Getting to sleep has always been an issue for me. I’m one of those kinds of people and have been ever since I was a kid. It would be so nice if I was one of the “as soon as my head hits the pillow” kind of people. But I’m not.
I remember always being the last one to fall asleep at slumber parties – even when they were at my own house and I was sleeping in my own bed! Eventually, I’d be the one saying, “Guys? Guys, are you awake?” And I’d get no answer – just snoring in response.
So I’d let out a big sigh, close my eyes and try counting some sheep.
As an adult, I still have difficulty falling asleep quickly. But I’ve never had to get a prescription for a sleeping pill. That’s thanks in part to the fact that I’ve learned a few things that can really help.
When this article is published, we’ll be on our first Monday since Daylight Saving Time began. It’s that time of year when our clocks suddenly spring ahead an hour and throw off our routines.
People who already struggle with sleeping dread this time of year more than anyone. Bedtime comes earlier and so does getting-up time.
These 12 tips could make your transition a little easier…
1. Just Breathe
Something as simple as concentrating on breathing can be a very effective way to relax and shut off your mind so you can sleep. Deep breathing preps your body to relax and prepare for rest.
During those sleepover struggles I mentioned, one thing that helped was when I matched my breathing to that of my already sleeping friends. Thinking about that helped me wind down and caused my brain to focus on something instead of running wild (sleepovers are pretty exciting).
Maybe you’ve seen certain breathing exercises for sleep being shared on social media recently. One that’s been popular is the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which is recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil – an integrative medical practitioner and wellness expert.
The practice is simple. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold that breath for 7 seconds. Then let it out through your mouth for 8 seconds – and repeat
This slows your heart rate down and provides your body with more oxygen, which can calm the nervous system. Its main purpose is to help people deal with stress and anxiety. However, many say it helps them fall asleep in five minutes and some say it works in less than a minute.
Check out a demonstration of 4-7-8 breathing in the video below. Plus, find out about six more breathing exercises at Greatist.com.
2. Avoid All Stimulants
Everyone knows that you shouldn’t drink coffee close to bedtime (unless you’re drinking decaf). But you should be avoiding all other stimulants too.
If you smoke (which you shouldn’t) cigarettes can keep you from feeling sleepy as the drug nicotine stimulates your brain. Studies show smokers take a little longer to fall asleep, enjoy less deep sleep during the night and often wake up more often. Sometimes that’s because nicotine cravings wake you up.
Alcohol too close to bedtime can be a problem as well. You might think a drink or two helps you chill out – but you need to understand what alcohol does in your body.
A few hours after you drink, alcohol levels begin to drop in your body. You may have felt lethargic and relaxed when you had your buzz – but as it wears off – your body starts sending signals telling you to wake up. So drinking around your bedtime might mean you’ll first feel tired, and then find yourself wide awake staring at the ceiling.
I can attest to this effect. When I drink a couple glasses of wine, I immediately feel drowsy. But then I usually have a hard time sleeping that night.
And here is something to keep in mind about caffeine. That stimulant stays in your body around eight hours. So if you want to be sleepy by 10pm, you should have your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink by 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
3. Time Your Exercise Routine Properly
The advice that getting some exercise will help you sleep better at night is solid. However, you should take into consideration what time of day you run or workout.
Immediately following moderate to intense exercise – such as 30 minutes of cardio for example – your internal temperature is elevated and your body is releasing those endorphins that give you what’s often called a runner’s high. You probably feel energized – not sleepy.
That’s why one important caveat to exercising for better sleep is that you should complete your workout about 4-hours before you plan to sleep.
In fact, correctly timing your exercise routine with your bedtime could be very beneficial. As your body cools down and your internal temperature drops, your brain releases the hormone/neurotransmitter melatonin – which is very important in regulating your sleep cycle.
4. Listen to Something Relaxing
Putting on some soothing tunes can help put your mind at ease. Obviously, high-energy, high-volume music won’t be helpful at all. But trying some peaceful music for meditation, listening to the right kind of jazz, classical or new age songs could put you over the edge into dreamland.
Other people use white noise to help them sleep. Nature sounds might also be useful. Try visiting NatureSoundsFor.Me. There you can create your own personal mix of sounds – from birds, to waves, to wind and rain.
One other way to use your ears to help you get some rest is known as the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ASMR.
The basic idea is that quiet relaxing sounds such as whispers, light crinkling, blowing, scratching and other sounds are used to make a person experience a sort of tingling sensation. It seems to support sleep, stress management and even potentially alleviates depression. The sounds are typically recorded using binaural microphones, and listened to with headphones, to create the effect of 3D stereo sound.
While there haven’t been any in-depth studies on ASMR’s effectiveness, many people who’ve tried it say it works. Some psychiatrists say that ASMR is similar to meditation in that it can shut down parts of the brain that cause stress by using focus and relaxation. But keep in mind – it doesn’t seem to work on everyone.
There are a lot of YouTubers who’ve built audiences using ASMR as a service. Some are described as “manly ASMR,” others use role playing – like getting your haircut or visiting a therapist. Generally, it consists of soft whispering with positive or uplifting words. Check out one such video below.
5. Ask for a Massage
It’s next to impossible to fall asleep when the muscles in your body feel as tense as a tightly wound rubber-band ball. If you’ve got a caring significant other, you may be in luck.
Asking for a massage can be the perfect way to help you sleep – especially on those difficult nights when your entire body feels unable to relax.
Massage can help you manage stress levels and may reduce anxiety as well as depression.
The right kind of physical touch can stimulate the release of serotonin – which is known for positively affecting your mood – but serotonin is also a precursor to sleep-inducing melatonin.
In our house, we got into the habit of giving our two young sons short foot and back rubs right after their bedtime story. It’s a little extra work before bed – but it has completely eliminated our kids sneaking out of their rooms or calling out for Mom and Dad. Every parent hates that – which is why this book, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, was written.
- Find out more about the health benefits of massage here on our blog!
6. Eliminate Some Worry by Getting Prepared
Do you lie in bed thinking about tomorrow? Are you freaking out about how early you have to get up? Do all the things you need to accomplish the next day keep replaying in your mind?
One of the most common complaints sleep experts get from patients is that people just can’t seem to “turn off their brains.” But maybe you can get rid of some of that worry…
Try writing out your To-Do List some time before you hit the hay. It might help you feel like you have a better grasp on the upcoming day. Some say this method can work with writing down all sorts of different worries – not just your daily duties.
Instead of fretting about things, try getting something done. Do that pile of dishes. Respond to that email that you keep thinking about. Pick out your outfit and pack your lunch. Getting a small jump-start on the following day could help put your mind at ease because you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Now you’re ahead of the game instead of feeling behind.
Maybe you’ll get enough done that you can actually sleep in a little bit!
7. Check the Temperature
Experts recommend a room temperature of between 65 and 75 degrees for good sleep, which is about where most people set their thermostats. But the cooler side of that range is probably most conducive if you have difficulty sleeping well.
We’ve already hinted at the fact that your body temperature plays a role in your ability to fall asleep. In an article for The Huffington Post, neurologist Dr. Christopher Winter explains the science of how body temperature is an important part of your circadian rhythm.
“This circadian pattern of temperature regulation usually means our peak temperature occurs sometime in the late afternoon and reaches a minimum around 5 a.m., a few hours prior to awakening. Sleep is typically initiated during the time when body temperature really starts to decline due to decreased heat production and increased heat loss.”
Long story short – it’s all about keeping your cool.
So for that reason, even though your warm electric blanket feels nice and cozy, if you struggle with sleep, slipping into cool sheets is a better idea. You can turn on a fan to cool down your room a little bit. Even flipping your pillow over to the other side might be just the thing you need to finally help you nod off.
Get more advice on creating the right atmosphere for rest in your bedroom from The National Sleep Foundation.
8. Take a Warm Shower or Bath
Another helpful tip for regulating your core body temperature is to hop in the shower or take a warm bath before bed.
The warm water will help you relax, and while your body temperature will rise at first, after you get out it in the cool air, it will steadily decline. That can prompt your brain to send signals to the rest of your body that it’s sleepy time.
I actually used this method the opposite way when I was in college and it still worked for me. I would hop in an ice-cold shower for a couple minutes and then immediately jump into my nice warm bed. Even though I did it backwards (lowering my body temperature and then relaxing) it still seemed to have the same impact.
Of course, warm showers are much more enjoyable to take.
9. Diffuse Some Relaxing Scents Into the Air
The right aroma is yet another way to promote the perfect atmosphere for falling asleep. Many people find that diffusing certain essential oils can help reduce stress and even induce a little drowsiness.
Essential oil enthusiasts recommend products like lavender essential oil along with blends that include ylang ylang oil, sandalwood oil and chamomile. You can find all those oils at Natural Healthy Concepts from trusted brands like Wyndemere and NOW Foods.
Aromafloria also offers some excellent aromatherapy products including Sleep Ease Inhalation Beads, which contain hops flower, lavender and Valerian oils.
NOW Foods makes a very popular and affordable diffuser, (pictured to the left). But you can also use certain essential oils topically. Just rub a little diluted oil on your wrist or the back of your neck to take those sleepy scents to bed with you!
Some people also dilute oils in a spray bottle and spritz their pillows at night.
10. Kill the Lights Earlier – Including Screens
The biggest external cue for getting your body to start producing melatonin is exposure to light – which makes complete sense.
Our bodies have developed to be awake during the day and asleep at night, and your brain uses light as a cue to know what’s going on. That’s also why some people can’t get to sleep unless it is pitch black in their bedroom.
But it’s not just the typical lights and lamps in your home you need to think about. Your biggest problem might be the light coming from all those screens. Many of us stare at our smartphones, tablets, computer and TV screens all day long and don’t stop when we’re home at night.
The light coming from those screens has a similar blueish-white color temperature to actual daylight. That confuses your mind and body.
Before bed…it might be time to unplug. Shut down your laptop so you can shut yourself down too. Because just like a computer – we all need a restart now and then.
For more on the science of screen-time and sleeplessness, check out this article from Scientific America.
11. Watch When & What You’re Eating
We’ve already covered how what you look at, listen to and feel like can impact your sleep routine. Now how about thinking about what you eat?
As you might expect, the food we eat can have a profound impact on our quality of sleep. For one thing, eating food before bed that causes indigestion – like greasy fast food – is a horrible idea. That is – unless you like waking up at 3am with acid reflux or painful gas and bloating.
Other food, like chocolate, contains caffeine – even the healthy dark stuff. And celery might seem like a smart, low-calorie snack, but it’s also a diuretic that could have you waking up to use the bathroom at night.
In general, eating close to bedtime should be avoided. Those late-night snacks make your digestive system keep working overnight while the rest of your body is resting.
But if you are going to have a bit to eat at night, you can choose foods that may support good sleep by naturally providing or producing the right things in your body.
For example – cherries are one of the few foods that actually contain melatonin. Tropical fruits like pineapples, bananas and oranges may also enhance melatonin production.
A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating jasmine rice at dinner time (about 4 hours before bed) appeared to cut the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep in half.
The right cup of tea could mean you start dreaming sweet dreams sooner. Yogi makes an herbal tea called Bedtime Tea for just that!
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that we associate with sleepiness. And it’s true. Our bodies use tryptophan to make serotonin, and serotonin is used to make melatonin.
We hear a lot about turkey and tryptophan, but the truth is there are many foods that contain more of this amino acid than turkey. That includes spinach and asparagus as well as pumpkin seeds, almonds and other nuts and seeds. Milk and cheese also provide L-tryptophan. So there is likely some truth to the “old wives tale” of drinking a cup of milk before bed.
If you want to take advantage of foods that help you sleep, you should eat them at least an hour before you plan to go to bed. That way the chemicals have time to enter your bloodstream and reach your brain.
12. Try All-Natural Sleep Aid Supplements
All of the natural components we’ve discussed in this article such as melatonin, serotonin and L-tryptophan are available in supplement form. Many of these products are blended with herbs that could also promote improved sleep.
One of the most-popular and highest-rated sleep support products we offer is Kavinace Ultra PM. It is formulated to promote adequate GABA, serotonin and melatonin levels for improved sleep quality, relaxation and anxiety relief.
But even something as simple as taking a magnesium supplement has been found to promote healthy sleep. Some people even prefer the mineral magnesium to melatonin supplements.
Visit the Sleep Support Category at Natural Healthy Concepts’ website to shop around for other supplements that might benefit you.
If you have your own tips for dealing with sleeplessness naturally, please let everyone know in the comments section below!
You can also get more advice on falling asleep naturally from Natural Healthy Concepts founder and certified nutritionist, Theresa Groskopp. Check out her 18 Tips to Sleep Through the Night.
Watch a Video with 20 Natural Sleep Tips from Dr. Mark Hyman
- Exercise Image Courtesy lu_lu via Flickr
- Wine Drinker Courtesy nocturnika via Flickr
- To Do List Courtesy john.schultz via Flickr
- Puppy Massage Courtesy Bill Heng via Flickr
- Glowing screen Courtesy nickestamp via Flickr
- Raiding the Fridge Courtesy bark via Flickr
- Shower Image Courtesy Rachel via Flickr