Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

The 10 rules of good sleep

with one comment

I wanted to call this “The 10 Commandments of Good Sleep.” But I’m leaving all my books and favorited websites and prior references unopened in an attempt to recall what I’ve learned without directly stealing from any one source. And I’m pretty sure that, during my 2006 yoga teacher training, when I commuted to L.A. every other weekend for six months, I read a bedside table book about insomnia at my friend Gary Tufel’s house, where I often stayed, and it had 10 commandments in the title. So, scratch that.

Ren_120808-1995It was during that training I began to use yoga for help with my own insomnia. Yoga was my refuge from the residual depression left after a difficult divorce and the stress of joining a new family with my boyfriend and his kids in Las Vegas. I took the class to deepen my understanding of the practice, and as that happened, I naturally turned to what I was learning when my legs got twitchy and my mind raced in the middle of the night. I was astonished to see how well a deep squat relaxed my calves and ankles, or a few minutes of seated breath-work put me right to sleep.

Since then, I’ve read everything that’s come my way on insomnia – every book, university medical school report, news story about a breakthrough. And, as a reporter by trade, I probe the habits and discoveries of insomniacs and doctors I meet. I’m no expert, but I’m a well-informed aficionado of sleep science. While every individual’s experience is unique, there are some good rules of thumb. A private yoga student asked me to send them to him, and I thought, why not share them with everyone who reads my blog? I’m composing this blind, as I said above, but I’ll go back and add links afterward for those who want more authoritative references. For now, in my own words, here are the rules of sleeping well…

No. 1 – Be consistent. Keep a regular schedule that includes an hour or so of unwinding before going to bed. Turn out the lights at the same time every night.

No. 2 – Make your bed a shrine to sleep. Don’t do anything other than snooze and have sex there. Otherwise, you train your mind to identify that place with wakeful activities.

No. 3 – Give your body a break. Your systems need some time to shut down. Don’t eat or drink anything but water for an hour or two before bedtime, and don’t engage in enervating or intellectually stimulating activities. (Even some books are too engaging for this period. I’m looking at you, Naomi Klein.)

No. 4 – Give your body a break: Part II. You can’t rest if you’re hungry/full of nervous energy/upset. Get at least half an hour of rigorous cardiovascular exercise, eat regular, nourishing meals and process problems as best you can earlier in the day.

No. 5 – Don’t lie awake. Remember, the bed is for sleep and sex only. (See Rule No. 2.) If you’ve tossed and turned for 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. Fold laundry, read a book, stare out the window at the stars – whatever lulls you. If you’re hungry, have a light comfort-food snack. (Milk and cookies actually fit the bill, according to some studies.)

No. 6 – Let it go. I’ve heard many people say that what’s keeping them awake is their preoccupation with their inability to sleep. The worst thing you can do for insomnia is obsess about it. I’ve had nights where I had to apply Rule No. 5 two, three times (try sleeping for 20 minutes, get up and have a snack; try sleeping for another 20 minutes, get up and do yoga). But on the third try, at most, it always works. I’ve also had nights where I just lay in bed and worry about the thing I had to do the next day that really required me to be well-rested. And you know what? That didn’t help at all.

No. 7 – Talk to your partner. Or your roommate, or your best friend. I don’t mean complain the next day about how badly you slept. I mean enlist a sleep buddy who can help you stay on your workout routine, or play checkers with you each night from 9:30 to 10, or give you a bedtime massage, or talk you down from pacing the kitchen at 3 a.m. We’re all in this together, and the better we sleep, the better the world will be.

No. 8 – Medicate with care. I’m not a fan of habit-forming narcotics, and many homeopathic cures haven’t been tested well enough to know their side effects and contra-indications. If you need a relaxation-enhancer, try chamomile tea. If you have an occasional ache or pain, take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. If you need more than that, see your doctor.

No. 9 – See your doctor. Like I said, I’m no expert. If your insomnia is fierce and persistent, see a professional. There may be something deeper, such as sleep apnea or depression, at play. I can’t help you with that.

No. 10 – Get seven to eight hours a night. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I don’t need seven hours of sleep; I’m just fine on four,” and had to bite my tongue. If you think that, you’re wrong. Humans may not have evolved to require eight consecutive hours of sleep, but it’s well-documented that our bodies and minds have to cycle through deep sleep a certain number of times a night in order to regenerate and function optimally the next day, and that number of cycles equates to eight hours, give or take. So, unless you like to go to bed at sunset, sleep four hours, get up and write a play or work on your cancer cure for a while, then go back to sleep for another four hours until sunrise, eight continuous hours is your best bet.

Bonus – Enjoy your life. What prevents most people from sleeping happens while they’re awake. If you’re unhappy, do what you can about it. Take up a hobby. Make a friend. Lend a hand to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of a comfortable bed to sleep in. You know that guy who makes people say, “How does he sleep at night?” Be the opposite of that guy.


Written by Heidi Kyser

October 5, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Essays, Opinion, Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. Thanks, Heidi, I need(ed) that!!💤💤

    Dan hooker

    October 6, 2015 at 9:08 pm

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