Find How To Feel Fully Rested

Sleep is a resource that’s perfectly free. But it does so much. In addition to producing melatonin, we know that deep sleep enhances growth hormone production. Growth hormone hastens the absorption of proteins and other nutrients into your cells; it stimulates bone marrow and the production of your immune cells; and it aids the healing of tissues throughout your body.

How the Light Bulb Messed Us Up

It’s been 200 years since Humphrey Davy, an English chemist, invented the first electric light. And it’s only been 100 years since we’ve been able to light up our world with Edison’s more practical version. That’s only a short flick of time in the history of humans on the planet. In the millennia before indoor lighting, people, of necessity, rose with the sun and went to bed when the sun set. Since I’ve been in Maui, I’ve adopted that habit and feel the benefits. I go to bed tired and wake up refreshed before the sun rises. I greet the sun with a morning walk before anyone else is stirring in the neighborhood.

You Can’t Replace The Health Benefit Of Sleep

But most people are working more and sleeping less. When sleep eludes them, they look for remedies and drugs to get the rest they desire. Insomnia has become a serious problem for many people and drugs don’t seem to offer a long-term solution.

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

Benjamin Franklin often quoted the English proverb: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” He believed that you would feel more refreshed with only five hours of sleep from 10pm to 3am than eight hours from 2am to 10am. There hasn’t been much research on this subject, but I think you will find by experimenting on yourself that being asleep by 10pm will help you get to sleep easier, go deeper and wake up feeling more refreshed. It’s no wonder there is so little research done to prove or disprove whether sleep can be improved by hitting the sack earlier – there’s just no money in it. You can’t stuff an early bedtime into a bottle and sell it. Nonetheless, there are a lot of reasons why getting to bed before 10pm is so helpful to getting a good night’s rest. Much of it has to do with how humans lived for thousands of years before electricity. I’ll share these points with you in a minute.

Daylight Savings Time

Before we go any further with this, I’d like to point out that when I say 10pm I’m referring to the “real” 10pm. I’m not referring to the extra early 10pm much of the world experiences during the spring and summer when our governments try to “save light” by moving our clocks forward an
hour. There’s an old tale about the Native Indians’ response to daylight savings time: “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” When I refer to 10pm – add an hour for daylight savings time. So while I recommend you get to sleep before 10pm, if your part of the world uses daylight savings time, then in the summer you’d want to get to bed before 11pm (though 10pm is still fine if you really want to be an “early to bedder”).

Historical Bedtime Hour

10pm is really the latest I’d recommend getting to bed (11pm during daylight savings time). If you want, go to sleep even earlier — the earlier the better. The main reason is that sleeping before 10pm puts you in sync with nature and the way the majority of your ancestors lived for thousands of years. Obviously, the upper class always had a habit of staying up late attending banquets or feasts. But the upper class was not the majority. Your average working man and woman lived by the light of the sun with an occasional festival with a bonfire at night.

If you go back to even more primitive times, it would have been rare for man to venture out at night unless on a hunting expedition (or being hunted!). In short, before the light bulb, there simply wasn’t much you could do at night – except sleep. We relied on the light of the sun. Farmers would be up with it and go to bed with it. Sun worship was the centerpiece of many early civilizations. The sun was everything. We are not nocturnal creatures. The evidence for that may be our poor night vision and vitamin A deficiency.

But then, about a hundred years ago we started worshiping electricity. We replaced the sun, and had light on demand. While this does provide some life savings benefits (e.g. 24 hour emergency care in the hospital), flexibility and better reading conditions – it largely led to people getting out of synch with their internal clocks and with the flow of night and day.

The Melatonin Moment

Our bodies, therefore, became naturally adapted to sleeping at night. The sleep hormone, melatonin, is secreted in darkness. But, research specifically shows that the body is primed to secrete melatonin between 8pm and 10pm. Thousands of years of cycling our day according to the sun conditioned our brains to start releasing melatonin just after sundown.

Warmer Nights, Colder Mornings

One might wonder why our ancestors didn’t go to sleep at 8pm and rise at 4am. It only makes sense that they would wait until later in the day to crawl into bed. One reason is that the heat of the day would continue after sunset. Also, the mornings would be colder and our ancestors probably preferred to sleep in until the sun was up to warm them.

Ayurvedic Explanation

India’s 6,000 year old science of wellbeing teaches that the hours between 6–10am and 6–10pm are slow states of “heaviness” (kapha). This is the time most conducive to deep sleep. At 10pm (and 10am), however, the day switches to a more active state of “being on fire” with physical energy (pitta). I think we’ve all experienced times where we’ve started to yawn and feel drowsy around 9pm. But once 10pm arrives, we start to get energized and don’t feel the need to sleep anymore.

Therefore, at night, you want to take advantage of the heavy period, when the body naturally slows down. Put your body to sleep before 10pm — before it starts revving its engines with its “second wind,” which Ayurveda teaches lasts until 2am. Isn’t that when most bars close? No wonder! The other reason Ayurveda encourages you to be asleep by 10pm, is so that you’ll be up before 6am. At 6am, the dual morning period of heaviness begins. If you are still in bed when this rolls around, you may find it very difficult to get moving. After 6am, you may feel sort of drugged if you’re still lying flat in bed.

The hours from 2 to 6am (and 2 to 6pm) are actually mentally active states (vata), ideal for meditation, study, writing and reading. Many Trappist monks begin their day with study or vespers, as early as 2am. For this reason, the more sleep you can get before 2am, the higher quality it will be. At 2am you go into “mental mode,” and usually disturb your own sleep. This tends to be the time when people are most restless.

Sleep More In The Winter

Our ancestors, most historians agree, slept more in the winter. Or at least those living in the northern hemisphere. Summer was spent preparing for the winter: growing and harvesting food, building, trading, storing, etc. The cold and snowy winters with shorter days limited what they were able to do. So why not catch up on sleep?

Some sleep experts recommend sleeping as much as nine hours during winter months. If this works for you, that’s great. Personally, I think it may be a little extreme, as most of us do not have careers that we can manipulate according to the seasons. On the other hand, if it’s in our DNA then we may want to rest a little more in the winter, when there’s less to do outside.

Start Getting Up Earlier

Now, if you’re used to staying up until midnight or 1am, suddenly getting up at 6am may not go over too well. In fact, it may feel like torture. Better to just start going to bed a half-hour earlier and waking up a half-hour earlier. So, if you normally don’t go to bed until midnight and wake up at 8am, set your alarm for 7:30am and go to bed at 11:30am. Wait until you are comfortable with that, and then keep on moving your bedtime back a half-hour. (Admittedly, this is easier to do during daylight savings time, as you only need to go back to 11pm.)

Eat Earlier

One of the secrets to getting to bed before 10pm, is to eat dinner before 7pm. Preferably, between 5:30-6:30pm. This way, you’ve finished digesting your dinner by the time 9:30pm rolls around. If you eat too late, especially after 8pm, your stomach will still be quite active and not ready for sleep. I realize some people may work until 5pm and not get home until 6pm. Preparing a stew or soup in the morning that you can leave in a crock pot while you’re at work is one way around this.

You may also just want to eat out on work nights, if you know a place that serves quality food at a price you can handle. That way, you can have dinner immediately after work before heading home. You could also make a large batch of food on the weekend and then freeze individual portions. Leave a portion out to thaw in the morning. This way, when you get home, you need only reheat the food. Or, you might be able to go to work earlier in the morning so you can leave earlier in the afternoon. In the end, just do your best to eat dinner as early as possible. If you live under the reign of Daylight Savings Time in the summer, that affords you an extra hour.

Reduce Stimulants

If you find you can’t fall asleep before 10pm, make sure you are not drinking any coffee at, or after dinner. Also, avoid caffeinated teas, chocolate and sugar. All of these will keep you going when you really need to be unconscious. How many people have a couple of squares of good chocolate at night without realizing the amount of caffeine they are consuming! You may even find you need to avoid such stimulants earlier in the day. Some people need to avoid them altogether. Oftentimes the heavier you are, the more stimulants you can handle. The thinner you are, the more they’ll wind you up like a spinning top.

Get Into A Rhythm

Getting to bed early really only works well if you do it all the time. Trying to do it just once a week will probably just throw you off your schedule and rhythm. You’re better off with the same bedtime each day – even if it’s too late! Otherwise, make a point of being in bed before 10pm, every day of the week. Or at least six days of the week. Get your body into the habit.

Aim For Earlier Than 10pm

The goal really is to be asleep by 10pm – not just crawling into bed before you turn into a pumpkin! Remember, around 10pm, if you’re not asleep, your body will start revving its engines. In ancient times man would only be up late after nightfall if there was an emergency of some sort. So, being awake at night may trigger some ancient alarm. And putting your body into “fight or flight” mode is not the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. So, I recommend being under the covers by 9:45pm at the latest. Even better, practice some meditation or other relaxing activity by 9:30pm. People say they don’t have time to meditate, but then struggle to get to sleep. Spend 15 minutes quieting your mind, and then sleep will come naturally.

Earlier would be even better. Start quieting your mind at 9pm. Otherwise, if you aim to start settling down at 9:30pm, it often won’t happen until 10pm. If you aim for 9pm then you’ll at least make 9:30pm. Better earlier than later. Remember, Trappist monks start their day as early as 2am and retire as early 7pm. Now, I’m not suggesting you become a monastic. I’m just pointing out that the earlier you can get to bed the better you will sleep.

Extending Daylight and Your Waistline

In Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival by T.S. Wiley, the author documents with endless scientific notes) the link between light and carbohydrate consumption. The more light you experience, the more you crave starches and sugars.

It adds up. As you stay up past the witching hour chocolate, ice cream, cereal and toast start to look mighty good. Cereal is even promoted as the “perfect bedtime snack.” Dinner was several hours ago and you are hungry again. The body is confused. It thought it was time for sleep, but it’s still “lights on.” At 10pm it starts to rev up its motor and wants to refuel.

Wiley argues that the extra light of summer leads to more eating. This was beneficial in the past as our ancestors were more active in the summer (e.g. farming) and also needed to gain some extra fat to prepare for the winter. During the winter, there’s less fresh food, less activity, more sleep and… less light. The body doesn’t need to eat as much. So if you find you can’t beat the bedtime snack habit, then try this next tip…

Dim the Lights

As best you can, reduce your lighting in the evening. If you have dimmer switches, that’s perfect. At the very least spend 15 minutes before you go to bed with dimmed lights, meditating or otherwise relaxing your body and mind.

Or, really back yourself into an early bedtime corner by turning your fuse box at 9pm. After 9pm resort to flashlights. That will teach your body that it’s really night time. Many communities, communes, orphanages and shelters use this very technique of cutting power at a specific time. Lights Out! You may have seen it done in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness”(actual spelling) at the homeless shelter. Take away electricity, and there’s not much left to do (you can’t even read). Oh, but now there are Kindle readers, so you’re going to have to leave that outside your bedroom!

Our ancestors never went from bright daylight to the pitch black of night anyway. The sun sets gradually, signaling to our bodies that the day has come to an end. No wonder kids don’t want to go to sleep when you do “lights out.” It’s too abrupt. So dimmers, lamps or flashlights are one way to go.

How to Make It Happen

  1. Eat before 7pm if you can (5:30–6:30pm is even better).
  2. Avoid any stimulants after 4pm (including coffee, tea and chocolate).
  3. Keep the lights dim or cut the fuse early and use flashlights.
  4. Practice some type of meditation, prayer or other form of relaxation techniques around
    9pm (9:30pm at the latest).
  5. Get into bed by 9:15pm (9:45pm at the latest).
  6. Be sleeping deeply by 10pm.
  7. Arise before 6am.

Questions and Answers

Getting a good night’s sleep is going to make you feel so much better and enthusiastic about life than staying up, distracting yourself with devices and endless scrolling (only so you can feel rotten in the morning).

I tend to wake up around 2am and never get a good sleep after that.

According to Ayurveda, as mentioned above, at 2am you switch into “mental mode.” You may find this is when you dream the most. If you are worried or stressed this can be when it manifests. A simple way around this is just to go to bed really early if you are able. Like 8pm. Eat dinner around 5pm. That way you’ll have a clear six hours before 2am. And, those six hours will probably feel like eight, because you started so early. In other words, don’t fight it. There’s no point tossing and turning from 2 to 6am. Get up and then go to sleep early the next night. You may find a new life for yourself. Instead of letting your mind wander or race, put it towards constructive activities like meditation, reading, writing, journaling, EFT, affirmations, art, music, design or a business project. Some of the greatest pieces of literature were written in the early hours of the morning.

My young children tend to wake me up around 2am or 3am and then I have trouble getting back to sleep. What should I do?

Many parents put their kids to sleep at 8pm and then stay up late themselves. If you can, go to bed when your children go to sleep. Get up when they wake you up (often they go back to sleep). You can use those early morning hours for some alone time.

I’ve been a night owl for so long I’m finding it really hard to get to sleep before 10. What should I do?

Review the article ‘Melatonin Magic’. Follow the suggestions to produce your own melatonin. If nothing else works, just take some melatonin.

My job requires I do the nightshift. What should I do?

If you like your job you should keep it. At least for a while. There are numerous studies showing that working through the night hurts your health. So while it may be fine for a few years, you may want to look for other opportunities.

If this can just be a once a week event and not a five-day-a-week routine that would be better. If you’re in the live entertainment industry you may be committed to a life of late night performances; likewise if you’re a security guard . In such cases, according to Ayurveda, you should try to catch up on sleep before 10am or after 2pm. 10–2pm is when your body is most physically active and is the best time to eat food. It’s also the most difficult time to sleep. Likewise at night. If you need to work past 10pm, don’t bother trying to get to sleep until after 2am. At 10pm your “second wind” kicks in and it’ll stay with you until about 2am. So if you can get to sleep at 2am and sleep through the “heavy hours” until 10am, you’re set. Otherwise, try to sleep between 6pm and 10pm.

How can I have a social life if I’m going to bed by 10pm?

During workdays you may find it difficult. But, most people are losing valuable sleep during the week, trying to have a social life every evening. Then they just catch up on sleep over the weekend. Instead, you could just get plenty of sleep during the week so when Saturday arrives you’re not worn out. Then just enjoy your favorite activities during the day.

You can have lunches, breakfasts or brunches with friends instead of a late dinner. Also, getting to sleep early usually means you’ll be able to do more activities outside. And, usually more physical activities. Instead of sitting in a coffee shop or pub until midnight, you can go hiking or boating or ice skating.

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