July 12, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, I laid out several advanced and admittedly expensive “hacks” to use a bit of better living through science to upgrade your naps, meditation, and sleep. Yet this may have seemed like paradoxical advice for any of you who also saw my recently published, stripped-down, minimalist approach to eschewing excessive reliance upon science and self-quantification and instead learning how to intuitively listen to one's body.
So I thought I'd use today's Sabbath Ramblings to revisit the concept of optimizing your sleep and rest, and to specifically highlight that fact that I do not think you necessarily need to stick laser lights up your nose, swallow a cattle trough's worth of supplement capsules, and sleep on a special mat you had to mortgage your house to afford in order to wake up refreshed the next morning.
As a matter of fact, the foundational principles of getting a good night's sleep—no matter your “biohacking budget”—are largely based upon five key spiritual and psychological principles that anyone can implement. Basic concepts of sleep hygiene set aside (specifically the cold, silence, and light concepts I discuss in detail here), those five principles to get better sleep naturally are as follows:
You must activate your parasympathetic, rest-and-digest nervous system prior to rest. Even seemingly “restful” activities, such as ensuring you have a full stomach and/or drinking a few relaxing glasses of wine, will temporarily make you sleepy; but once those wear off (typically around 1 or 2 am), your body is flooded with a rebound rush of hypoglycemia and excitatory neurotransmitters. Even ancient writers of Scriptures knew this. Consider verses such as:
Ecclesiastes 5:12: “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”
1 Thessalonians 5:7: “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.”
So, relax your body. Supplements and biohacks aside (as will be the theme of this short article), you can try a series of simple yoga moves like this that you can perform by your bedside, accompanied by deep, nasal breathing. You can keep the lights dim, or even adopt the use of nighttime candles in your bedroom. You can finish any hard workouts 3 hours before bed (a concept I outline in detail here) or, as my friend Hylke Reitsma writes here, you can adopt a “10-3-2-1-0 sleep routine”:
- 10 – The number of hours before sleep in which you do not consume caffeine
- 3 – The number of hours before sleep in which you do not eat (or drink, but that is up for debate)
- 2 – The number of hours before sleep in which you do not work
- 1 – The number of hours before sleep in which you do not engage in screen time
- 0 – The number of times you hit the snooze button
Once you are relaxed, crawl into bed and grab a bedside book that isn’t about topics that get you excited, such as fitness or business, but instead are relaxing, philosophical reads that charm your mind with positive, affirmative thoughts prior to bed. Ideally, these books should not be consumed on a Kindle, smartphone, or any other e-reader, but rather in paper form. A few of my favorite books I'm reading right now for bedtime include Awareness and The Way To Love by Anthony De Mello, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and Desiring God by John Piper.
3) Meditate or Pray
My favorite app for bedtime meditation is “Abide,” a Christian app chock-full of sleep-enhancing and deeply relaxing and restorative nighttime stories and meditations. (Admittedly, I believe this, and the books I cite above, are the only somewhat “non-free” items on my list.) Another very good one for those who are religiously and spiritually inclined is the free app “Pause.” However, I often simply close my eyes, and, along with my wife—with whom I keep a bedside list of family members, friends, and topics to bring to the Lord—utter a few simple prayers of gratitude, praise, and supplication to God. If there is any sin harbored in my heart, especially anger or feelings of unrest towards any people in my life, I bring those feelings to the Lord in a spirit of confession and repentance, heeding the words of Ephesians 4:26, which reads:
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
If you're not accustomed to praying prior to falling asleep, or don't know where to start, try the relatively well-known verses below. Although their origin is obscure, you'll find them quite settling to your spirit in times of stress or insomnia:
“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray to God my soul to take.
If I should live for other days,
I pray the Lord to guide my ways.
Father, unto thee I pray,
Thou hast guarded me all day;
Safe I am while in thy sight,
Safely let me sleep tonight.
Bless my friends, the whole world bless;
Help me to learn helpfulness;
Keep me every in thy sight;
So to all I say good night.”
While there are a multitude of forms of relaxing breathwork, many of which I discuss in great detail here, two are my favorites are a “double-inhale-to-exhale” and a “4-7-8” pattern. For the former, my friend and brilliant neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman, claims that breaking up one long inhale as a double inhale through your nose and then exhaling through your mouth can calm you instantly. It seems to work. Dr. Andrew Weil, in his podcast with me here, describes how he favors the 4-7-8 protocol, and this one also seems to work quite well. Relying upon your own breath is, of course, the last time I checked, also free.
Fall asleep with a smile on your face, trusting God that he will provide for tomorrow.
Matthew 6:25-27 tells us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns— and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Psalm 4:8 says:
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” and Psalm 91:1-16: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day”. Finally, when it comes to the spirit of bringing any of your burdens to the great heavenly Father, nothing is quite as clear as Matthew 11:28, which reads: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not spiritually enlightened yet lazy fellow who simply trusts God then sits back, laces my hand behind my head and stare at the sky while laying in a hammock all day and waiting for God to provide. Rather, I'm a firm believer that one should trust God, then “put on their seatbelt”, as the saying goes. Or perhaps more Biblically appropriate, as Nehemiah 4:9 states “…we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.“. In other words, cast your cares upon God when you can't get to sleep at night or you wake up with racing thoughts, but don't completely ignore or discount thoughts, ideas or insight God gives you as you're falling asleep or waking in the wee hours. My own strategy for this is to keep a simple Pilot pen light and paper journal next to my bed at night so I can (without needing to grab my phone, which is a major mistake when attempting to optimize sleep) jot anything down that I need to, get it “out of my head”, then fall back asleep.
So sleep really can be that simple, my friends.
Can't stomach supplements?
Don't want to fork over the cash for fancy biohacks?
Resisted to feeling as though you may become “attached” to a host of items that you rely upon for sleep?
Then use these easy, inexpensive, spiritual, and psychological sleep and relaxation methods—relax, read, pray, breathe, and trust—the next time you're tossing and turning, or crave a good night's sleep, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
How about you? Do you have your own favorite books to read in bed, or free, simple, or easy tips to get better sleep naturally similar to those above? Leave your questions, comments, or feedback below, and I'll reply!