Are you an introvert – and how do you sleep? Introverts have more sleep problems than extroverts, according to personality research and Susan Cain’s book Quiet. These tips on how to sleep better are for introverts who are light sleepers, and who have trouble resetting their internal clock.
Are you an introvert? On the scale of introverted-extroverted personality traits, I definitely have more introverted characteristics! But I have no problems sleeping. In the past, my main problem was falling asleep. I had an overactive brain and imagination – I would stay up into the wee hours, worrying. I had to discipline myself to fall asleep fast and stay sleeping all night because I have ulcerative colitis. Lack of sleep makes it flare. So I sleep well or I suffer the consquences. But I recently discovered that introverts tend to have problems sleeping, as compared to extroverts…
Research on introverts and sleep
Research from Carnegie Mellon University found that neither introverted nor extroverted personality traits affected how long people sleep. However, personality appears to affect certain aspects of the timing and subjective quality of sleep.
A different study in The British Journal of Psychiatry found that extraverts sleep longer than introverts, and that extraverts sleep less after the administration of sedatives (as compared to introverts).
Extroverts adapt more quickly to time zone changes, which means they won’t need to worry as much about jet lag remedies. Introverts, on the other hand, have a physiology that resists time changes.
“The principal problem is resetting the body’s clock,” writes Pierce Howard, PhD, in The Owner’s Manual for the Brain. “Introverted people need more help doing this.” He adds that the major factors in resetting the body clock are the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Introverts might learn how to sleep better if they knew how to control melatonin in particular.
Some psychologists believe the opposite: introverts sleep better than extroverts
“Introversion involves the inward movement of libidinal or life energy and a valuation, preference for and focus on interior over exterior reality,” writes Stephen Diamond, Ph.D. in Do Introverts Need More Sleep than Extraverts? “Sleep is the primal form of introversion, a state in which we temporarily but regularly withdraw almost totally from the outer world and journey to the fathomless depths of the inner world. Indeed, temporary paralysis during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep pretty much precludes us from physically interacting significantly with the external environment.”
Diamond adds that for the introvert, sleep and dreaming is a welcome way of connecting to his or her true nature. Sleep for introverts is about receiving energy, power and wisdom to be in the outer world more meaningfully, authentically and successfully. That’s how I see sleep, and perhaps why I sleep better than some introverts.
5 Tips on How to Sleep Better – for Introverts
There is a difference between adapting to a sleep disruption, such as when you travel or work in shifts, versus trying to create a solid sleep schedule that suits your introverted personality. These tips focus on resetting your body clock after travel or shiftwork…
1. Accept your bodily resistance to time changes
Many introverts feel embarrassed or even ashamed by their personality traits. They feel odd or weird because they aren’t like extroverts who gain energy from being the center of attention and in large groups of people.
This first tip for introverts isn’t just how to sleep better, it’s about accepting your body and personality for who you are. You need to be at peace with yourself before you fall into a peaceful, deep, healthy sleep.
2. Prepare for sleep disruptions
If you have to travel through time zones or do shift work, your introverted personality needs a bit more TLC than the extroverts you’re surrounded by. Light therapy helps, and so does eating dairy products and carbohydrates to help you sleep better. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and food additives for six hours before you try to sleep after a time-zone change or a new round of shift work.
3. Consider taking melatonin to reset your body clock
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is secreted from your pineal gland. As the day ends and darkness falls, melatonin gives your body the hormonal signal that it’s time to go to sleep. Getting the proper amount of melatonin is how to sleep better (whether you’re an introvert or extrovert). “If you’re traveling through a time zone, take 6 mg of melatonin (the laboratory kind, not the animal-extracted variety) prior to departure when it’s 11:30 pm in your destination,” writes Dr Howard in Brain. “As soon as possible after arriving, immerse yourself in the sun – go for a walk, bike ride, sunbathe.” The evening after your arrival, take another 3 mg of melatonin.”
Maxi Mel-O-Chew is an example of a natural sleep aid that helps fight jet lag and helps people get better sleep.
4. Drink milk to put your inner introvert to sleep
The L-tryptophan in milk products stimulate melatonin production, which improves sleep. A cup of warm milk before bed is a natural, easy tip on how to sleep better for introverts. Why warm milk? Because warmer dairy products metabolize more quickly than cooler ones, so they’ll help you fall asleep faster. Avoid putting artificial sweeteners in your warm milk, because they tend to increase alertness.
If you’re not sure if you’re having problems sleeping because you’re an introvert or for other reasons, read Are You Introverted? A Personality Test. It’ll help you see your own personality more clearly.
5. Learn about your introverted personality traits
How much do you know about being an introvert? I bet you didn’t know this:
“The highly sensitive introvert tends to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic,” writes Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a light bulb burning a touch too brightly.”
To learn more about introverts, read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Are you an introvert or extrovert, and do you sleep like a baby? If you have any tips on how to sleep better, please share…
Sources: 1) Costello, C. G., and C. M. Smith. “The relationships between personality, sleep and the effects of sedatives.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 109.461 (1963): 568-571; and 2) The Owner’s Manual for the Brain by Pierce Howard, PhD.