If you've been lying awake night after night, willing yourself to sleep with zero luck, you should definitely consider turning to the tried and true tricks for falling asleep that have been passed down for centuries. You know the ones — things like drinking a glass of warm milk before bed to help you fall asleep. Or following the saying "early to bed, early to rise," so that you can maybe (finally) get on a proper sleep schedule.
These old wives' tales about how to fall asleep may sound ancient, but there's a reason they've hung on all this time. Some, like the warm milk idea, work with your brain's natural sleep chemicals, like tryptophan, to help you nod off. And the rest are simply about good sleep hygiene which is, of course, where it's at if you want to get on a better schedule — and have better sleep.
"What can you do to get the perfect night's sleep? One of the keys is preparation," Chris Brantner, founder and sleep science expert at SleepZoo.com, tells Bustle. "Put together a calming bedtime routine that works for you. For many people this includes hot tea, a book, or even yoga. Don't eat close to bedtime, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Finally, turn your smartphone off an hour before bed. In fact, don't even allow devices in your bedroom!"
By sticking to a routine, you should be able to snag the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep you need each night. And, if you add a few of these time-tested tricks into the mix, you should be able to fall asleep in no time.
1. Drinking A Glass Of Warm Milk Can Help You Fall Asleep
We've all heard the story that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed can help you drift off to sleep. And as it turns out, it's true. "The calcium found in milk can help your body make use of the tryptophan found in dairy, which can trigger melatonin production to promote sleep," says Brantner. As mentioned above, these brain chemicals come together to make you drowsy, so you can fall asleep easily.
2. You Are Either A "Night Owl" Or An "Early Bird"
Have you ever claimed to b a "night owl" or an "early bird"? If you've always been one to stay awake late into the night, or wake up super early, it may be time to embrace it as your body's way of telling you when you need rest.
"Sleep experts point out that there are long sleepers and short sleepers, and people do tend to have individual preferences for when they wake up and feel most productive," Kelsey Allan, a wellness expert from Sleep Train, tells Bustle. "Granted, many of us need somewhere in between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, but each person's natural rhythm will be slightly different from others." By listening to that natural rhythm, you may have a better, overall quality of sleep.
3. Bedtimes Stories Can Help You Fall Asleep
While bedtime stories are almost always reserved for kids, there's no reason us grown ups can't read something calming before bed — especially since there are so many sleep-inducing benefits to be had.
"It's essentially the calm, relaxing atmosphere that the story creates that is helping with sleep," Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Bustle. "The most important part is that the story is part of a set nighttime routine that is performed the same way each night leading up to bed." It's the routine, plus the chill story, that'll have you drift off.
4. Early To Bed, Early To Rise
"Early to bed and early to rise is actually true," Dr. Elizabeth Trattner tells Bustle. "It works with our body’s circadian rhythm. We are in optimal states going to bed early and waking early, just like we did for thousands of years." So if this schedule works for you, definitely hit the hay early and enjoy your peak energy in the morning. This way, you're getting the most out of your sleep.
5. Your Bed Is For Sleep And For Sex Only
Even though you want to check emails or continue writing your thesis paper in bed, don't. The saying that your bed should be for sleep and sex only is definitely true. (Although sex, of course, doesn't only have to happen in your bed).
"It's hard to resist working from the comfort of your own bed, but if you make it a habit, it could be harder for your brain to enter sleep mode when it's subconsciously thinking you're about to get some work done," Dr. Marra Francis, a medical director at EverlyWell, tells Bustle. "Sometimes work can be stressful, and you don't want to bring those kind of vibes into your bed."
6. You Need A Full Night's Rest For "Beauty Sleep"
For years, people have touted the importance of getting your beauty sleep in order to stay fresh and vibrant. But it's so much more than that — getting your full eight hours can help your whole body repair and recharge itself.
"Sleep (along with sex and exercise) increases output of the ... growth hormone," Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of the best-selling book Fatigued to Fantastic!, tells Bustle. This hormone can help repair your tissues, and that can, in turn, keep you feeling more refreshed.
7. Always Sleep In The Dark
The darker you can make your room, the better. As Leslie Fischer, founder of SustainableSlumber.com tells Bustle, "The blue wavelength from our devices and fluorescent bulbs actually suppresses melatonin, a hormone that is essential to falling asleep." So make a point of turning off your TV and putting away your phone and/or laptop before bed.
But candles (if you keep them safely away from your bed and curtains) could be a nice middle ground, if you're looking to create a soothing atmosphere. "Candlelight has a red tone, which does not interfere with melatonin production," says Fischer. Just make sure to blow them out before you fall asleep.
8. Sleeping Can Sharpen Your Athletic Skills
If anyone's ever told you to get rest up before "your big game" they were totally right. "You can improve your athletic abilities by sleeping a full eight hours a night," Keith Cushner, founder of the sleep portal Tuck.com, tells Bustle. "During the last quarter of your sleep, your brain secretes calcium into your motor cortex which actually helps improve muscle memory so assuming you've been training this will help with performance."
9. White Noise Can Help You Sleep
Did your grandparents turn on a fan to help you fall asleep when you were a kid? If so, there may have been something to it. "It turns out white noise is a lot like the best comfy mattress — when it’s doing its job, you barely recognize it is there," Erin Berman, a sleep expert with NECTAR Sleep tells Bustle. "White noise works on the principles of sound masking. Basically, our ears have developed through evolution as a sort of alarm system. When you hear something, good or bad, your senses prick up and you become more alert. When you sound mask with white noise, it blends all sounds in the background and foreground into one static thing. That means your brain relaxes and can more easily drift off into a sleeping state."
10. You Really Do Need To Make Your Bed
If you grew up with parents who demanded you make your bed, they may have been onto something. As Francis says, it all has to do with creating a good sleep environment.
"Going to bed in a clean, relaxed environment can make it easier to fall asleep," she says. "According to a survey commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation (2011), seven out of 10 people surveyed said they made their bed every day or almost every day. The bed-makers were 19 percent more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep on most days."
11. You Can't Catch Up On Missed Sleep
People have been coming up for "rules" for sleep for centuries, and for good reason. If you miss out on a night's rest, you really can't make that up. "If the sleep deficit is only a few hours, you may be able to catch up the next day," says Brantner. "However, there's a ceiling — more than a couple hours and you're out of luck."
You can't just hop back into bed and sleep for a day, for example, and suddenly be all caught up. "Studies have shown that too much sleep at once actually has a negative effect," Brantner says. "It makes you groggy and increases mortality. So it's thought that you can make up for a little bit of lost sleep, but a deep chronic deficit is just impossible to gain back."
So drink a glass of warm milk, turn off your lights, and climb into bed at the same time each night. You'll sleep better, and feel better, as a result.