I recently discovered that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans experience frequent sleep problems, so I thought “how to get a good night’s sleep” might be an interesting topic for a heartspark Connections. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
The sneaky part is we get accustomed to being sleep-deprived. At first, we notice the effects on our mood and alertness, but then we adjust to that state as normal. So even if you insist that you feel fine, if you got more sleep, you’d probably feel a lot better.
I used to brag that I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, but it should take you about 10-15 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you 5 minutes or less, you are most likely sleep deprived. (Oops!)
Scientifically-proven tips to help you fall asleep
Here are 15 science-backed tips to help you fall asleep in hopes of finding at least a few that might be new to you.
- Try to force yourself to stay awake. Yep, it’s reverse psychology: lay in bed and try to stay awake with your eyes open.
- Hide your clock. Constantly checking the time only increases your stress about not falling asleep.
- Make your room dark. Darkness cues the brain to make melatonin which tells your internal clock that it’s time to sleep. Even the light from a digital clock can disrupt a sleep cycle.
- No blue light before bed. Blue light can suppress your body’s production of melatonin. Besides electronic devices like tablets and smartphones, the biggest blue-light offenders are fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights, which many people use because of their energy efficiency.
- Cool your room. When you’re falling asleep, your body temperature drops slightly, this helps the process along.
- Take a warm shower. If you shower every night at the same time, you’ll train your body to know that sleep is what’s coming next.
- Wear socks to bed. Warm feet and hands are the best predictor of rapid sleep onset.
- Immerse your face in very cold water for 30 seconds. If you’re anxious or distressed at bedtime, reset your nervous system to help you calm down. Submerging your face in a bowl of cold water triggers an involuntary phenomenon called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Picture your favorite place. Think of a scene that’s engaging enough to distract you from your thoughts and worries for a while.
- Scent your bedroom with lavender. The aroma relaxes your nerves & lowers your blood pressure.
- Use the “4-7-8” method. This breathing technique is purported to help you fall asleep in under a minute. According to DrWeil.com, here’s how you do it:
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
- Listen to music. Studies have shown that classical music, or any music that has a slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can help lull you to sleep. Bonus: This may also decrease symptoms of depression.
- Blow bubbles. The benefits of blowing bubbles before bed are two-fold: Bubbles are slightly hypnotic to look at and require a process of deep breathing to blow. It helps calm your body and mind and since it’s such a silly activity, it can also take your mind off of any potential sleep-thwarting thoughts.
- Practice progressive relaxation. The Mayo Clinic describes the technique as follows: Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
- Give yourself acupressure. Try these acupressure techniques to alleviate sleeplessness:
- Between your eyebrows, there is a small depression on the level of your brows, right above the nose. Apply gentle pressure to that point for a minute.
- Between your first and second toes, on top of the foot, there is a depression. Press that area for a few minutes until you feel a dull ache.
- Imagine that your foot has three sections, beginning at the tips of your toes and ending at the back of your heel. Find the distance one-third back from the tips of your toes and press on the sole of your foot for a few minutes.
- Massage both of your ears for a minute.
What about when you wake up and can’t go back to sleep?
Surprising fact (to me anyway): Waking up–and staying up–in the middle of the night is more common than having trouble falling asleep. Here are some dos and don’ts in that case:
- If you’re wide awake, get up for 10 minutes. If you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed and perform an activity that requires your hands and your head, like a jigsaw puzzle or a coloring book. The key is to avoid associating your bed with being awake.
- If you get up, keep lights dim.
- If you watch TV (not recommended,) wear sunglasses. It helps to block the light that will mess up your circadian rhythm.
- Don’t eat. Middle-of-the-night eating can condition your body to expect it in the future.
- Don’t sleep late the next morning. It may make for a tough day, but you want to be tired that evening.
Keeping a bottle of bubbles on my bedside table might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s worth a try, right?
If this sounds like the type of conversation you would like to join into, and you live in the greater Portland metropolitan area, come on over to a heartspark Connections. Consider yourself personally invited.