Trying to sleep

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I’ve always had great sleep hygiene. Growing up, and in fact, till about a couple of months ago, I could fall asleep within seconds. Once asleep, I could sleep uninterrupted for hours at a stretch. Even when I worked a corporate job and hardly had time for anything apart from my work, I slept pretty well. Whenever I had the chance, that is.

In the last couple of months however, my sleep hygiene has gone down the drain. I have trouble falling asleep. I stay up till 2-3 am almost every night. Once I do fall asleep, I usually experience sleep paralysis. This is a pretty common form of sleep disorder, and I think about 1 in 10 people experience it at some point in their lives. Be that as it may, for anyone who has experienced it, you know how scary it can be. Before I found out what sleep paralysis was, I genuinely used to think I’m going to die every time I experienced it. It has an interesting history too. Back in the day, people would associate it with demonic possession – and the fact that sleep paralysis is often accompanied by auditory and/or visual hallucinations didn’t help. And because I’ve started going to bed at progressively later hours, and have terrible interruptions in the middle, the overall low-quality of my sleep means I have started waking up later than usual too.

Now, I’m not sure why this shift has taken place, but I also know there are some things I could be doing (and should be doing) to improve the quality of my sleep. If you want better sleep, you should, ideally, not drink any sort of stimulant (coffee or tea) after 5 pm (earlier if your bedtime is earlier than 10 pm). Your phone should not be the last thing you look at every night. In fact, you should keep away from and stop using all electronics at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Someone even suggested that I keep no clocks / watches in the room I intend to sleep in if I want a good night’s rest.

And if I’m being honest, I have only been (barely) able to cut out the second step. I try not to look at any electronic devices before falling asleep. But that hasn’t helped too much. So, recently, I have started listening to podcasts before I fall asleep. I know this has been around for some time now, and a lot of people have been doing this to fall asleep. But since I’m new to the sleepless brigade, I’m new to this too.

A couple of nights ago, while trying to fall asleep, I tuned into Tom Bilyeu’s chat with Mel Robbins. He has a channel where he discusses ‘impact theory’. I don’t know if this is a scientific term of or if this is just something he calls his own channel. But I love the guy. He is a great interviewer and unlike a lot of people out there who invite guests onto their shows, this guy actually likes hearing his guests speak. I find it irritating when people bring experts on to their shows but keep butting in when their guests are talking just to seem relevant (or make it seem like they too have a valuable opinion on every subject). Tom never does that. Admittedly, his interviews are slightly long as a result of this, but all the more enjoyable for it. I hadn’t really heard of Mel Robbins before last night, but the show was an hour long and that is usually as long as it takes me to doze off to something, so I tuned in. Here is what I liked about the things she said.

Motivation is a farce

Right at the beginning of the interview, Robbins declares that she hates being called a ‘motivational speaker’ because she thinks motivation is a farce. It isn’t real, and the idea that we have to be motivated to do something is often what stops us from going after the things we want. As humans, we are conditioned to take the path of least resistance. It makes no evolutionary sense for us to put ourselves in any sort of discomfort. And often, the things we want in life – a good career, good relationships, impacting out community in positive ways – is at the other side of discomfort. So, to tell yourself that you’ll go after something if you’re ‘motivated’ enough is, according to Robbins, a bad self-narrative. You’re not going to be motivated to do a lot of the things that you need to do, in order to have a fulfilling life. The thing to aim for then, is consistency. If you have an end goal in mind, you should forget about motivation. Regardless of whether or not you feel motivated to do something, just show up.

Personally, I sort of agree with this approach. For years I wanted to write, and to start a blog, but I never got around to do it because I kept waiting for the motivation to strike me. If never did. So, I just started. I have a personal goal of blogging every day and on most days, I don’t feel like doing it (I have tons of ideas on what to write, but I always get lazy when it comes to putting in effort). But I’ve just stopped thinking about it. I treat it as a non-negotiable. Doesn’t matter if I feel like it, I just get out here.

You are a single decision away, always

Which brings us to the next thing she said that stuck with me. I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase ‘you’re one decision away from the life you want’. I wasn’t a fan of this brand of motivational quotes till last night. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing people just say. It didn’t really mean anything if I’m being honest. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t mean what I think it meant. According to Robbins, every day you take a bunch of decisions on how to live your life. We aren’t talking about huge decisions – should I quit my job, should I marry this person, should I get out of this relationship – no. What she means is the tiny decisions we take every day when deciding the basics of life. For example, you could choose to wake up on time, or sleep in. Then you might choose to grab breakfast or skip it. If you feel disrespected in a conversation, you might choose to let it slide just the once. Except it doesn’t really stop there. Once you start taking decisions in a certain way, your brain apparently gets used to it. And if it is the path of least resistance (which it usually is) then it becomes harder to rewire yourself to take better decisions.

Try the 5-second rule

Having said that, it isn’t impossible to rewire yourself. You can do it. And the method Robbins suggests is the 5-second rule. Apparently, whenever your brain is making a decision, and you don’t really want to continue to make that decision, you can slow your brain down and rewire it by counting down from 5 to 0. Say you want to wake up every day at 7 am. But every time your alarm goes off you hit snooze. Now, your brain has more or less conditioned your body not to wake up when the alarm goes off. If you want to get out of this, whenever your alarm goes off, you can undercut your own brain by taking a breath and counting down from 5 before you hit snooze. Robbins on the show said it’s a proven psychological technique that is widely used. Like when we were kids in school, and someone wanted a whole bunch of us to quiet down, they would start counting down. You give your brain something to do when it is about to make a decision you don’t want it to make, and you can successfully trick yourself.

The day after listening to this podcast, I managed to wake up with the alarm. But that was just the one day. I hope, that in the future, I can incorporate these things into my life successfully and consistently.

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