How to Fall Asleep When You Can't


It's estimated that we spend around one third of our lives in bed. For some people though, that doesn't mean it's all sleeping. In fact, more than 30 percent of the population suffers from insomnia. And it's even worse when you really need to sleep — like those nights when you have an early flight the next morning, or an important meeting, and have to hit the hay ASAP. So, what do you do? Here are nine tips to help you catch some z's with ease. (See also: 6 Foods Scientifically Proven to Help You Sleep)

1. Let go of your worries

Easier said than done, right? One of the biggest reasons we toss and turn is that we have things on our mind. It can be exacerbated by an impending trip or appointment, and before you know it, you've spent half the night staring at the ceiling. You can do something about this. Write those stressful thoughts down, jot them in your smartphone or tablet, or even speak them into a voice recorder. You need to get them out of your head and "onto paper." By doing this, you are telling your brain that they're all taken care of. Even if the note says "arrange airport parking," it's helping. The spot may not be booked yet, but the mere act of writing it down puts it on a to-do list, and your brain can let go of it.

2. Lower the temperature

Our bodies cool down as we sleep, and lowering the temperature in the room facilitates this enormously. Many people think the ideal temperature is 72 F. Well, that's all well and good during the day, but that is way too hot for a good night's sleep. Experts say that you should set the temperature somewhere between 60 F and 67 F, and if you have a big duvet or blanket on your bed, remove it. Think of your bedroom like a cave, and make it cool and dark at night.

3. Add some white noise

A deathly quiet room is not going to be ideal for everyone. Being left alone with your own thoughts can amplify them. And any tiny sound, from a creaking floorboard to a chirping cricket, can suddenly become a massive annoyance. Creating white noise can drown out those occasional disruptions. It's why so many babies and kids (and often some adults) pass out in the car — that humming road noise is hypnotic, sending you into a trance-like state that is followed by sleep. Try it out. Start with radio static or a fan. If that works, you can buy dedicated noise machines that play rain, streams, thunderstorms, and even the sound of the jungle at night.

4. Shut down electronic devices long before bed

Your phone. Your tablet. The TV. The laptop or desktop computer. The video game system. They all need to be powered down long before bedtime. The kind of stimulation these devices give your brain puts it in an alert state rather than one of relaxation. Studies have shown that the flashing lights and effects stop your brain from releasing melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it is time to go to sleep. Try not to have a TV in the bedroom. If that's not possible, keep it off, and unplug other devices as well. Put your phone on do not disturb. This is your bedroom — it's not an activity center.

5. Take a supplement

There are supplements available over the counter that can help you nod off more quickly than you could without them. A good place to start is Melatonin, which is a natural hormone in your body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This is available in two forms — immediate release, and extended release — and is available in the vitamin aisle. You could also try Valerian root, which has been used as both a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for thousands of years. If these don't work for you, you could try Kava, or good old-fashioned camomile tea. And a spritz of lavender in the air (candles, incense, sprays) can also aid in the sleep process. Please make sure to check with your doctor first before trying any supplements.

6. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique

Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor, believes that good, fast sleep can come from a simple breathing technique. What's more, it's easy to learn, and the results can come quickly for many people. It takes five steps, and as Weil explains, requires you to, "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. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward."

The five steps are as follows:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth whilst making a "whoosh" sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth whilst making the whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • Inhale again. Repeat three more times for a total of four cycles.

7. Take a hot shower or bath

Remember the tip about the cool room? Well, another way to enhance that feeling is to take a shower or bath before getting into bed. First, make the bed and leave the covers open, letting them cool off (ideally with a fan or open window). Take your hot shower or bath. When you dry off and enter the bedroom from the bathroom, you will instantly feel cooler. You will also feel relaxed from your time in the bath, and the steam can help clear out your airways — which is another great way to ensure better sleep.

8. Try to stay awake

What? This may seem counterintuitive, but for some people it works. It's a little reverse-psychology, coupled with an almost meditative state that tricks your brain into falling asleep. In a study done at the University of Glasgow, a group of volunteers was "asked to lie in bed with their eyes open without any television, computers, and phones, were only allowed to blink, and basically asked to try to stay awake for as long as possible. That group managed to fall asleep faster every night." Try it next time you're having trouble. Instead of saying, "fall asleep, fall asleep" switch to "stay awake, stay awake." You may be surprised at the results.

9. Invest in a cool pillow

There are many varieties of cooling pillows on the market right now, and they can be a fabulous help at bedtime. We all know that feeling of turning the pillow over to get the cooler side. But, it doesn't last very long on a regular pillow. However, a pillow that's got a layer of cooling gel built-in eliminates the need to swap sides as you start nodding off. They start at around $20, and even the basic model is better than a pillow without the gel. If you want to go even further, there are new cooling mattress pads that contain the same cooling gel. The combination of both can keep your body and head cool, and assist in a very quick trip to dreamland.

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