Sleep, Part II
The practice of regulating (or learning to control) one's sleeping habits begins with deciding when you need to get up in the morning and then disciplining yourself to get up at that time every morning (even on the weekends or when you've stayed up too late the night before). In a way, and as counterintuitive as it might feel, sleeping-in on the weekends hurts us because it disrupts our rhythms (or keeps us from developing them).
Once you've established when you need to get up in the morning, back that time up by about eight hours, and begin going to sleep at that time. I recommend picking a time and sticking with it for at least a week. If, after that time, you feel you need more or less rest, adjust the time you go to bed by no more than fifteen minutes either way, and, again, stick with it for at least seven days. To help you wake up at the same time every morning, I recommend using an alarm (at least initially). Once you integrate your rhythms, you may find yourself waking up at about the same time every day without the help of an alarm clock. Some have argued if you need an alarm clock, you're probably either out of rhythm or not getting enough sleep (or both).
Regulating your sleep in such a fashion can be difficult. Why? Because most of us are undisciplined in this area. Many people admit to going to bed at around 8 or 9 but not turning off the lights until well past midnight. Why? Because they're lonely (even if they're married), and they think late-night TV and surfing the web helps them feel better. But it doesn't. In fact, such things tend to increase the feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness many of us feel.
A key component to improving the quality and quantity of our sleep is establishing a nighttime ritual. How you prepare for bed is almost as important as how long you sleep. As part of your practice of going to bed at he same time each night (and then waking up at the same time every morning), I offer you the following recommendations concerning your nighttime ritual:
Don't watch TV or surf the web in your bedroom. I recommend you move your TV out of your bedroom. If you want to watch TV before bed, do so in another room, preferably in your family room or den. I recommend also you stop watching TV or playing on the internet at least an hour before going to bed.
Move your computer and cell phone out of your bedroom.
Make your bedroom a haven for sleep by creating conditions where near total darkness can be achieved. I recommend, too, you find a way to make things about as cold as you can stand them. Studies have shown that sleeping in the cold (between 60 and 68 degrees F) promotes more restful sleep and contributes to a decrease in the spread of communicable diseases like the flu, strep throat, etc.
Begin to develop a different relationship with your bed. Your bed is to be used principally for four purposes, and four purposes only: (A) Sleeping; (B) Talking with God; (C) Talking with (which includes praying with and reading or reciting Scripture with) your spouse; and (D) Snuggling with and having sex with your spouse. (Okay, if you have a new baby, I understand spending time with him [or her] in your bed, but eventually [and I’m thinking within weeks or, at most, a couple of months], you need to let him begin learning how to sleep peacefully in his own crib either in another room or in a sectioned-off portion of your room.)
If you share your home with other people (like school-aged children), lock your door. By keeping the door locked, you'll be able to enjoy your spouse without having a child walk in on you and wonder why Mommy and Daddy are wrestling in bed. Don't worry...your kids will be able to reach you simply by knocking on the door. For those of you with a newborn or toddler, I recommend using a baby monitor.
If you're married, plan on going to bed at least an hour before your designated "go-to-sleep-time." This will give you and your spouse about an hour together each night.
More on sleep next week...
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Mondays: Meditative Prayer
Wednesdays: Holistic Discipline
Fridays: Martial Arts Practice