Sleep is something that every body craves. So why does everyone struggle with it periodically? You’ve tried to do it right – you skip caffeine late in the day; you don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed; you make sure the lights are off; you try to follow a consistent bedtime schedule each day. Yet, as you lay in bed sleepless, frustration creeping in, none of this seems to matter. When insomnia hits, you could spend hours stressing, instead of doing a few easy things to slip gently into sleep.
Difficulty falling (and staying) asleep is a common problem. As an important source of fuel for the body, sleep is a valuable commodity. If you have been lying in bed for a while and can’t sleep, get up. Don’t stay in bed, worrying about not having enough energy for tomorrow; do something to encourage a more rapid appearance by Mr. Sandman.
1. Go for a soak
Relax in the bathtub to soothe both the body and mind. Try adding some sleep inducing scents into the tub, like lavender oil. Caution: Don’t take a shower. This can actually awaken your body, so opt for a warm bath instead. Add some candles and calm music for heightened relaxation. A second hint: Sprinkle a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow to pacify you in bed, too.
2. This old wives tale works
Have a glass of warm milk. You thought this was just an old wives’ tale, but it actually works! Warm milk has a tranquilizing effect on the body that can calm you down and prepare you for sleep. The same amino acid (triptophane) that gives turkey its reputation for causing drowsiness is also found in milk, and it causes more serotonin to be released in the body. Can’t stand the idea of warm milk? Add a drop or two of vanilla extract. Still not sounding tempting? Try some chamomile tea. A number of people think an alcoholic drink right before bed does the trick. Although this might initially make you sleepy, it doesn’t prep you for sound sleep. Chances are, you’ll toss and turn during the night.
3. Find an activity
Do something relaxing out of the bed. Try reading, doing yoga or watching something a little boring on television at low volume (think the Learning or Home Shopping Channels). Don’t watch anything that will wind you back up. Looking for other ideas? Sew, scrapbook or write a letter. Whatever activity you choose should be easy, nothing that will key your nervous system back up. Once your eyes get droopy again, hit the sack.
One of the worst things that you can do is to sit in bed and think about what you didn’t get done today, and all of the work you have tomorrow. Worrying about it won't get any of it done, so let it leave your mind. If it helps, make a to-do list so that you don’t forget the next day. But leave it at that; once it is on the paper, forget about it. Another trick is to turn the clocks away from your bed so you cannot count the passing minutes. If you focus on the fact that you are not sleeping, you’ll make the problem worse.
5. Add some noise
Wait a second. . . your bedroom should be as quiet as possible, right? Up to a point, yes. The darker and quieter the room is, the more deeply you’ll sleep, even if you don’t realize it. But, adding "white noise" to the background can actually help you slumber. These steady, quiet sounds will block out other, more disturbing noises that might keep you awake. Plus, once you are asleep, you’ll be less likely to wake up from other noises. Try keeping a fan blowing at night – a cool bedroom is more conducive to sleep anyway. Or, try putting some relaxing music or natural sounds, especially something that can be set on a timer. You can buy tracks that play gentle rain, waterfalls or wind noises.
6. Listen to your body
Could it be your body is too tense for sleep? Try a relaxation tape that guides you through loosening up and relaxing each muscle group. Start at your feet, tensing and untensing your muscles, and move up your body. Work on some deep breathing exercises, which mimic your respiration pattern while asleep and can help convince your body that it is time to drift off.
And in the future…
Exercise! Consistent fitness and nutrition is directly linked to improved sleep. Of course, if you are lying in bed restless, it might be a little late. But, start tomorrow and you’ll sleep better in the nights to come. If (and when) you do exercise, make sure it’s not right before bedtime, which can interfere with your body’s ability to relax and nod off.
Make going to bed a routine. Around the same time every night, even on weekends, start your routine. This could mean taking a bath and some light reading. It could simply mean changing into your pajamas and brushing your teeth. Do something consistently that your body will learn as signals to settle down for the night, and you'll wake up refreshed the next day.