9 Tips for How to Fall Asleep the Right Way
How to fall asleep? Not a problem for me. My head hits the pillow, I’m generally out in (literally) less than a minute, and wake up the next morning refreshed and ready to go.
So, admittedly, I’m lucky in the snooze department.
But a recent visit from an out-of-town friend put the spotlight on just HOW lucky. On evenings when she wasn’t out with business colleagues, we’d have dinner together and visit through the evening. Then, when I’d go to bed, she’d turn on the television saying she was going to watch for “a little while.” The next morning, I’d often find her asleep on the sofa, television still quietly humming.
Turns out, my friend is among the 50% of all American adults who suffer with insomnia. For some, the problem is occasional. Others suffer almost every night. Some can’t fall to sleep. Others can, but then wake up after a few hours unable to drift back again.
Does stress cause insomnia?
Most insomniacs say it does. My friend claims that bad sleep has plagued her all her life. She’s a busy professional and thinks stress contributes to the problem. Bedtime comes and her brain starts racing. She has simply accepted the curse and tries compensate by sleeping in late on the weekends.
Can you catch up on sleep?
Not really. The “sleep debt” you accumulate through the workweek cannot be paid off even with several extra hours of shuteye on the weekends. Sleep researchers say that sleep debt is a real phenomenon; and it’s growing. Between health care expenses and lost productivity, insufficient sleep currently rings in at about $66 billion every year – in the US alone!
What is sleep debt exactly?
It’s the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you actually get. The tricky thing is, we don’t all need the same amount of sleep. It depends on genes, overall health, and how active you are during the day. For most of us, experts say, somewhere between 7 and 9 hours is right.
Especially for people with demanding jobs or lot family obligations, sleep debt builds up quickly. Let’s say you get 6 hours of sleep Sunday through Friday nights, then let yourself sleep for 10 hours on Saturday night. Do the math: you’re still coming up a whopping 10 hours short for the week. If your repeat this schedule for weeks in a row, you’re dozens of hours in debt before you know it!
In one study, researchers aimed to find out how restorative “catch up” sleep can be. They asked participants to stay awake for 33 hours and then sleep for 10 hours. The team found that after those extra-long sleeps, participants operated at top capacity, but only for about six hours. Then their sleep debt came back to haunt them. So, clearly, any benefits from extra sleep appear to be just a stopgap measure.
What happens to the body with insomnia?
Studies show that getting 2-3 hours too little sleep for just a few nights in a row is like driving with a blood alcohol content that ranks you legally drunk in all 50 states!
There’s science behind all this. When you’re awake, a hormone called adenosine builds up in your blood. What happens when adrenaline kicks in? You experience sleepiness. And while you sleep, your body breaks down the hormone. Cheat yourself out of adequate sleep, and adenosine keeps building in your bloodstream. The result is unhealthy exhaustion. Along with extreme sleepiness, your reaction time slows, making you prone to accidents. In fact, researchers say that sleep deficiency leads to an estimated 100,000 traffic accidents, 76,000 injuries, and 1,500 deaths nationwide, every year.
Other side effects of too little sleep include brain blur, trouble concentrating, and crankiness. Long term effects can be more serious, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression.
Do naps make up for lost sleep?
Yes, a nap can temporarily reverse the negative effects of sleep deprivation. If you’re going to rely on this strategy, try napping in the early to mid-afternoon – because if you sleep any later in the day it will interfere with falling asleep that night.
So what is the answer?
The goal should be to get on a regular cycle of 7-9 hours of sleep every night. It can take days, weeks, or even months for your body to establish this normal pattern. For sleepless men and women this can seem a truly impossible challenge, but try these nine natural treatments for insomnia.
Tip #1: Go to bed when you’re tired. (It sounds obvious, but stick to it no matter what the clock says.)
Tip #2: If you’re absolutely sure that Tip #1 won’t work for you, then pick a bedtime and wake-up time that give you the 7-9 hours your body needs. Then be consistent – stick to the schedule as much as possible.
Tip #3: You can’t change your sleep schedule overnight, so go slow. For example, if you’re aiming to fall asleep at 10:00 each night, but you’ve grown accustomed to something like 1:00 a.m., then move gradually toward your goal. For the first four or five nights, go to bed at 12:45. Then for the next three or four nights, make it 12:30. Experts say that, by working in these 15-minute increments, your body will adjust gradually and more willingly.
Tip #4: Dim lights starting 2 hours before bedtime. Too much light during the evening can signal your body to stay awake. So turn off overhead lights entirely, and keep nightlights on low wattage. Also avoid computers, tablets, cell phones, and TV starting an hour before you go to bed (because your eyes are especially sensitive to the blue light from electronic devices).
Tip #5: Take a warm bath or shower 1-2 hours before bedtime. A review of more than 5,000 studies related to bathing and sleep finds that just 10 minutes in warm water can significantly improve overall quality of sleep. Warm baths for insomnia have been popular for years. Turns out modern science supports this age-old remedy.
By the way, if your insomnia is the result of nagging pain, you might want to follow up after your bath or shower with a topical pain relief spray, like Premiere’s Pain Spray or BioFreeze. They both work quickly and you should sleep relatively pain-free for several hours.
Tip #6: Try aromatherapy for sleep. The power of essential oil inhalation has become the focus of considerable medical research. In fact, it’s already being used by some hospitals as a supplement to traditional care in promoting better sleep for patients. Oils of lavender, vanilla, jasmine, marjoram, and hops have been shown to relieve anxiety and promote better sleep. You can purchase these oils along with a tabletop diffuser and create an aromatherapy mist in your room at bedtime. Or you can purchase a pre-mixed sleep formula inhaler. This can be a lot more convenient; plus research shows that a combination of oils may be better than using any one oil alone.
Tip #7: Don’t let pets sleep on your bed. Studies indicate that it’s fine to let your furry friend sleep in the same room with you. But when a pet is actually on the bed with you, you’re prone to waking more often during the night, which means lower quality sleep and more sleep debt.
Tip #8: Don't fear morning light. Your internal clock is sensitive to light and dark, so getting a dose of the sun first thing in the morning will help you wake up easier. Opening the curtains to let natural light into your bedroom, or having a morning coffee out on the porch, will cue your brain to start the day.
Tip #9: Skip the Snooze Button. Any sleep you get after the snooze sound is not good quality sleep. So set your alarm for the time you actually need to get up. Besides, your body should wake up naturally after an adequate night’s sleep. Plus, research shows that you’ll feel most alert if you wake up without an electronic aid.
What’s the bottom line?
Insomnia is an extremely common problem, but that doesn’t make it any the less taxing on your body. When lack of sleep – for whatever reason – turns into a lifestyle, your body accumulates hormone chemicals that leave you open to exhaustion as well as even more dangerous health problems. So it pays to get the problem under control. Accept that it will take time. By establishing a strategy (and sticking to it) you can repair your internal clock and eventually enjoy the 7-9 hours of sleep that are required to keep you healthy and living at peak performance.
Here’s to your health!