When the work day ends, whether it’s at 5 p.m. or 5 a.m., we want to be able to turn the “job” part of our brain off and switch to “relax” mode. Unfortunately though, our brain does not operate on switches. We work in sports. We multitask. We travel to different time zones and back. We juggle a lot mentally, and all of this can make it difficult to shut it down when we lay it down.
“Did I respond to that email?” “What time is staff meeting tomorrow again?” “Oh shoot, I need to make a graphic for that event.” “I should just respond to that email now.” “Let me check Twitter first.” This is just a sample of the the avalanche of thoughts that can roll through your mind at the end of the day, preventing you from falling asleep.
In an industry as demanding as ours, it’s important that we rest and recover each day before tackling the next. If you have difficulty quieting your mind at night, try some of these tactics for a calm, restful night.
1. Work It Out
Although the exact mechanisms are unknown, many studies have shown that exercise significantly improves sleep patterns. According to the National Sleep Foundation, moderate intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, has been proven to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep while also increasing the overall time of sleep. Identifying a regular exercise pattern can also have positive effects on your circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock that sends “sleepy” and “awake” cues throughout the day. Depending on the time the exercise is performed, working out can help to regulate your body’s sleep patterns and improve overall sleep quality.
Science aside, I’ve personally found that a regular workout routine helps me to feel sleepier when it comes time to lay it down at the end of the day. With my body fatigued from the physical exertion and my brain tired from waking up a couple hours earlier, I am usually lights out a few minutes after my head hits the pillow.
2. Switch It Off
All day, we are staring at screens – computer screens, phone screens, and television screens, to name a few. These magic screens have their pros, of course. They keep us connected, informed and current, and they are pretty much essential in any job. On the flip side though, our electronics can be a big roadblock on the path to a good night’s rest.
The longer we are plugged in to our email, Facebook feeds, or any other application that fits into the palm of our hand, the more stimuli we are sending to our brain. These stimuli make it hard for us to switch it off and steady our brain waves before dozing off. Moreover, the light that these devices emit (no more that inches from our face, most likely) promote wakefulness.
To avoid this, try switching it off one or two hours before your usual bedtime. Make it a point to not look at your phone or laptop before you lie down at night. Instead of Netflix, opt for a few chapters in a novel for your evening entertainment. By reducing your technology time in the evening, you might just catch a few more Z’s throughout the night.
3. Press Play
While looking at an electronic device can hinder your ability to fall asleep, listening to one could have the inverse effect.
For me, listening to podcasts is at the top of my list when I’m looking to zone out and let my mind roam free. Road trips and plane rides are when I most frequent the podcast app on my phone. But more recently, I’ve been taking advantage of the digital audio collection to turn my mind off at night and ease into a deep sleep. My personal favorite, and what I’ve found to be the most effective, in this instance is Sleep With Me: A Sleep-Inducing Podcast. In each episode of this bedtime story-like production, the narrator delivers a meandering, monotone anecdote that never fails to put me to sleep.
If bedtime stories aren’t your thing, sound machines can also be a useful gadget. The soft, steady, repeating loops of white noise on these devices help lull your brain into a sleepy trance, and are quite effective for drowning out the other noise in your head.
4. Block It Out
With all the tasks at hand during the day, our mind does not have time to process a lot of the thoughts pinballing around our head in the background. As a result, our mind will wander down a path of curiosity, anxiety or problem-solving at the one point during the day when we can mentally deal with these thoughts – bedtime. It’s easy to let your consciousness venture farther along this path, but not the best idea if solid rest is your goal.
To prevent this, a tactic that some therapists teach is cognitive behavioral therapy. This involves recognizing unhelpful or disruptive patterns of thinking and then modifying and replacing them with more realistic or helpful ones. Essentially, the goal is to make a conscious effort to not allow your thoughts to overtake your mind and overthrow your ability to rest. If you catch yourself going down the rabbit hole that can be your mind late at night, actively recognize the disruptive thoughts and tell yourself that you will not allow them to overpower your ability to rest.
5. Boost Your Sleep Chemicals
If none of the aforementioned tips yield sleepy success for you, a natural sleep aid might be your best bet (be sure to consult a medical doctor if you are unsure how these may affect your body).
One natural sleep remedy is chamomile. Derived from the Asteraceae family of plants, the flowers of this plant can be dried and used for different herbal and natural remedies, as well as its most popular form – tea. Its benefits include its ability to lower stress levels and regulate sleep. You can buy chamomile tea at most grocery stores, so scoop a few bags, heat up some water, and enjoy a soothing cup before bedtime.
Another option for a natural sleep aid is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain naturally produces and helps to control your sleep and wake cycles. Very small amounts of it exist in foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats and grains, and you can also consume it as a supplement. In its most popular supplemental form, melatonin gummies can be purchased at almost any pharmacy. A couple chewables down, and that thick, lethargic feeling of deep sleep won’t be far away.
Working in sports is a grind. To be successful in this industry, it’s important that we take every possible measure to perform at the best of our ability, and quality sleep is essential to achieving this high performance. If you have trouble quieting your mind when it’s time to sleep, try some of these tactics to get a night of uninterrupted, deep sleep.