It took me several decades to realize how important good sleep habits are, and how valuable sound sleep is. It took that long to realize that some of my recurring health challenges were related to bad sleep habits. When I was in school, my tendency to stay up late reading or doing homework was directly tied to increased chances of catching a cold or suffering from respiratory infection. I finally realized that there is a raging battle between bacteria and me, and if I wore myself out, they would begin to win.
During the time I served as a bishop, I began to have some recurring frustrations with sleep. Insomnia struck occasionally and left me more weary than I should have been. I sought for solutions and found several things that help – at least that help me. Your results may vary. But the most important factor came from the LDS scriptures. Doctrine & Covenants 88:124 seems like basic wisdom, but it truly helped me:
Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.
So much like the old saying, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (A saying known as early as 1639.) By being taught in the scriptures, I was able to take this principle much more seriously. For my physiology and schedule, I have found that 11 pm is the time when faith needs to take over to help me obey what is a personal commandment for me now (with some flexible exceptions). It takes tremendous faith to walk away from my computer or stop whatever I’m doing to get to sleep. I’ve always got a dozen things on my mind and want to do so much more, but when I obey and get to sleep anyway, I’m able to arise early and get more done the next day than if I had stayed up another hour or so, for I’ll be less effective in most cases by staying up later.
When I stay up too late, for some reason I find it much more difficult to get to sleep and and am more likely to wake up far too early. It’s as if the most important sleep for me is early in the sleep cycle, and if I mess that up, even sleeping in the next morning (rarely possible) doesn’t do a whole lot of good. If I get to bed on time, I also have better and more interesting dreams, often around 4 or 5 am, and I can arise early and be ready to go. In fact, with good sleep, many of my best ideas are brewing in my mind as I awake, along with occasional inspired guidance – I think that’s a key time for personal revelation, somehow. Sleep and inspiration may have a connection, in my personal experience. Shame to miss out on either.
Here are some other things I’ve found in my observations and experimentation (they may not work for you):
- Eating much food after 8 or 9 pm can reduce my quality of sleep. Ice cream in particular is not wise for me late at night, and other sugars and perhaps dairy products don’t seem favorable for sleep. (A bite of apple, on the other hand, seems to help me, but not apple juice.)
- Melatonin really helps me. It’s a natural compound available in the vitamin sections of places like Walgreens and CVS. Helps your body sleep. I prefer the 8-hour time release (5 mg), sold by Walgreens, over regular melatonin. The regular stuff last for 3 or 4 hours only. First time I bought it, I thought it was like a vitamin and popped a pill around 1 pm, then went back to work. I was quite drowsy that afternoon!
- Family scripture study and family prayer help me. If we’ve had them, I feel better about the day and that helps me sleep a little better. When I worry about the things where I messed up or failed as a parent, I sleep worse. So trying to live the Gospel helps. It really does bring rest. At least to those who feel guilty when they don’t live it.
- Breathing patterns make a difference when I’m struggling to sleep. Sometimes I do wake up in the middle of the night or struggle to get to sleep for various reasons anyway. I found that controlled breathing really helps me relax and fall asleep. I will slowly inhale as I count to 7, and then slowly exhale also counting to seven. Doing this for a couple minutes usually helps me get back to sleep. I owe this tip to my wife, who once purchased “The Wild Divine” biofeedback system for me to help me learn relaxation techniques as a step in helping me with my sleep problems. As strange as that New Age game was, it did help me learn that I can do a lot to control my physical state, and that by practicing controlled breathing and mentally relaxing, I really could change my physiology and improve things. Very grateful for that learning.
Helping tired people to sleep better is something I’ve been doing recently in my new calling. Seeing the weary filing get some deep sleep always makes me feel great at the end of a long talk as a High Council speaker. But you don’t have to catch one of my sermons to enjoy such blessings.
I hope some of these suggestions might help you when you struggle with sleep.