A Boot Camp Guide to a Good Night’s Rest
Something that everyone wants when they lay down for rest is to wake up well rested. They want a good nights sleep. Often though when we go to bed at night we wake exhausted because we were unable to go to bed when we wanted to and end up stayed up all night thinking, tossing and turning, and eventually waking up unready for the day. I have had these same problems while in the military and still do at times, but I have been trained to have tools to reduce the number of times I wake up exhausted. I want to share some of those tools I use and how to get yourself sleeping restfully again.
If you don’t want to read the whole article here is the Too Long to Read (TLTR) to help summarize what I am going to be talking about:
- Not getting enough good sleep is bad!
- There are ways to improve your sleep over time
- Telling your brain its time to sleep can help you turn a restless night into a successful one
- Foods that we eat can impact how we sleep (eat more: nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs)
- Clutter in our rooms and lives can impact how we sleep (clean your room)
- Reduce the amount of light you have in your bedroom (turn off those phones and tablets)
- Preparation for sleep is like baking foods, it takes practice and some practices are better for some than others
Now to the good stuff…
Sleep Is Important
Sometimes life can be crazy and full of mess. That is what happened to me while on deployment with the military. I was on a Navy ship working long hour and with mess all around me. Not only that but things are very loud on a ship and at random times. I would often wake up at 1 to 3 A.M with noises so loud that it would vibrate my lungs for a good 30 minutes at a time. Needless to say, it was hard to have a good nights rest. I started to talk to other people about their sleep habits and found out that they too had the same issues.
Not getting a good nights rest can cause a series of issues. Sleep is required for us to live healthily. Sleep produces important chemical changes in our brains. Sleep also is important for the creation of long-term memory, in fact, its one of the only reasons scientist know is why its required to sleep. If you get poor sleep it can also affect your weight and diet as it affects your hormones. Here is a great paper on the effects of poor sleep habits and what it can do to you. The military has even become to realize that getting good sleep is important enough to make it mandatory for US armed forces to get more sleep. Needless to say, not getting enough sleep is bad news.
Insufficient sleep is associated with obesity, yet little is known about how repeated nights of insufficient sleep influence energy expenditure and balance.
I cant change the past when I was on the ship and getting my really poor sleep, but what I could do is learn from that experience to try to help others who have issues sleeping. What I learned during my time on deployment is:
- Meditational practices can improve sleep
- Exercising and eating healthy foods that encourage good rest can improve sleep quality
- There are supplements that can help
- Even in the worst situations you can improve your sleep
What I also found is that like learning a new instrument, practice is also key when it comes to becoming better at sleep. It doesn’t just change in one night, it takes time and effort. So are you ready to learn about these tools?
The Conscious and Subconscious
There is much debate on the subconsciousness and how it works and what exactly it is, but regardless it would seem that our brains do have two different minds that are active throughout the day and in our lives. The conscious mind is the mind that you think with daily, the identity that you think of as being you and what you think about as your passions and desires in life. The subconscious mind is the more quiet mind that thinks about mostly only one thing… your survival. With that in mind, the subconsciousness wants us to continue to survive and to think about the things that are going to help us do so, in order to continue to do as best as possible. This may be to also stay awake at times that we don’t want to.
At some point during our time of trying to go to sleep, we want to go to sleep but subconsciously want to stay awake. There is obviously a problem there. We are ready to go to bed, but also we are not ready. When you are tossing and turning all night have you ever took the time to ask yourself, are you truly ready for bed? I have and more often than not the honest answer is no. This is where communication is key.
Having the Talk
Something that happens to military members when they lay down to rest is that they often think about all the troubles around them or the work and hard times that may come up for them tomorrow or even later that night. We love to explore the possibilities of the future and the problems that our families may be facing at home. Always being on guard, and worrying about the future can really hurt your sleep. When I lay down for the night and my mind is racing I usually struggle with it for a while until I get fed up with the situation. When it’s getting later and later I get to the point where its time to have the talk. I reflect on the importance of sleep and the issues that are currently bothering me. Those issues that I am thinking about are often things I can’t fix at the moment or can wait until tomorrow. Thinking about these issues and how they are not really important right now helps my conscious mind start to calm down.
When it comes to the subconscious it’s important to verbally say or to write down your desires. I read a great book on sleep and dreams by Ann Faraday called “The Dream Game” Where she discusses the limitations that the subconscious has with communication with our subconsciousness. It seems that the subconscious is unable to read our minds or to know what we are thinking. Instead, we must audibly say things or write things down for it to hear us or see what we are thinking.
I know that when I say out loud, “Its time for bed”, the impact is huge. Often I will immediately start to yawn and get tired and soon after I will fall asleep. I must, however, believe that it is time for bed, and that means working things out in my mind so that I am truly ready for bed. Mediation practices are geared towards clearing the mind from thought by just watching the thoughts themselves and seeing how they change and become unimportant over time. This conversation with yourself is a form of meditation and that clearing that is key.
Being Exhausted Helps Getting Sleep
As anyone in the military can tell you, being exhausted can really get you to sleep fast! A good workout regardless of what situation you are in can improve sleep by allowing your body and your brain to get exhausted. Working out is also a great stress reliever and in the result, you no longer worry as much about your daily activities. There is still a lot of conversation currently taking place of how exercise affects sleep but the consensus is that exercise helps you get to sleep faster and produces a more quality sleep. I personally highly recommend some yoga before sleep because it involves some stretching which also can help get you to bed.
Not only does getting a good work out during the day help you sleep but eating healthy good foods can as well. As we all know foods that are high in tryptophan can really improve sleep onset. The reason for this is that tryptophan foods improve acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter important to sleep. Foods that improve sleep also contain serotonin and GABA. Oddly enough here is a list of foods that will improve all of those at once, nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. Eat more of those.
Being out in the field or on deployment with the military I often didn’t have the chance to eat great foods or have my choice of what I wanted to eat. I had to make due with what I had and improve my sleep with other aids. That is why I always had vitamins and supplements to help me out.
Melatonin is a wonderful sleep aid when it comes to helping me get to bed on time. Melatonin is naturally created in the brain as a hormone and taking a supplement can help with this process. Niacin is my go-to supplement as a niacin flush releases serotonin into the blood as well as a protein called PDG-2 which is considered a sleep modulator or activator that puts us to sleep. I also will use 5-HTP which is closely related to serotonin. Saint John’s Wort also is a wonderful sleep aid as it is a mild MAOI and allows for more important chemicals to transfer into the brain. The important thing to remember with supplements and vitamins is that you should only use them if your doctor says they are okay for you, as some may be dangerous if used improperly.
Another way to help yourself get some good nights rest is to reduce the amount of caffeine you have during the day. I know that sounds like an impossible thing to do especially in the military of all places, but the reduction is possible! I managed to take a break from drinking coffee or energy drinks for a few months and noticed my sleep quality and energy improve!
TURN OFF THE LIGHTS!
When getting ready for bed it’s important to set your self up for success. This means cleaning up your room and making it something you would want to sleep in. Remember what I said about the subconscious and its goal to protect you? Well if your room is full of clutter and stressful chaos then your brain will be on edge when you lay down to rest. Just watch your pets when they go to bed, they often like to have a little clean spot to lay down to rest and feel protected while they do that. There is a reason.
Put away your phones, tablets, and lights. Your nightlight may make you feel better about walking around at night and going to the bathroom without breaking something, but it’s doing no favors to your sleep. The slightest amount of light can stop the production of melatonin in your brain and reduce that wonderful sleep aid. This has even been shown to be effective through your eyelids. This means that you must reduce the amount of light that goes into your eyes while you are going to bed as much as possible. A pure dark room will do wonders for your sleep hygiene.
Better Sleep for Everyone
No matter who you are or where you come from you can take some of these tools and use them for yourself. I used them while I was on deployment and though I could never 100% have the perfect situation for sleep, I could improve my chances for a better nights rest. I believe that you can too.
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