I thought my first real sleepless night was a joke. After a full eight hours of tossing and turning, I texted my roommates: "literally slept zero hours last night lol." I fully expected to resume my regularly scheduled sleep programming the very next night. Sadly, this was wishful thinking, and that first miserable night was one of many that would follow as I experienced my first bout of insomnia. In the five years since then, I've been on the receiving end of lots of well-intentioned advice about how to sleep more or sleep better, and I've learned to take a lot of it with a grain of salt. There does, however, seem to be a handful of conventional wisdom that's legitimate — more specifically, some old wives' tales about sleep cures that are true. Fellow insomniacs: listen up!
It's easy to brush off advice like this because you hear it so often (how many times have I heard that screens are really bad for sleep and herbal tea is really good for it?), so it was useful for me to take the opportunity to actually do some research and separate fact from fiction. Now that I know that there's actual science and research to back up all of these old wives' tales, I might even consider revisiting them myself.
1. Have A Glass Of Warm Milk
According to Valley Sleep Center, the common advice that a glass of warm milk can help with sleep issues is rooted in the fact that un-refrigerated dairy was once the norm. (Now, of course, we know that it can make us sick, so we avoid it.) There are trace amounts of the chemical tryptophan in warm milk, which can actually help induce sleepiness — but it's probably not enough to cure a serious case of insomnia.
2. Count Sheep
It's not about the sheep. What's really important about this old wives' tale is that it establishes the practice of using visualization exercises to help you fall asleep. Mental imagery — like sheep jumping continuously over a fence — can help distract you from thinking the kind of stressful and anxious thoughts that keep you up at night, per Whimm. If sheep aren't your thing, try counting something else! (But, really, how can they not be your thing? They're so cute!)
3. Avoid Eating Cheese Late At Night
This old wives' tale was new to me, but apparently, there's a lot of folklore around how cheese can stir up crazy dreams when you eat it before bed. (Liz Lemon would be so bummed.) According to Whimm, there are now scientific theories that suggest that the bacterial and fungal elements of cheese might actually be to blame for weird post-sleep brain activity. If it's crazy dreams that are ruining your slumber, consider cutting it out of your nighttime diet.
4. Take A Warm Bath
A bath before bed is more than just mentally relaxing and luxurious. It can also help you wind down physically in a way that will help you fall asleep faster (just like your mom always said). Per Health, body temperature naturally dips about two hours before you go to sleep — but the rapid cool-down period that happens after soaking in a hot tub should immediately make you feel relaxed and sleepy. Anything that helps create a consistent bedtime routine (including a bath) is also said to be important for sleep quality.
5. Wear Socks
If your grandma always encouraged you to wear socks to bed, she may have had a point. There's science behind it! The additional layer on your feet can help improve circulation in extremities, which should speed up the process of falling asleep, according to Dr. Phyllis Zee in Health.
6. Dim The Lights Early
Don't wait until bedtime to cut the lights. Instead, start dimming them an hour or two before you're ready to call it a night. According to a study from The Endocrine Society in Science Daily, exposure to bright light in the hours before bed may suppress melatonin levels, which can totally throw off your sleep-wake cycle. And, hey — you'll save on the electric bill too!
7. Try Lavender
If your News Feed looks anything like mine, you're probably wondering when essential oils became such a thing... but old wives' tales have been promoting the sleep benefits of lavender for decades! Try diffusing lavender oil in your room, rubbing it on your temples, or spraying it on your pillow (I've tried this — it works!). According to the National Sleep Foundation, the smell of lavender has been proven to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, which should put you in a more relaxed state.
8. Don't Go To Bed Until You're Actually Tired
The temptation to tuck yourself in just because you don't have anything else to do (or because you have some serious binge watching planned) is real, but it might not be the best thing for your sleep. Consider waiting to get into bed until you're actually tired. Per VeryWell, insomniacs often see improvements to their sleep schedule and quality when they make this adjustment.
9. Stop Watching The Clock
The National Sleep Foundation advises against laying in bed and watching the clock if you're having trouble dozing off. Take a hint from the old wives' tales and get out of bed instead! Go to another room and read or listen to music until you're feeling sleepier.
10. Have A Cup Of Tea
Not all teas are created equal — you should avoid caffeinated options like black tea, green tea, or white tea late at night — but drinking an herbal tea or low-caffeine green tea variety can support good sleep patterns, according to Tea Perspective.
11. Make Your Bed
Maybe you still have a bad taste in your mouth from all those days in your childhood when your parents pestered you to make your bed, but what if I told you that folding those corners and fluffing those pillows could do more than just make your bedroom look tidier? WebMD cites a survey about sleep environments that suggests that making the bed may actually lead to better sleep. The bed-makers in the survey were 19 percent more likely to report getting a good night of sleep on most days.
12. Read Yourself A Bedtime Story
Sometimes it's easier to spend your last few hours before bed in front of the TV or scrolling through Instagram, but the advice you've gotten about reading as the best pre-bed ritual is probably true. Per Psych Central, reading can be a relaxing part of your nighttime routine, and it helps you stay away from the bright screens that tend to disturb sleep.
13. Don't Eat And Drink Late At Night
A big meal too close to bed can throw off your digestive system, making it all the more difficult for you to get comfortable and fall asleep, according to Health. Spicy foods are especially problematic.