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Every 3 to 4 out of 10 people in US are suffering from insomnia each year – they can’t fall asleep, they don’t sleep long enough to feel rested, or wake up during the night.
Does this happen to you too?
Underlying causes are related to the way our society works and to harmful habits we’ve developed – for instance, staying up at night was very rare before the advent of electricity and when people were doing physical work hours in a row.
“Adults should sleep seven to nine hours every night,” says Parinaz Samimi, MPH health and wellness expert with Mattress Firm.
The bedtime scenario is completely different these days: city lights and sounds won’t let us fall asleep, we use smartphones in bed at night, and most times we haven’t exercised long enough to burn all the energy left unconsumed.
The result is falling asleep long after the planned bedtime hour and waking up tired and groggy.
Do the images in the previous paragraph ring any bell to you?
If the answer is yes, the 10 following proven sleep-aid tips will help you enjoy a better night’s sleep and feel energetic the next morning.
You can easily overcome your sleeping problem if you start building healthy habits and apply these smart tips:
Avoid Exposure to Artificial Lighting
An extreme piece of advice for regulating your sleep is going camping for an entire week.
This way, your body will adjust to the natural alternation of day and night and you’ll easily fall asleep after dusk.
The explanation behind this phenomenon is that exposure to electrical light at night lowers melatonin levels.
This, consequently, has a negative impact on processes signaled and regulated by melatonin, such as glucose homeostasis, blood pressure, thermoregulation and sleepiness.
The whole effort of avoiding artificial light is totally worth it for your health and well-being: aside from not being able to fall asleep easily, keeping the lights on also increases your risk of developing a series of health conditions.
A simpler cure for the problem (in case you can’t afford to take a week-long camping break or don’t like the idea) is reducing artificial lighting exposure in your home.
Once the dark sets outside, start dimming lights and avoid using smartphones, computers, the TV set and other devices which produce blue light, causing your body to secrete daytime hormones.
Also consider taking dinner by candlelight – romantic and healthy at the same time!
Make the Bedroom an Area Dedicated Exclusively to Sleep
Many people perform tasks that are not related to sleeping in their beds, and this prevents the brain for associating the bed with sleepiness and rest.
Unfortunately, the popularity of mobile devices has made bedroom a place where we can spend time on Facebook, check emails, or even catch up with some unfinished work.
In the beginning, being able to pay your bills or chat with friends from bed sounded like a great opportunity to save time and have fun before going to sleep, but on the long term the quality of you sleep is significantly affected.
The solution is radical, but highly-effective – stop using your bed for working, eating, or navigating on the Internet, and make it a space dedicated exclusively to sleeping and sexual activity.
If you have trouble sleeping and feel the need to do something useful or entertaining instead of twisting from side to side, get out of the bed, do whatever haunts you and come back when you feel sleepy.
Keep Temperatures Down
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to fall asleep in a hot environment or at summer during heat waves?
It’s easier to fall asleep if your bedroom’s temperature is somewhere between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by Harvard scientists.
Experts often use the example of bats, which retire in a cool, dark place like a cave to sleep during the day.
Experiment with different temperatures until you find the one that suits you better.
It’s important to have cool air during the night and keep your bedroom well-ventilated, as this will also prevent night sweats and the discomfort associated with them.
A similar, but rougher trick for falling asleep faster is plunging your face in very cold water for half a minute.
As unappealing this technique may sound, its results can be explained through the mammalian diving reflex – when submersed in cold water, the human body shuts down different parts and processes in order to conserve energy for survival.
This reflex is more developed and sophisticated in marine animals, which use it every day.
In humans, the moment when freezing water hits the trigerminal nerve located at the face level, similar processes occur: the body’s activity level decreases, you calm down, and the body gets ready for sleep.
Sleeping naked is an effective method for falling asleep faster, no matter how soft and cuddly your pajamas are. Advantages of sleeping naked include:
- Cooling down your body temperature naturally – as shown previously, we fall asleep faster in colder environments
- Ensuring easier body temperature regulation and avoiding nighttime sweats
- Getting more ventilation to various parts of your body and preventing health issues like vaginal infections
- Increasing fertility in men – testes, which are located outside the body, need to be kept cooler in order to ensure high sperm quality
There’s an exception regarding naked sleeping though, and it refers to legs – some experts recommend wearing socks in bed because warming your extremities helps you divert blood flow from your core and provides support for the thermoregulatory processes needed to fall asleep fast.
Even it sounds naughty, sleeping naked will help you enjoy better sleep and health at the same time (as long as you don’t forget putting your socks on though!)
Working out during the day has a major impact on sleep quality.
Physical exercise helps you burn energy and feel completely tired before going to sleep.
Very important – finish your workout 4 hours before bedtime; engaging in intense physical activity in the evening will make you feel most energetic at the exact hour when you want to fall asleep.
There is an exception to this rule, though: leg exercises performed before going to bed can actually help you sleep better!
Try having a walk, doing several squats, or performing leg lifts before sleep, because these exercises will increase blood flow in your legs and divert it away from your brain.
Reduced brain activity and a quiet mind will allow you to fall asleep much easier.
Hide the Clock
Insomnia often has psychological causes, and one of them is stress.
Work, family issues, finances and current events are not the only sources of stress though; you may be making yourself uncomfortable because of a very common habit – looking at the clock.
Constantly checking the hour while tossing and turning increases your level of stress and keeps you awake when you could already be getting those much-wanted zzz’s.
As time passes and the hour is getting later, your stress level increases and you are caught in a vicious cycle.
Besides hiding the clock, it’s also recommended not to use your phone anymore before bedtime, because this device also displays the hour, not to mention that its light disrupts your sleep-wake cycle.
Make all the calls before going to bed and set the alarm clock early in the evening, or simply check the phone’s settings and find a way to hide the clock.
Try to Stay Awake
Another psychological approach on curing insomnia is called paradoxical intention and was described in a study published in the British Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy journal more than a decade ago.
This small study was performed on 34 people suffering from insomnia during 14 nights.
Instead of trying to fall asleep faster, subjects were asked to do the opposite – keeping themselves awake as long as possible by lying in bed with their eyes open and concentrating on not falling asleep.
The study’s hypothesis was based on the finding that insomniacs overestimate sleep deficit due to their anxiety about falling asleep.
Researchers emphasized the further need for paradoxical intention research, as lowered sleep-onset latency was observed among patients who were asked to concentrate on staying awake, which means they needed less time to go from full wakefulness to the first non-REM sleep stage.
Looks like the more you want something, the harder it becomes to get it; so, instead of counting sheep start focusing on the opposite!
Relaxing your body and mind is a must-do if you want to fall asleep faster; this is why breathing and relaxation exercises are recommended when you need to eliminate stressful thoughts from your mind and get rid of insomnia anxiety.
Breathing slowly and deeply decreases the pace at which your blood is being pumped, slowing down your heart rate and other processes in your body.
Does this sound too boring or complicated for you to try?
Here’s a funny and fast cure: blowing bubbles.
Even if you don’t have young children or grandkids in your home, it’s worth investing in an ordinary plastic bubble bottle.
There are two reasons why this trick works so well: first – watching bubbles has a hypnotic effect on your mind, similar to counting sheep, and second – blowing bubbles is an easy-to-do and relaxing breathing exercise that calms your body.
Besides, doing something funny and slightly silly will help you forget about serious or worrying thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep fast.
Imagine a Beautiful Place
Wondering why we don’t include the old trick of counting sheep?
Looks like there’s something more effective to do than that when you can’t fall asleep, according to a study from the Oxford University, published in the Behavior Research and Therapy journal.
Using pleasant imagery during the pre-sleep period was found to reduce unwanted cognitive activity (or negative thoughts) and also help people suffering from insomnia fall asleep faster.
Subjects who were asked to imagine a beautiful place like a waterfall or a forest managed reduced their sleep onset latency and dealt with fewer distracting thoughts before falling asleep.
The idea behind this experiment was to occupy the “cognitive space” in patients’ minds and to keep them from thinking about all kinds of concerns and worries.
Even if you find it hard to achieve this kind of mental control, it was shown that active search has a favorable effect on your ability to fall asleep fast as long as you focus on pleasant images.
Try the 4-7-8 Trick
Those who have tried this trick swear by its efficiency and claim it helps you fall asleep in less than 1 minute.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Inhale for 4 seconds
- Keep your breath for 7 seconds
- Expire for 8 seconds
- Repeat the exercise until you fall asleep – that’s all!
This technique is often recommended by wellness practitioners specialized in meditation and breathing techniques; people who try it in spite of their disbelief confirm that it really works.
What the 4-7-8 relaxation exercise does to your body is slowing the heart rate, relaxing the brain, and encouraging you to focus on breathing, which immediately eliminates any distracting thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep.
By following this trick, you voluntarily eliminate anxiety and unpleasant symptoms of stress like rapid heart rate, quick and shallow breathing, and the rush of adrenaline flowing through your veins.
This exercise’s powerful sedative effect can be explained by the fact that you force your body to slow down without giving it any other choice.
It’s important not to interrupt the exercise or speed up the counting, and soon you’ll feel like you have taken a relaxing drug.
You’ve probably noticed we have not recommended taking sedatives at any point in this article; although they are a common insomnia remedy, they treat symptoms instead of eliminating the underlying causes.
The difficulty to fall asleep is caused by a wide range of physical and psychological factors and relaxation techniques work the best, allowing you to enjoy a good night’s sleep without using medication.
Make sure your body is tired enough to need rest and then start implementing as many of these tips as possible – you’ll soon forget that insomnia even existed!