You’re exhausted. And you’re counting the minutes until you can just collapse into bed. But when you finally lay down your mind races and you can’t relax enough to go to sleep.
Why is falling asleep so hard for many of us?
Heightened levels of stress and anxiety can make getting to sleep (and staying asleep) a challenge. But it’s not always about stress. You could just have a lot on your mind left over from the day or already prepping your to-do list for tomorrow. Your room is too warm or there’s too much noise.
So many factors can play into having disrupted sleep. But there are simple steps you can take to transition into deep sleep quicker and easier.
Here are seven guaranteed tactics to bridge the gap between you and a solid night’s sleep.
1. Your Bedroom Should Feel Delicious.
If you’ve had trouble sleeping a problem could be that your bedroom isn’t cutting it. For maximum somniferous effect you want to create a sleep cave of sorts full of linens and things (pun fully intended) that lull you to sleep.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine the three things you want your bedroom to be are “quiet, dark, and a little bit cool.”
The reason for the cooler temperature is that our body temperature naturally decreases during the night. “When you go to sleep,” says H. Craig Heller, PhD, professor of biology at Stanford University, “your set point for body temperature — the temperature your brain is trying to achieve — goes down.”
So you want to create as cool of an atmosphere as makes you comfortable and helps you stay asleep.
What’s comfortable for each person differs – thus the never ending battle of the sexes for setting the thermostat—but you want to shoot for a room temperature that hovers around 65 degrees.
Along with adjusting your thermostat you’ll also want to choose linens, pillows, and a mattress that draw heat away from you. Because, even if you get the room temperature right, your linens and clothes can make you too warm, causing you to overheat during the night. If you naturally run hot, this can spell disaster for a sound sleep.
That means, as much as you may love your memory foam because of how it contours to you, it holds heat. So, buh-bye. Toss ‘em. And replace them with natural fibers that don’t trap heat.
You’ll want to check out switching your mattress for a cooling model. And for natural sheets—a fantastic and little known natural option is bamboo. Bamboo sheets are deliciously soft and durable. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more luxurious, check out the cotton percale sheets that, because of their tight weave (percale describes the type of weave and not the type of cotton), are so luxuriously soft they earned a spot on our The Best list, which is the definitive repository for the greatest of the great.
There’s also a new all-natural pillow made from organic cotton and buckwheat that will make giving up that memory foam pillow a painless transaction. Unlike foam or down filling, buckwheat doesn’t collapse under your weight. And you won’t have awake pulling your sweat soaked shirt away from you—the pillow stays cool.
2: Filter Your Phone Light
We’ve all heard it dozens of times—the light from our phone is bad news as far as sleep is concerned. And we’re like ‘Yeah, uh-huh, scroll, scroll.’ But seriously, when it comes to falling asleep, the light from our phones is doing us more harm than good.
The problem is that our screens emit short-wavelength blue light that sends signals to our brain that it’s still daylight. A study has shown that this blue light “damages the duration” and “quality of our sleep”. Could be a reason you find it hard to wind down enough to sleep. Just sayin.
Lisa Ostrin, an assistant professor of Optometry at the University of Houston College, explains, “that blue light prevents special photoreceptor cells in the eye from triggering the release of a sleep hormone.” The hormone she’s talking about is melatonin. Without sufficient melatonin our bodies don’t know to become sleepy.
Ostrin and a team of researchers conducted a study where they provided participants with special blue-blocking glasses to wear after sun-down. Two weeks after the study began, participants experienced an increase in melatonin production of 58 percent. Not surprisingly, they reported sleeping better.
But if you can’t really see yourself sporting blue-blocking glasses around your house, then the next best thing is a blue-light filter for your screen.
3. Be Picky With Screen Time
Seeing as we’re all on our phones 24/7 telling people not to use their devices before bed is just impractical, lame, and unlikely.
If you’ve done your homework and dimmed your devices with a blue-light filter then the next important thing you can do is choose things to do or watch that you find calming, soothing, or mindless.
Reason being, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “Using electronic devices before bedtime can be physiologically and psychologically stimulating in ways that can adversely affect your sleep.” To mitigate the stimulation, choose things that are super chill.
If playing Candy Crush or Pokémon Go are your wind down go-tos, so be it. Or if watching Brooklyn 99 or Parks and Recreation on repeat chills you out, do it. Just hold off on binging Ozark or Breaking Bad until the next day. And skip scrolling through your newsfeed, Facebook, or Twitter feeds which are gloom-and-doom anxiety-inducing mines waiting to explode right before you’re ready to go to sleep.
Although experts say that watching TV before bed “makes it more difficult to fall asleep”, in my experience, falling asleep while watching a movie is like a no-brainer, it just happens and it’s a deep sleep. So you do what works for you.
4. Try Essential Oils. Seriously, They Are (Sometimes) Legit
Essential oils are fantastic for relaxation. Trouble is, certain purveyors of essential oils have been caught making totally unsubstantiated claims about the curative properties of essential oils, telling people to ingest them (please don’t) and claiming they can cure fatal disease (they don’t). DoTERRA, a huge purveyor of essential oils and a multi-level marketing company, was the biggest offender of this and since the crackdown by the FDA has backpedaled and is now training their sales reps not to tell customers that ingesting essential oils will cure their cancer (that’s progress, I guess?).
Barring the bad name with which quackery sales gimmicks have smeared essential oils, there is ample evidence that scent affects our brains and that essential oils have proven psychological and physiological benefits, as has been shown in numerous studies. One study focused on Intensive Care Unit patients who weren’t sleeping well. After fifteen days of receiving lavender oil through an inhalator the intervention group reported significant improvement in sleep, whereas the control group didn’t.
Northern California based dermatologist, Cynthia Bailey, MD explains, “There is definitely credible science behind certain benefits for certain essential oils. But you have to choose wisely, and you cannot use them indiscriminately.”
So bring out all the smell goods—your yummiest candles and your essential oil diffusers—to help you relax into sleep.
5. Choose The Right Sounds To Unwind
Remember when people started listening to whale songs, falling rain, or chirping toads to fall asleep? Maybe you even still have that Sharper Image sound maker you got as a gift stored away somewhere, forever buried.
The effect of sound on our sleep has led to the distinction of various color-coded noises. Stay with me. We all know of white noise—radio or TV static—an unobtrusive continuous hum. But there’s also pink noise, which is akin to those nature sounds mentioned earlier; brown noise—think waterfalls, roaring rivers, or thunder; and black noise—which, weirdly enough is just another word for silence. “Silence” wasn’t a good enough word, apparently.
White and pink noise have both been shown to help you sleep better. It’s still too soon to say which is better, more research is needed. In the meantime there are plenty of sleep sound machines and apps to help you explore the spectrum of soothing noises.
Those looking for new ways to wind down are discovering the soothing sounds of binaural beats. The music described as an “auditory illusion” is achieved by layering two different sound frequencies that are allegedly picked up separately through each ear (thus the bi- in binaural).
Technical stuff aside, listening to binaural beats is utterly calming. There’s nothing there to distract or rile the mind. It’s just chill.
Another wildly popular option is watching/listening to ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos—those softly spoken words or actions, like hair brushing) are great for falling asleep. The effect is quasi-hypnotic. Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Maybe a playlist of ASMR, wind rustling through leaves, and binaural beats will be your magic sleep cocktail.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I failed to mention meditation apps that are also great for getting to sleep. We like Insight Timer—a meditation app perfect for those who aren’t really into meditation. They offer guided meditations of varying lengths. There’s also the Calm app for meditation and sleep. Fun thing about this app, if you’re not feeling meditation, and you’re of the opinion that you’re never too old for “bedtime stories ” or Sleep Stories, as they call them, and I will shamelessly profess that I am of that ilk, then Calm has gently narrated stories to lull you to sleep.
6. Have Relaxing Night-Time Rituals
A big part of falling asleep easily is tricking the brain into slowing down and readying itself for sleep. Simple night time rituals—things that you probably already do—can flip the switch in your head so that your body detects sleep being near.
Perhaps the most obvious night-time routine to cultivate is your skincare routine because, unless we’ve just given up completely, we will still wash our faces before bed. Long, tiring days that end in, “I can’t even” notwithstanding. Think of this as time to look forward to, where you get to pamper yourself with all your favorite skin care products like this, and this, and definitely this, and decompress.
Once you’re all dewy and dulcetly scented drop deeper into relaxation with some gentle stretches. As little as ten minutes spent stretching before bed will ease tense muscles exponentially.
7. Get The Feels From Sex Or Self-Pleasure
We can’t really do justice to talking about relaxing night time rituals without talking about sex and self-pleasure, the penultimate of relaxation rituals. Much has been written on the topic of how sex improves overall wellbeing. And you don’t need me telling you that reaching orgasm releases a cascade of feel-good hormones, like oxytocin.
But interestingly enough, there is another hormone responsible for that post-coital crash that many slip into and that’s prolactin. You can probably guess by the “lact” that it has to do with producing breastmilk. According to psychiatrist, Sheenie Ambardar, MD, “After orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released, which is responsible for the feelings of relaxation and sleepiness”
Because prolactin is released after orgasm, any orgasm, you can feel the soporific effects with self-pleasure as well. So, keep your favorite toys nearby, ladies.
This has been substantiated by a study out of the Appleton Institute for Behavioural Science in Australia, reported that while “orgasms with a partner appear to have the most benefit in terms of sleep outcomes, orgasms achieved through self-stimulation can also aid sleep quality and latency.”
And, as if you needed more reason to pounce on your partner, another study showed that prolactin production after an orgasm reached with a partner was 400% greater than from self-pleasuring. 400%! Numbers don’t lie.
So if sound sleep has been eluding you, by taking an intentional approach to ending your day and cultivating habits that will promote better sleep, you create an atmosphere of rest all around you. Sounds dreamy, right? Now go try out that whole prolactin business.
Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.
Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.
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