We know that we’re supposed to sleep 7 – 8 hours per a night in order to feel our best and be our healthiest, but how in the world is a person expected to pull that off if they can’t fall asleep to begin with?
Let’s talk about some handy dandy tricks that can really help with this situation.
– Chamomile Tea – This mild flavored warm drink is one of my favorite ways to help my mind and body relax at night. Studies show chamomile tea has a mild sedative effect, which helps relieve insomnia and encourages a good night’s sleep. It’s also believed to relieve anxiety and depression, too!
– Turn Down the Lights – Our brains associate bright lighting with daytime because it emulates sunlight, therefore, it’s important to keep lights in the home dim in the evening hours. In other words, bright lighting can actually suppress our melatonin levels, which makes it harder to fall asleep. The lights from our phones, computers and iPads work against us in this way as well, so do yourself a big favor and dim down those screens when using them within an hour or two of bedtime.
– Don’t “Hang” in Bed – The soothing feeling of your bed should feel fresh and new when you crawl into at night. Your head should hit that pillow and feel instant comfort and relief, which helps in falling asleep faster. So if you’re planning to spend the evening binge watching DVR’d episodes of The Bachelor, do so on the couch instead of in your bed.
– Relax Those Muscles – Here’s a trick that helps me fall asleep when I’m feeling restless at night: focus on relaxing each muscle in your body, slowly and one at time. Start with your toes, then the arches of your feet, your ankles, your knees and so on all the way up to the top of your head. Don’t forget to include all of your facial muscles and your jaw, too. Do this while taking nice, big deep breathes through your nose. Not only does this help your body completely relax, but it also helps to clear your mind.
– Watch Your Caffeine Timing – Having a cappuccino after dinner seems like a nice way to finish off a meal, but if you’re planning on hitting the hay within the next six or seven hours, you could be doing yourself a big disservice. Jeff and I do our best to have our last caffeinated drink no later than 4 – 4:30pm each day to increase our chances of falling asleep with ease when we go to bed around midnight that evening.
– Jot it Down – Ever have those nights where you can’t fall asleep because you have a million things on your mind? Yep, me, too. When I experience this, I find it helps to grab a pad of paper and write down the things that are making my mind run, even if it’s just abbreviated bullet points. Doing this seems to put the mind at ease because it’s like saying to yourself, “Ok, I can revisit all of this in the morning after I’ve gotten some sleep.”
– Make It Dark and Chilly – Studies show that the majority of people sleep their best when their bedroom is very dark and cold. Jeff puts a t-shirt over bright digital alarm clocks or thermostats that we come across in hotel rooms, and then he grabs one of those hangers from the closet that is meant to hang pants and uses its two clamps to eliminate the gap between the two sides of curtains at the window. At home, we have blackout curtains in our bedroom. Eye masks are a good alternative, though. And since our bodies tend to get very warm while under the covers, turn that thermostat down to 69 – 71 degrees (20 – 22 Celsius) to help prevent waking up uncomfortably warm in the middle of the night.
– Consider Heading to the Supplement Section – Magnesium or the drink named “Calm”, Melatonin, Valerian root, GABA and Kava are all supplements that may help with sleep and can be found in most pharmacies or natural food stores in the vitamin section. But before adding any of them to your nighttime routine, do your research to find out if any of these supplements are a bad mix with your particular health conditions or medications. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor.
– Turn Up the Noise – White noise, that is! There are tons of phone apps available these days that offer all sorts of soothing sounds such ocean waves, running air conditioners, a trickling creek, birds in nature and our current favorite, falling rain. After just a day or two, your brain will start to associate those noises with bedtime, which then makes it easier to fall asleep.
And if I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, after about an hour, I do the following:
– I switch up my surroundings. Translated: I grab the pillows and blankets piled by the bed, make a nest on the ground and then plop my self down right in the middle of it all. This creates a new and fresh place to sleep that the body and mind typically finds soothing. Heading out to the couch or to a spare bedroom is another option, but since our room is nice and dark and cold, I like to stay in there.
– If I still can’t sleep, I turn my phone on the dimmest setting and read a few pages from a book on my Kindle app. I find it’s best to choose a book that isn’t super gripping or suspenseful as you won’t want to quit reading. Nonfiction books such as biographies, science, history or health books are good choices. Before I know it, my eyes feel tired and heavy and ready to go back to sleep.
– But in order to prevent this from happening in the first place, I usually try my best to avoid turning on any lights if I have to get up and use the restroom in the middle of the night. If I need a flashlight, I’ll use the light provided by my phone screen. Once I get into the bathroom, I find the little bit of light that comes in through the window is all I need. The last thing I want to do is turn on bright bathroom lights and confuse my brain into thinking it’s time to get up.
– I also keep a big bottle of water and a bag of nuts nearby in case I wake up really thirsty or hungry. A few swigs of water and 4 – 6 nuts is usually all I need to feel at ease and fall back to sleep.
One more thing: switching to a newer or more comfortable mattress can vastly improve your quality of sleep. If you’ve had the same mattress for the past 8 – 10 years, it’s usually time to start thinking about getting a new one.
Do you use any of the above tricks to help fall and stay asleep? If so, please share in the comments below!