
- I sit in a quiet space and plug in my ZENBand. You can use your phone, but if you are a minimalist like me and want to avoid possible distractions on your phone and exposure to blue light, use an MP3 player. I also pull the ZENBand over my eyes. Blocking out light enhances the relaxation response.
- I choose one of our Fall Asleep ZENTones and listen for at least 20-40 minutes. All of the ZENTones are rooted in the science of binaural beats and require headphones (bilateral stimulation) to work. The Fall Asleep ZENTones include delta waves, or the slowest frequencies, that dominate our brains during sleep. Pure binaural beats at 2-8 Hz have also been shown to induce sleep. Some of the Fall Asleep ZENTones include relaxing natural sounds, which you will see and can choose based on your preference. These include ocean waves, whales, crickets, etc.
- As an alternative to sitting, I recommend listening to the Fall Asleep ZENTones while coloring. Call it color therapy, if you want. It’s incredibly relaxing and a great way to alleviate any night-time stress. It’s also something parents can do with kids if you both struggle with sleep. You can get a coloring book anywhere these days, or if you want, get a mini white board and draw with markers.
- After listening, I take off the ZENBand, empty my bladder if I haven’t yet ( an easy one people ignore), crawl into my bed in my dark, cold cave ( I mean room) and go to sleep.
What if You wake up or can’t fall asleep?
It happens. A lot. Every cognitive behavioral sleep program for insomnia will tell you that the WORST thing you can do is STAY in bed. Get out of bed and do something else, until you get tired. Only when you get tired, get back in bed and try to sleep again. One thing I tell folks is if you can’t sleep, get out of bed, put on the ZENBand and try listening to one of the Fall Asleep ZENTone tracks WHILE doing a chore. The chore can be anything: sweeping; washing dishes; polishing shoes; folding laundry, etc. The other thing you can try is listening to our new guided imagery designed to help clear your mind of ruminations, or unhelpful, repetitive thoughts that keep us awake. I tapped into my experience with writing digital programs for insomnia; hypnosis; progressive muscle relaxation; deep breathing exercises; positive affirmations; and elements of CBT and ACT ( but not CBT or ACT themselves) to write a 12 minute guided imagery designed to help clear the mind before bed. I teamed up with a professional voice actor who recorded it and, well, now it’s available to you! You certainly don’t have to listen to ZENTones or the Path to Sleep Guided imagery. The most important thing to do is to make sure you get out of bed if you can’t sleep. Do not lie there and struggle, as it is proven to make insomnia worse.
Thanks for reading, guys.
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