Sleep Dreams

I’ve been having trouble keeping my eyes open this morning.

Over the last two weeks, I have fought off a wicked illness (with a cough that’s just now going away), written a syllabus, planned three college-level class periods of at least three hours and generally hit the sack after midnight every day.

When I finally shut my laptop, my brain is ready to crash.

Ideally, it should take around 15 minutes for you to drift off. Anything less points to overwork and anything more points to over-analysis. In either case, it’s important to awaken feeling rested.

Sleep is for recuperation.
As everyone knows, the main function of sleep is so your body’s “third shift” can punch the clock and go about rebuilding tissues. The maintenance crew goes along sweeping up dead cells and fixing damaged ones. The muscles are lightly paralyzed during the resting cycle and their energy needs drop dramatically. This why you feel so sleepy when you’re sick, your body is begging you to shut down and allow your immune system (which burns a lot of glucose) to kill the infection.

Sleep is for memory consolidation.
When your body shuts down at the end of the day, your brain goes through a “system back-up” so thorough a supercomputer would blush. Basically, you redo everything. All of the electrochemical firing patterns of your waking hours (how you moved, what you learned, etc.) discharge again to solidify connections. During a period of intense change or developing positive new habits, this makes sleep crucial.

Here are a couple of tricks to set yourself up to make the most of your shut-eye, which inevitably is the launching pad for the kind of clear thought necessary for high productivity tomorrow:

1. Clear your mind

  • Take some time to meditate. By focusing your mind for a few minutes and encouraging the hum of thoughts to quiet, you settle your mind before you lay down.
  • Slow your breathing. Several deep breaths, focusing on pulling air in using your stomach, naturally calms the body.
  • Make a to-do list. Instead of worrying about what must be completed after you wake up, write it down and get it out of your head. You’ll find yourself finishing more stuff more efficiently.
  • Spend a little while journaling. This is an incredibly powerful tool to help you manage emotions and facilitate breakthroughs. Whether a couple hundred or several thousand words, a daily chronicle of your experience dampens the possibility you’ll be up until 4am wrestling with anxiety or anguish.

2. Exercise

  • Raise your heart rate during the day. This is one of the most effective stress reducers and obviously has benefits for the cardiovascular system, but did you know it also improves your mental function? Creating situations where it’s difficult to breathe causes the body to grow new blood vessels to support the brain the next time it needs oxygen.
  • Stretch before bed. The simplest way to reduce physical tension is to force your muscles to elongate. Whether using a structured yoga program or simply working the kinks out of the large groups in the legs and back, relaxing the whole body will make laying down for some rest much easier.

What else helps you get the rest you need?

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