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How to Sleep by Geoff Dutton
 

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  • Someone here just published a story at 3:48 AM. On a Saturday, no less. Clearly, that writer has an active mind, but how's the rest of his day going to go?

    Too many people just don't sleep well or long enough. This is probably because they never learned how to sleep. They didn't learn because they were never properly taught. So let me tell you how the professionals do it.

    Here is what you need to do. First check your equipment:

    • Soft pajamas or a nightshirt without a collar. If yours has a collar, cut it off so it doesn't chuckle your neck and chin all night. Flannel is good, or silk.
    • Soft sheets, because you will toss around and any wrinkles underneath will subliminally disturb you.
    • A sleep mask, like you get on long airplane flights. Light that seeps through your eyelids can suppress secretion of melatonin, a body chemical necessary for restful sleep.
    • Also, cover your head with a watch cap or even a bandana and pull it down over your forehead. It will block light from reaching your pineal gland and activating some pesky hormones.
    • If it is cool where you sleep, wear socks (hypoallergenic of course) to keep those tootsies warm. That may seem weird, but after all, who's watching?

    An hour before going to bed, go for a walk in the cool of the evening to unkink your muscles, fill up with fresh air and tucker yourself. If you're afraid to walk at night in your neighborhood, try running. When you come home, drink a nice glass of water.
  • Before turning in, take a nice pee, wash your hands and face and gently brush your hair (you don't want to overstimulate your scalp). The strokes will relax you, and in the morning you'll look a little less like Medusa.

    If you snore (and I'm not saying you do), your mouth will dry out, so place a glass of water on your nightstand. If you awake during the night, take a sip. Reach for it carefully because you won't be able to see a bloody thing.

    You're all set to drift off. Soft, collarless PJs – check. Soft sheets – check. Sleep mask – check. Night-cap and socks – check. Water glass – check. Doors locked – check. (Remember to lock your doors before donning your sleep mask.) Some people like to have soft music playing. The pros recommend against that, though. Instead, get a white noise generator for about 40 bucks. It will mask noises from the street, dripping faucets, frolicking neighbors, and scampering pets.

    Now snuggle into your sheets. Lie on your back and close your eyes. Counting down from 100 slowly, relax your body from the toes on up. Waggle your toes and turn both feet left and right, left and right a few times. Still counting, un-tense your calves and then thighs. As you progressively relax your muscles, notice spots of tension and tell those places to cool it. Think of Mr. Rogers when you do this.
  • You may itch someplace. Go ahead and rub it, but gently. The thing about itches is that they love to conspire, and scratching one begets another in a completely different area. Don't pay attention to them. They will give up and go away.

    You are still counting down, right? When you get to zero, turn to your normal sleep position. Note that most of the pros sleep on their left side, and you should too.

    But what do you do if, despite all your preparations, you keep waking up? First of all, know that it's completely normal for mammals to sleep only three or four hours straight, and if you are reading this, you're a mammal. Repeat: this is normal. Don't panic.

    If you are lying there obsessing about something – like melting ice caps, dying children in Africa, that insurance bill you forgot to pay, or that staff meeting tomorrow morning – say a mantra. Mentally repeat a random word slowly and evenly, over and over, to drive the stray thoughts out. Something meaningless, like "se-ques-ter," re-pub-li-can," or "oh-bam-ah." That should do the trick.

    z z z z z z z z ...

    And before you know it, it's morning. Whether you fell back asleep or chanted your mantra for three hours, you will arise refreshed and ready to seize the day.

    So sleep fast. We need the pillows.
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