Sometimes we think about sleep as something we simply do. Go to bed. Go into the bedroom and poof! Sleep. 

Nope, not always. 

In supporting folks with their sleep woes, I have noticed a need for a paradigm shift in the way many people conceptualize this life-giving, crucial part of wellness. Rest isn’t just something we go to. And getting quality sleep is reliant on what happens before you hit the hay. 

Too much busyness and expectations for people to work into the evening is a real problem when it comes to rest. 

It means it’s not easy to create an arc in the day where you get to ease into a manageable amount of activity and then glide into evening-time with less and less stimulation. Ideally you get to cue your system for rest long before you enter your bedroom.

Our systems, that is our body-spirit-mind as one intricate, complex set of many aspects needs lots of resources and time to do everything it needs in active states and to switch into the more restful states. It’s that necessity of time to unfurl for rest that is often lacking and why you may have trouble if you just expect sleep to come without putting yourself to sleep.

Let me explain. 

To function during the day there are neurological needs, feelings to process which affect your hormone picture, and a nervous system that is poised to respond to your changing environment. As organisms our being is constantly trying to read the environment and manage what’s coming in—food, light, particles in the air and so on. Our systems are always trying to ready us for what’s next. 

It’s too much to ask our system to suddenly stop the rivers of it’s work and enter into a state of sleep.

And so when I’m supporting someone to obtain quality rest, one of the things I say is that we need to almost build an appetite for sleep.

What does that look like? There are four components of what’s ideal:

1) Morning sunlight– Your day eases from sleep into our waking hours and you then get some morning sunlight to support your circadian rhythm.

2) Gradual use of energy– You gradually use energy for things like social connection, exercise, work, mental stimulation and the chores of taking care of your body, home, community, and relationships. It’s a lot we humans do every day even when we don’t call it “work”! 

3) Resources to manage stress– You have resources to help you ease things up when stress arises so that stress hormones aren’t accumulating too much through the day. Otherwise it’s like a damn in the water at night, where your sleep flow is clogged by the stress hormones

4) Feelings are noted and processed– This is similar to the stress hormone picture, where feelings can get jammed up and then spring on you when you are finally freed from whatever distractions kept you from naming, expressing and just feeling-through-the-feelings. This is why sometimes people have panic attacks at night or are up into the late evening with some sort of excitement that didn’t get fully expressed earlier. 

So, again ideally we do all those things in a way that little by little uses our energy and gives us plenty of time to rest, eat and digest our food and feelings.

But that’s not how this goes for most people. And especially not for people who are struggling with sleep. 

And yet, I do see this paradigm shift I mentioned above as having a huge impact on people’s sleep pictures. How will you switch from going to sleep to putting yourself to sleep?