If you've ever had a sleepless night, or bout of insomnia, then you know the horribleness that is lying awake at night. It always feels like the harder you try to pass out, the more elusive sleep becomes. And there you remain until morning — feeling tired, cranky, and bleary-eyed. It's enough to make anyone wish for ways to quickly fall asleep.
And yet such bright, sleep-inducing ideas rarely occur in the middle of the night. In your half-asleep state, it's much more common to toss and turn, stare angrily at the clock, or zero in on every annoying faucet drip and distant car alarm. (I'm feeling cranky just writing about.)
Of course missing a night or two of sleep isn't the end of the world. All you have to do is go to bed on time the following night, and you should catch up just fine. But ongoing sleep issues can become quite the problem. In fact, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, decreased alertness, and even cognitive impairment, according to Michael J. Breus, PhD, on WebMD.com. That's why getting your seven to nine hours of deep sleep is so important.
The next time you find yourself lying awake and fruitlessly counting sheep, try these uncommon (but super helpful) sleep tricks. They may be just what you need to finally catch some Zzzs.
1. Try Your Best To Stay Awake
I know, this is a strange way to start off a list about falling asleep. But as it turns out, challenging yourself to stay awake can actually trick your brain into falling asleep. It's called the sleep paradox, according to psychotherapist Julie Hirst, in an interview with Kim Jones in The Mirror. All you have to do is lie in bed with your eyes wide open, and repeat "I will not sleep" over and over. "The brain doesn’t process negatives well, so [it] interprets this as an instruction to sleep and eye muscles tire quickly as sleep creeps up," Hirst said.
2. Squeeze All Of Your Muscles
Again, tensing up may seem counter productive, but a little progressive muscle relaxation can do the trick. Get in bed, get comfy, and start focusing on your feet. Squeeze your toes tight, then release. Then move up to your calves, then your thighs, your butt, your hands, and so on. "When you have gone from head to toe, your breathing should be steady and you should feel ready for sleep," Jones said.
3. Try The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
This yoga-inspired breathing trick apparently helps people fall asleep in just 60 seconds by acting as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system, according to Emma Louise Pritchard on Good Housekeeping. It involves a lot of heavy breathing, which moves more oxygen into the body, thus relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system. Here's how to do it.
4. Make Your Room Colder
You may think that a warm, cozy room is where it's at for good sleep. But you'd be wrong. It's actually a colder room that makes it easier to slip off to dreamland. "The human body sleeps better in cold temperatures, so a quick adjustment could be just what you need," suggested Lily Herman on TheMuse.com. The perfect temp? About 60 to 68 degrees.
5. Hide Your Clock
Your doing yourself no favors by staring at the clock at midnight turns into 2 a.m., and so on. "Constantly checking the time only increases your stress, making it harder to turn down the dial on your nervous system and fall asleep," noted Sara Schwartz on HuffingtonPost.com. So cover that thing up, or take it out of the room entirely.
6. Slip On Some Socks
I'm the type of person who goes to bed with socks on, only to wake up mysteriously sock-free. I assume they go the way of the washing machine, because they are often never to be seen again. Losing socks is annoying, and yet this tip may still be worth a try. "Researchers from a Swiss study ... observed that warm feet and hands were the best predictor of rapid sleep onset," said Schwartz. "Shifting blood flow from your core to your extremities cools down your body, working in concert with melatonin." And just like that, you're asleep.
7. Adjust Your Sleep Position
What's your go-to sleep position? Personally, I like to sleep quite dramatically — on my stomach, with my limbs going every which way. (Cute, right?) But of course everyone is different, and every sleep position has its pros and cons. Back sleeping is great for your spine, but not so great if you snore. Side sleeping creates less pressure on your back, but puts more pressure on your lungs. And stomach sleeping? Sadly the worst position, as it can lead to back and neck strain, according to Sophia Breene on Greatist.com. All I can say is, pick the position that best fits your needs.
8. Ban Your Phone
I know, I know — scrolling through Facebook helps you drift off to sleep. But ever notice how you always wake up soon after, or reach for your phone again in the night? That's because technology is too distracting in the midnight hours. Not to mention, the blue light from the screen can wreak havoc on your body's ability to rest. "Blue light is especially good at preventing the release of melatonin, a hormone associated with nighttime," said Meeri Kim on Washington Post. It's best to keep your phone out of side, or in another room.
9. Put A Pillow Under Your Knees
If you are tossing and turning, try putting a pillow under your knees to better support your bod. It may feel strange at first, but this will allow your lower back to assume its natural curve, and relax into the mattress, according to an article on The Telegraph. You may also consider popping a pillow between your legs, to help keep your spine aligned.
10. Review Your Day In Reverse
Are worries keeping you awake? If so, try replaying your day in reverse. Rewind through what you ate for dinner, the commute home from work, what happened mid-afternoon, etc. "Remembering the mundane detail in reverse order clears your mind of worries," Jone said. It may just be boring enough to work.
11. Wash Your Face With Cold Water
Plunging your face into a sink of cold water may be just what you need. Instead of shocking you awake, it works to reset your nervous system in quite the scientific way. "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," said Schwartz. Soon you'll be refreshed, relaxed, and ready to bed.
Here's hoping with a little splash of cold water, and a few extra pillows, you'll be sleeping soundly 'til morning.
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