Published July 01, 2011
Well now you've done it: 11.pm., you have work in the morning and you've gone and downed a mug of high-octane fuel for your nervous system. Within 20 minutes of gulping that coffee, when the caffeine really hits you, you’ll be wide-eyed, mind-racing and ready to think, do and achieve — not great for almost midnight.
Despite what you may think, reversing the effects of caffeine with a depressant, such as alcohol, isn’t going to work. So leave that beer in the fridge and follow these four steps to get your head down as soon as possible.
Step 1: Create a restful environment
With the caffeine powering up your senses from within, you need to create an environment that lacks stimulation and excitement. So, no TV, Internet or Xbox.
Turn off the main light and draw the curtains to keep out any glaring street lights. Now focus on creating an atmosphere with pools of light, using candles and shaded lamps. You can achieve a soft up-lighting effect by placing a desk lamp on the floor, facing up and toward the wall.
White noise masks household sounds that would intrude on your relaxation, such as refrigerators, dripping taps or pets scampering around the kitchen. Check your CD collection for soothing, relaxing music. Alternatively, relaxation CDs often consist of natural sounds, such as rain, waterfalls and forests. If there’s a downpour outside, let yourself become aware of the rain against the window or focus on the sound of your fish tank’s bubble stone. You’re looking for soft, continuous sounds to keep your thoughts from becoming too prominent. This will help your mind to relax.
Step 2: Gently exercise your body
Regular exercise helps to promote the quality, quantity and pattern of healthy sleep, but whether you usually exercise or not, you can benefit from a quick post-cuppa, pre-bedtime routine. You're looking to exercise your body in order to stimulate the release of serotonin, a hormone that helps to induce sleep without raising body temperature too much (which inhibits sleep). An ideal way to do this may be to take a brisk walk around the block, however, you could find the outside atmosphere and the cold windchill simply wakes you up. It’s best to remain in the relaxing atmosphere you have created.
Do a light aerobic routine or calisthenics, including jumping jacks, crunches and push-ups. But to avoid going too far and energizing yourself through exercise, consider a complete stretch routine to engage and relax every muscle in your body. If you’re familiar with yoga, try the "corpse" pose: Lay on your back, feet slightly apart and palms facing up, resting at your side. Allow time to feel the weight of gravity on your body, so that you feel heavy. Breathe slowly and deeply, letting your abdomen rise and fall with each breath. Now address each part of your body, working from forehead to feet, tensing and then relaxing each muscle. Remain for a while and continue to breathe deeply._________________________________________________________________________
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Step 3: Have a glass of warm milk
Even after gentle exercise or a stretch routine, it’s a good idea to take on some fluids. There couldn’t be a better time to test out that old favorite bedtime myth: the sleep-inducing cup of warm milk.
As it turns out, those old wives, huddled around their sewing baskets, concocting those old tales, actually stumbled on a helpful tip with this one: Milk is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin, which in turn converts to melatonin. Both of these are important for inducing restful sleep. As you awake at night, you’re probably feeling peckish. Stay away from the naughty, sugary snacks and instead munch on a slice of bread. The carbohydrates will cause insulin secretion, which aids in the absorption of tryptophan and enhances its effect.
Step 4: Actively rest your mind
You have done everything you can to calm your body and avoid stimulating your caffeine-powered senses, but with the caffeine taking over your mind, you’re bound to have more than the occasional thought stir in your brain. Firstly, try to rid yourself of anxiety regarding your late night. Don’t look at the clock and figure out how much sleep you have missed; instead, focus on how you have had some time for yourself.
Lastly, find something to read. Don’t choose something mentally taxing, stressful and work-related or suspenseful. A lighthearted, but interesting, magazine or biography would work well. Sit comfortably on a sofa and take yourself to bed when you’re tired, or arrange your pillows and read in bed. Just make sure your body is relaxed and your mind lightly engaged. Alternatively, close your eyes and paint mental pictures of relaxing locations, such as waterfalls or beaches. Concentrate on the sounds and the details. Before you know it, you'll be in dreamland.