1. I’m not satisfied with daily accomplishments.
Perhaps planning your day helps you sleep at night. This was the biggest eye-opener for me, personally. I often find myself juggling priorities and because of poor planning, unable to really feel satisfied with my progress for the day. This perpetual feeling of being behind doesn’t allow for any guilt-free wind-down moments, and it also doesn’t allow for much peace of mind. This is leading me to want to revive some good time-management advice.
2. I’m preoccupied/depressed/hangry or otherwise emotionally unresolved.
No one wants to lay in the dark and marinate in all their worst feelings. This is probably a big reason people like falling asleep with the television on. Unfortunately feeling avoidance has all sorts of side effects from poor eating habits – to physical health problems – to, ahem, sleep avoidance. Try sitting with your feelings for a short period of time before bed.
3. My Autonomic Nervous system is rallied.
Our brains regulate our psychological arousal (alertness or wakefulness) in sophisticated ways. As such, we get into states of persistent arousal due to trauma or misguided choices. Examples of these involve doing activities near bedtime that have some element of danger, think climbing a ladder. We have to thank evolution for keeping us alert during life-threatening moments. However, we need to be aware that the following can keep us up:
- Physical pain
- Potential physical danger
- Fear for your safety, including of nightmares
- Potential social danger (most stress falls into this category)
- Persistent stress that’s trained your body to be on high-alert (PTSD, anxiety, ongoing stress)
4. I had caffeine, worked out at a bad time, or practiced poor sleep hygiene.
On a smaller and related scale, we all know this factor. Do we always remember to cut ourselves off at a certain point? No. Mindfully try to observe the timelines of exercise and caffeine’s effect on you. That way you can use the information when you’re feeling responsible.
So what’s the theme here? Sleep is like a mini-death. You’re letting go of your day, your consciousness, your ability to accomplish anything more, and you’re accepting the passage of time. It may be a bit morbid to think about, but being ready for tomorrow is almost like being ready for death. You accept each day that you have a limited number of hours, just like in life you have a limited amount of time (until science hopefully fixes that for us). Because of those limitations, we have to make wise and responsible choices that start with planning. What you want to do with your life, what you want to do with your day, and what you ultimately choose and find that you need to be satisfied.
If you’re constantly regretting staying up late, you’re probably on a trajectory to end up disappointed in life.
Which leads me to the factor that can override all other issues:
5. I’ve gone too long without interpersonal contact.
I once had an interesting discussion with a psychologist on the topic of death anxiety. Apparently this state of mind is mitigated quite nicely by contact with others. Thanks to our social brains, a healthy dose of neurochemicals will put you into a state of mind where you can ignore most other factors or devise ways around them. To use this ultimate weapon fix you’ll have to be proactive since people aren’t generally available at 3 AM when you’re on your self-excising red-eye warpath. During waking hours, make sure it hasn’t been too long since you’ve gotten a balance of basic human contact (saying hello in the supermarket), physical touch (massage, or barring this a hot shower), and meaningful contact (feeling loved or helpful to others).