How to Sleep Better – An Unconventional Guide

I have been a bad sleeper for over a decade. The problem is not with sleep quality but with the timing. I have never had control over my sleep cycle, which is practically a terrible way to live. From what little I have learned about sleep and how to sleep better, I will document it here. 

Not being able to sleep on time is a problem because, without this one discipline, you have no control over when and how you will start your next day. While most people talk about a day schedule, and how to stop procrastinating, or how to get their life on track, let me say that these things come later. How can you expect your day to go well, when one day, you are sleeping at 10 pm, and the next day, you are sleeping at midnight, and the next day, you are sleeping at 3 am? Without regular sleep cycles, you are creating a mess to clean up the next day. 

Suppose you read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Ph.D. In that case, you will come across some of his research suggesting that neglecting sleep will directly affect your creativity, problem-solving, decision making, memory, cardiac health, and more. To take this further, sleeping less than 8 hours, especially less than 6 hours, your physical exhaustion time drops by a whopping 30%. You will see a significant decrease in your aerobic output as well. It also increases the impairment of cardiovascular, muscular, respiratory, and metabolic systems.

Here’s what you can do to improve sleep:

  1. Have a sleep schedule
  2. Devote time to light exercise, like walking. 
  3. Avoid tea, coffee, alcohol, especially before bedtime. 
  4. Have a relaxed schedule before bed.
  5. Try reading a book.
  6. Shower before bed. 
  7. Avoid exposure to screen brightness. 

But these tips are rudimentary. You can not expect someone who has been sleeping all their lives badly to sleep regularly suddenly. The real problem isn’t even lacking sleep. It’s a lack of regularity. 

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits are a way to conserve energy. We often spend almost all of our waking hours doing the thing that we’re not consciously aware of. Charles discovered that there is a three-step process to any of our habits. Cue —> Routine —> Reward. 

To put this in perspective, you have a subconscious cue to what you do, which triggers a specific routine, for completing which, your subconscious receives an appreciation or reward. If you wish to change a habit, you will need to change the routine part and leaving the rest intact. 

But you will require willpower. But willpower is not a quantifiable concept anyway. So, I wouldn’t want to go into that here too deep. One of the best ways to build willpower, do what you want, and not let your subconscious take the steering wheel; would ignore whatever Charles says and practice Vipassana

I have observed that Vipassana, a simple meditation technique for cultivating consciousness and accumulating your capacity to stay aware in any situation, helps immensely. I went to a 10-day meditation retreat, where you disconnect yourself from the world, turn off your cellphone, and practice a simple meditation that can take you forward in life. 

After the ten-day retreat, they suggest you practice Vipassana meditation for at least 1 hour every day, which is a small price to pay because my teacher in that course promised that if I practiced regularly, I would be saving on the total time I need to sleep, and also become so productive, I will get more work done in a day then I do in a week. He was sharing his experience, though. But then, I started practicing it, and to my astonishment, I was sleeping better than ever. 

You can also practice Yoga Nidra. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a renunciate, has touched on a crucial subject in his book, Yoga Nidra, by helping achieve maximum relation through sleeping with awareness. Yoga Nidra is the process of gradually bypassing your conscious thoughts and unconscious activities and accessing the subconscious to plant the seeds of how you want your life to be. Plant self-discipline, daily routines, or command your subconscious to improve your health, or help you start that business you have been postponing since childhood. You can also ask your subconscious to help you sleep better. And well, it works. 

I think this is enough knowledge to help anyone sleep better. Practice Vipassana. Practice Yoga Nidra. And then, also commit to the little things these books talk about. They are essential, but real work is also required. You will have to rewire your brain for sleeping better fundamentally, and that will take time and effort. 

Some people are so involved in life, day to day activities, and basic subconscious patterns that they ignore living consciously altogether. This is a terrible mistake and the one I have experienced myself. Have an hourly timer. 

This hourly timer should remind you to do something regularly. For example, you can set it to remind you to spend 5 minutes in the practice of mindfulness meditation. Get up from whatever it is you are doing, and practice Vipassana when the timer rings. Just this one habit will guide you to take more control of your life. 

Harmful effects of prolonged sitting + Solutions

The other day, a colleague of mine told me about how he spends over 8-12 hours on a computer. His typical day includes 8-12 hours sitting on the desk, and then he goes back home, slouches on the couch in front of the TV with his family, and then spend about one hour minimum reclining, in front of his laptop, in the bed. He rests his spine whole day. 

There are over 12 Ted Talks simply talking about how to sit properly. Yes, I counted. Simply speaking, sitting is bad for the spine, the neck muscles, shoulder muscles, chest, lungs, legs, and what not. Prolonged sitting is also connected to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat especially around the waist area, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Presumably, any type of extended sitting on desk, in front of the computer, or even behind the wheels is harmful. 

Research suggests that the risk of dying for someone who is sitting on their desk for more than 8 hours without any physical activity is pretty much equal to the risk of dying from obesity or/and smoking. The impact of movement is profound for maintaining good physical health, even if that means taking brisk walks regularly. Research also suggests that just 40-50 minutes of light physical activity is enough to counter the negative effects of prolonged sitting. 

There are a few things you can do to keep these harmful effects at bay. First, take regular breaks at work. Set a timer on your phone for 50 minutes every time you start a session. I have a Casio watch that blips every hours, which I consider as an indication to get up, walk, and stretch a little. 

Second, practice Surya Namaskar. It is an ancient technique that help you stretch your body muscles to their full capacity using just 12 simple positions. You can start with minimum seven repetitions, and then increase the count gradually. Takes less than 10 minutes, and it’s a complete exercise for your mind and body.

Surya Namaskar is the ultimate asana, meaning it’s a full body workout. You don’t need any equipments, or go to the gym, or survive on peanuts (although you can), to maintain your weight and agility for a long life. 

Third, just practice the first three steps of Surya Namaskar, if you can’t practice all of them at once. It entails you becoming conscious about your physique in the Namaste position, and then taking your arms in the air, and bending backward as far as you can, and then touching your palms to the ground. Just practicing these three steps will keep you safe from the perils of prolonged sitting. 

Fourth, learn to sit properly. Imagine how you would sit, if you still had a monkey like tail. You would have to keep your hips pushed back, and you would be resting on the thighs, instead of the buttocks. Your spine would be straight, and you would’t be making an effort to sit erect. The spine itself would keep you erect, without having to rest it using support.

Sitting on the buttocks bends the spine like a bow, especially if you are sitting in front of a screen, which is very harmful for lower spine, and thus the complains about lower spinal injury and lower back pain after a tough day at work. Oh wait, Bob and Brad can show you how to sit properly. 

So that’s about it. You shouldn’t be sitting for so long. And if you have to anyway, you should learn to sit correctly. Start moving.