We tend to forget that our ancestors lived very much in tune with the seasons. Sunrises and sunsets determined their sleeping schedules, while growing seasons determined the fruits and vegetables they ate. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to spend most of your time under artificial lighting and to eat any type of food you want, whenever you feel like it. But could that be part of why we regularly feel rundown and anxious? In his book THE 4 SEASON SOLUTION, author Dallas Hartwig opens our eyes to how living more in sync with the changing seasons could help boost our energy, improve our health, and generally feel happier. In the special selection below, he shares 5 tips for better sleep.
Many people tend to overthink sleep by analyzing, planning, and structuring it, instead of focusing on removing the roadblocks that prevent it from naturally unfolding. A move to fall sleep patterns does precisely that, creating space for our body to achieve the rest, restoration, and recuperation we so deeply need every night.
Provide environmental cues that allow your body to feel relaxed and safe.
For several hours prior to sleep, avoid intellectually or emotionally stimulating or stressful movies, books, and other media. If you read an evocative novel or watch a psychological thriller on Netflix, you’ll generate emotional arousal and perhaps a stress response that can make it much harder to settle into sleep. In these pre-sleep hours, avoid frustrating or potentially triggering activities, like checking work email or assembling IKEA furniture. Those things will still be waiting for you in the morning.
Avoid intense exercise within a couple of hours of bedtime as well. If your schedule dictates that you must exercise in the evening, decrease the intensity dramatically so that you don’t generate a stress response that blunts the secretion of melatonin that is required for deep, restorative sleep. If you must do your exercise in the evening, restorative yoga is better than an intense spin class.
If you have a partner with whom you co-sleep, avoid emotionally intense conversations right before bed, as they’re very likely to trigger stress and impair sleep. An argument before bed will likely derail ideal sleep.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol at night.
Many people use alcohol to decompress, especially if they’ve had a difficult or stressful day. But there’s a stimulating effect of alcohol, too, which is why if you have several drinks prior to bedtime, you’ll often wake up or toss and turn midway through the night. For optimal sleep, stop drinking three or four hours before bedtime so you have time to clear it from your system before syncing into that restorative sleep mode. Similarly, caffeine has more of a stimulating, sleep-disrupting impact than you might think. If you have trouble sleeping and you regularly consume caffeine, you have to at least consider its possible contribution to your sleep woes.
If you have trouble confining your caffeine consumption to the morning, perform the following experiment: go a week when you drink no caffeinated afternoon beverages and see how your sleep fares. You might think caffeine doesn’t have any effect on your sleep because you can drink a cup of coffee and go straight to bed. But that simply indicates that you’re exhausted enough to achieve sleep despite chemical stimulation.You might be surprised by what a difference this simple modification can make in your sleep.
Try to eliminate all light and noise pollution from your bedroom.
As we discussed in chapter 2 (of THE 4-SEASON SOLUTION), this means avoiding screens, or at the very least acquiring blue light–blocking glasses if you absolutely must be on your computer or phone two or three hours before bed. There are several computer programs and apps, like f.lux and Night Shift, that help filter out those problematic blue wavelengths.
If there’s any light streaming through your windows, hang blackout curtains or blinds to completely block it, so that your room is dark like a cave. If you are traveling or total darkness at home is not possible for some reason, wear an eye mask to bed. To avoid the abrupt and stressful experience of waking to an auditory alarm (the word alarm itself indicates a problem!), I instead recommend a light alarm: a dimmable light bulb that you can program to slowly brighten up your room in the morning, helping you to wake up by mimicking a natural sunrise. Start your day with light! Also consider Himalayan salt lamps that give off a soft, warm glow in the bedroom. Because they match the setting sun’s warm color hues, they are especially useful in the evening hours, and I find mine very calming.
To reduce the impact of noise pollution, use an analog white noise machine in your room, or download a white noise app (always remembering to put your phone into airplane mode if it’s in your room at night).
Make your sleep environment simpler and more relaxing.
Clean up your bedroom to make it less visually cluttered; whether it’s your preferred style or not, consider a minimalist decor for your sleep space. Think of your bed itself as a place for sleep, sex, and intimate conversation, but not eating, reading, playing on your phone, or watching TV. While avoiding stressful conversation with your partner is key, physical intimacy (with a partner or with yourself) is a great way to create the hormonal climate that helps you relax into a restorative sleep state. Adjust the thermostat for ideal sleep temperatures—around 65°F, or 18°C—and consider a few deep-breathing exercises or minutes of meditation in this cool, dimly lit, relaxing space. Aren’t you getting drowsy just reading about this?
Create a nighttime ritual.
Read a book, snuggle with your kids or companion animal, take a warm bath with Epsom salts and relaxing essential oils like lavender, or have a cup of herbal tea. Keep a notepad next to your bed and if during these relaxing moments you come up with a creative idea or item for your to-do list, write it down. You’ll off-load the responsibility to remember it, which allows your brain to relax more completely.
As you read my recommendations for sleep, check in with yourself. Are there any ideas I mentioned that you immediately resist? Go back and reread the above paragraphs, jotting down one or two recommendations to which you feel most resistant—you’re either arguing about its validity or dismissing it as particularly useless. These are the places where I want you to start your pivot to a fall sleep pattern. Lean into the places you resist the most, like putting away your fast-paced novel or giving up your 3:00 p.m. cappuccino. What we most strongly emotionally resist is often what will benefit us the most.
This principle applies to our other key behaviors too. Notice the things you resist, and instead of reflexively casting them aside, I challenge you to embrace them. I used to absolutely detest yoga, and I’ve more recently found it to be transformative, but that discovery could only happen once I leaned into the uncomfortable, awkward space. I suspect you’ll dis- cover something really helpful once you use the indicator of internal resistance as your guide toward your most impactful shifts.
To discover more practical tips for improving how you sleep, eat, move, and connect, pick up a copy of THE 4 SEASON SOLUTION by Dallas Hartwig.
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Excerpted from The 4 Season Solution by Dallas Hartwig. Copyright © 2020 by the author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.