📓 Take Action: the first buffer

If you are going to go to bed later, then what should you do instead?

The first step to avoiding pesky wired brains in bed before sleep (or in the middle of the night) is to start thinking about what you’re doing before bed. This has a much bigger impact on our sleep quality than we give it credit for.

It’s time to take some responsibility for our sleep problems, rather than believing they are uncontrollable. After all, this is the first step in taking back some control.

So, what do you do before bed? Do you have the same routine you have had for years? How’s that working out for you and your sleep? It’s time to shake it up a bit!

Firstly, you need to find out what are your personal wakefulness-promoting and sleep-promoting activities. These will be different for everyone, and it’s important that you don’t just do activities because other people tell you they are relaxing. You must find them relaxing.

Write a list of all the activities you do in a day, and some things you would really like to do, but maybe you don’t have time to do. When you do them try and figure out what ones make you relaxed and calm, and what ones make you more refreshed, wired and very awake.

Here are just some very basic examples:

Watching TV – Depends what’s on

Craft Activities – winds me up

Sitting with a hot drink – relaxing

Walking in nature – relaxing

Going to the gym – gets me sleepy tired

Looking at my emails – winds me up

Thinking about work – winds me up

Reading a book or magazine – depends

Listening to music – depends

Practising some yoga – depends on the type

Playing with the kids – depends

Now, you need to do your own personal list…

Write down your own activities and whether they are wakefulness – or sleep-promoting

Once you have figured out which activities are sleep-promoting and wakefulness-promoting, rearrange the list so that the day starts with the most wakefulness – promoting activity and ends with the most relaxing sleep-promoting activity.

It may be that you need to do something quite specific to wind down from work, and that activity might not be so sleep-promoting, so it’s important to then schedule in something to help you wind down from that activity as well.

To help with this, allocate a ‘buffer zone’ to your schedule, when you will do the most relaxing things. Our bodies release melatonin (your ‘sleepy’ hormone) around 9pm, which means your body is naturally trying to wind down after this point. So, this could be the start of your buffer zone, or start it a little later depending on your allocated sleep time from your sleep diet programme.

Write down: ‘My buffer zone will start at: _____ ‘

The buffer zone

It is very important for the mind and body to differentiate between the day and the night. You can’t just expect the mind and body to switch from day to night if you haven’t wound down! A buffer zone helps with this.

Start by doing something that will mark the transition between day (and working) and pre-bed
downtime. Maybe you could use the ‘reflect on your day’ diary which is in this pack.

Then after this, during the buffer time you are only allowed to do things you want to do. They should be fun things that you enjoy, but that are also wind-down activities. This is your chance to take some time back from your day and indulge yourself. Add in some of the things you have always wanted to do if you find them relaxing. After all, the sleep-diet routine has probably left you with some more time during the day that you didn’t realise you had. So now is the time to
fill it with fun things you always wanted to do.

Before you start this routine, you should think about and do all the things you ‘need’ to get done that you used to do just before bed – put cat out, lock up, switch off unnecessary lights, set your alarm, brush your teeth, etc. they actually wind you up and don’t make us sleepy! It means you have time now before bed where you get to do the most relaxing things, and then just slip off to bed when feeling sleepy with no other activity needing to be done.

Now you should have a whole day of activities arranged in such a way that will aid sleep, and you have worked in a buffer zone as well.

So that’s pretty much winding down sorted – but is that all you need to do to sort your brain out before sleep? Not really – have you done any processing?

Imagine your brain is like a library. You are the head of that library. All day people and things are coming into the library, using the books and the furniture, not putting things away and by the time the end of the day comes, the library is looking messy and used. This is great, it’s what libraries are for…

Most of us realise we need the wind down after such a day, and we might shut the door to our libraries and go and distract ourselves with some ice relaxing activities. This is great stuff. But what about the library? Do you really want to come in the next day to such a mess? This is like your brain after a long day. And we need to learn to tidy it up a little – not just ignore the mess.

So how do we do this?

  1. By allowing ourselves to FEEL emotions. We are so good at sweeping them away and trying to distract ourselves if we feel they are ‘bad’ emptions but there are no such thing as bad emotions. Emotions are a way of our body processing and alerting us if something needs to change or if they are OK to stay the same. They are so so important, but the more we push them away the more they fight for space and that can turn much darker, scarier, and harder to deal with down the line. We must learn to be non-judgemental about how we feel – a lot of the time we are so frightened of the emotion.
    Once we learn not to fear it, they usually go away or resolve themselves much quicker because we are not fighting them all the time. It can be exhausting!
  2. Giving your mind space to breath. Do you remember when we were taught NOT to daydream in class? Well, you need to unlearn that right now. We
    need our minds to wonder, to explore, to imagine what it would be like to win the lottery, or just stare at a bee doing its work in a flower and allowing
    that lovely zen like feeling coat your brain for a few minutes. This kind of time where your mind is floating around, is proven to help with problem
    solving, decision making and help us to communicate with others more effectively.
  3. By reflecting. Sometimes we don’t give our day a second thought which doesn’t really help our brains sort and process al the ‘stuff’ that went down!
    To aid with all these things, you can start some very simple things. Yes, it would be wonderful if you started with a dedicated time each day (before the buffer zone relaxation time!) where your mind was allowed to feel how it wants to feel (effectively we are giving it permission to fear, worry, be sad etc), to give it space to explore random things such as the clouds in the sky, decorating your imaginary dream house or re living a fond memory and finally some time to reflect on the day. What would be even better, is if you ‘tidied up the library as you go along’. So perhaps 5 mins or each hour, you reflect, ponder, or allow the feels! Surprisingly, even if you don’t feel that you’re doing anything profound, your brain is actually busy working away in the background. You are giving it a chance to clean itself. Yes, a part of this does happen in your sleep, but have you ever noticed when your stressed it can literally wake you out of sleep? These processes and proactively avoid you doing this in the future.