Unless you are the absolute luckiest person that ever lived, you must have had experience with sleepless nights. These are the nights when your brain just won’t shut down. You keep rolling around, thinking of a million inconsequential things, all the while wishing you could just get some sleep.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in the field of relaxation and sleep. I’m sure there are a lot more tips, tricks and techniques to fall asleep than the few I’ll share with you in this post. However, as one suffering wannabe sleeper to another, I’ve done my level best to compile some effective things to do when you can’t sleep.
Before we jump into these tips, let’s first look at a few basic environmental reasons why you might be struggling to fall asleep:
1. Your room fancies itself to be a freezer
Current research seems to strongly indicate that a cool room might be best for sleeping. In the words of sleep expert Adam Tishman:
“When you near bedtime, your body begins to cool down by about one or two degrees to get into sleep mode. In general, sleeping in a cool environment will help you maintain this lower body temperature. This in turn will help lull you into a longer, deeper sleep.”
The ideal room temperature, according to Adam Tishman, is somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius. This room temperature will allow your body to maintain the ideal temperature needed for sleep.
However, you can of course have too much of a good thing.
Especially in these cold winter months it is essential to keep yourself warm enough during the night. Feeling too cold can not only prevent you from sleeping, but it can also give you a higher chance of catching the dreaded winter flu.
So, remember to put on some warm socks, cuddle up with an extra blanket and slip your warm water bottle between the covers a few minutes before you get into bed yourself!
2. Your room fancies itself to be an oven
Have you ever woken up covered in sweat and feeling like you might need to jump into an ice bath? I definitely have.
While we’re yearning for winter to be over and some summertime heat to creep into our houses, it is easy to forget the struggle of being too hot. As pointed out in the section above, a suitably cool room is paramount to getting a good night’s sleep. Adam Tishman says:
“When you’re too hot, it is difficult to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. Warm temperatures not only cause uncomfortable night sweats and overheating, but they also prevent you from hitting that lower body temperature that is ideal for sleeping.”
If you’re feeling too hot, you could try sleeping with a cooling fan. Cotton sheets and other materials that promote good airflow is also a good choice for keeping your body cool.
3. Your bed could be nicknamed ‘Ye Old Torture Rack’
Let’s face it, not all of us have amazing mattresses and beds with the newest up-to-date support designs built in. Some mattresses are lumpy, some bases are wobbly, and some beds are just plain uncomfortable.
Over the years, research has shown that sleeping well is connected intimately with a healthy lifestyle. Not only does getting enough sleep keep you healthy, but it can help you lose weight, boost concentration, improve memory and even help you live longer. Since having a comfortable mattress is one of the key ingredients of a good night’s sleep, it makes sense to invest in a good model.
A bad mattress can affect your back in ways most of us are familiar with. Investing in a good mattress will prevent waking up with a cramped up lower back or a crick in your neck.
Another way that your mattress might keep you from sleeping, is by triggering your allergies. Dust mites find a very comfortable home in your mattress, and a lot of people are allergic to these little creatures. You can keep them at bay by washing your linens regularly and cleaning the mattress with a vacuum.
4. The neighbours are partying it up
And I don’t mean just human neighbours! If you live in the city, the continual hum of city life might be keeping you awake. Busses, cars, late-night partygoers all contribute to the noise that most of us have grown slightly accustomed to. Of course, your actual, physical neighbours might throw a party once in a while too.
If you live in the country side, you’ll know how hard it is being wakened by an overzealous chicken, when all you want as a little bit of shut-eye.
Now that we’ve looked at some environmental reasons that are hindering your sleep, let’s dive into the ways you could help yourself fall asleep more easily.
1. Cut back on the coffee
It should be obvious that drinking a highly-caffeinated drink at night isn’t a good idea, but most of us do it anyways. I want to plead with you today, however, to consider switching your night-time cup of coffee for something a little more inducive to sleep.
A recent study has found that caffeine has a definite effect on the human body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycle of biological processes that regulates when our bodies sleep and wake up. They are highly responsive to environmental conditions, like light or sound, and are also found in plants and animals.
This study, that was done at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom, found that consuming a caffeine pill (equivalent to about 200 mg) caused a 40-minute delay in the test subjects’ circadian patterns. When coupled with bright lights, it caused a delay of up to 105 minutes. According to the scientists in charge of this research, this could be an explanation as to why people struggle to fall asleep after drinking coffee in the evening.
Most health care professionals suggest cutting your caffeine consumption off at 2pm in the afternoon. This gives your body ample time to digest the caffeine, allowing it to wear off before you try to go to sleep in the evening.
If you do love drinking something hot before you go to bed, you could consider having some herbal tea. Many herbal teas, like valerian or chamomile or lavender, have been shown to allow you to fall asleep a lot easier.
2. Say goodbye to your phone
Ever since the huge advance of hand-held technology in the private sector, we as a society has been worried about the effects that these nifty gadgets might have on us. One of the effects that has been studied recently, is the effect of the light given of by screens on our sleeping patterns.
It has been found that this continuous exposure to the blue-and-white light can mess with the production and release of melatonin in our brains. Melatonin is the natural ‘sleep drug’ our brains release when it picks up that it’s time to sleep. And the way, according to scientists, that it picks up that it’s time to go to bed is by understanding that the warm reds and oranges of sunset means that it’s time to sleep. While the bright blues and whites of daylight means that the body has to be awake. If you continue to expose yourself to blue and white lights after dark, your body naturally picks up that it is still daytime and that it needs to stay awake.
One way to prevent this blue light exposure is to install a light filtering app on your device. Using this you can either set it to automatically adjust to the time of day, or you can manually set it to diminish blue light as the evening wears on.
Another way to prevent exposure is to simply stop using your phone. Most experts suggest putting down your phone at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. This will give your body ample time to adjust, and also prevent you from getting stuck, scrolling through Facebook, while you should have been asleep hours ago!
3. Turn down the noise
While some people need music or white noise to help lull them to sleep, others sleep best in complete silence.
If you are one of those people that need sounds to help them go to sleep, you can consider downloading a white noise app on your phone. Most apps can be set to fade out after a set time, ensuring that you won’t wake up with an earache after listening to white noise the whole night. You can also consider setting up a personal playlist with relaxing songs.
If you prefer sleeping in silence, and are maybe struggling with a noise neighbourhood, you can consider investing in a pair of ear muffs. Noise-cancelling earphones are also relatively cheap.
4. Calm your mind
The section above, of course, are focused on noise coming from the outside. Sometimes, of course, it is our own loud minds keeping us awake.
Here are two pro tips from sleep experts, for when your brain insists on thinking of all those embarrassing things you did in eighth grade, right at the moment when you actually want to sleep.
Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford suggests trying to stay awake, instead of trying to fall asleep. He says:
“Thinking about sleep and wishing for it to happen is a recipe for staying awake. This is where paradoxical thinking comes in. If you give yourself the paradoxical instruction to stay awake instead, you’ll be more likely to fall asleep.”
Deep breathing is a technique that Christabel Majendie, sleep therapist, suggests for calming down your mind:
“Deep breathing acts as a powerful distraction technique, particularly if paired with counting. You want to aim to breathe out for longer than you breathe in, and pause after breathing in and out; so, you might choose to count for three when you breathe in, then pause and count to five when you breathe out, then pause. Really focus on your breathing and counting […]”
5. Write down your thoughts
Another technique for relaxation that are highly suggested by sleep experts, is doing some writing before you go to sleep.
Researchers for Baylor University did a fascinating study where they had half a group of young participants write down the things they needed do to the following day (or days). The other half had to write down the things that they had accomplished in the previous days. This study was conducted where participants were sleeping in a lab that monitored their sleep via brain waves, heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level and movement. It was found that the participants who wrote to-do lists fell asleep nine minutes sooner than their counterparts. Interestingly enough, it was also found that the participants fell asleep quicker the more specific they had made their lists.
If you find yourself feeling anxious when you can’t sleep, you can also try noting down the things that are causing these thoughts. Getting them down onto paper helps not only to get them out of your head, but it also gives you a platform for logically facing these anxieties.
6. Stretch ‘n relax
No list about techniques for falling asleep when you struggle to do so, would be complete without a mention of stretching.
Stretching before you go to bed has many benefits. It improves the quality of your sleep. Meaning that you are much more likely to stay asleep once you fall asleep. This is because stretching helps work out the tension in the areas that become overly tense during the day. Meaning we are able to fully relax once we lay down to sleep. Key points that often retain stress and need to be stretched out are shoulders, neck, hands, legs and lower back.
If you are interested in finding out more about stretching, you could consider joining a yoga or Pilates class. Alternatively, you could make use of a yoga app or an online set of exercises. Many of these are especially tailored to helping you get the best sleep possible!
I hope you’ve found some useful tips in this post. Now, go forth and sleep!