Warming your body up with a hot shower an hour before bed and then stepping into cooler air will cause your body temperature to drop more precipitously. Studies show that this rapid temperature decrease slows your metabolism faster and prepares your body for sleep. “Showers can also be very relaxing, so that helps, too,” says Meltzer. If you shower every night around the same time, making it part of a consistent bedtime routine, you’ll see the most sleep value from it, she adds. “Then your body has an expectation of what’s coming next.”
The brain stem, at the base of the brain, communicates with the hypothalamus to control the transitions between wake and sleep. (The brain stem includes structures called the pons, medulla, and midbrain.) Sleep-promoting cells within the hypothalamus and the brain stem produce a brain chemical called GABA, which acts to reduce the activity of arousal centers in the hypothalamus and the brain stem. The brain stem (especially the pons and medulla) also plays a special role in REM sleep; it sends signals to relax muscles essential for body posture and limb movements, so that we don’t act out our dreams.
The recommended amount of sleep an adult needs is between seven and nine hours each night. But for many, finding this time isn’t the problem–it’s falling asleep once your head hits the pillow. I’m one of those people who occasionally has this problem, and in the past have tried everything from meditation to medication. But for the last four weeks, I tried something different–and it’s something worth trying if you have sleep problems.
The amount of sleep needed each night varies, but for adults, getting at least seven hours every night is crucial to having a healthy mind and body. And when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies aren’t the only things that suffer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a whopping 49.2 million people have trouble with focus due to lack of sleep, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationreported that millions nod off while driving! (1, 2)
For those who have chronic insomnia, the bedroom space may become a trigger for insomnia through conditioning. The sleep environment is meant to be comfortable and facilitate sleep. It should be cool, quiet, and free of distractions. Ideally, you would not allow a television or pets in your bedroom. Bed partners may be disruptive and some people choose to maintain separate sleep spaces for this reason.
You already know the most common drinks to help you sleep, but for an even more effective herbal insomnia cure, try valerian tea. This herb is found in health food stores, at pharmacies, or from a qualified herbalist, and when brewed into tea, it can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and produce a deep, satisfying rest. Also taken in capsule form or as a tincture, this organic sleep aid helped about one in 13 insomniacs enjoy a longer night’s sleep (with fewer middle-of-the-night wake-ups) in a Norwegian study. And as for insomnia due to menopause, there’s more good news: 30 percent of menopausal and postmenopausal women got better sleep after drinking valerian tea, according to a recent study from Iran. Find out what your sleep position says about your personality.
If you know me, you’re well aware that I always suggest a natural remedy over a synthetic option, and the reason is pretty clear. In the case of sleeping pills, they typically slow your breathing and may cause you to breath much more shallow than normal. This could be problematic, and even dangerous, for someone with asthma or other lung-related problems like COPD, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that makes it hard to breathe. Sleeping pills also commonly have numerous side effects, such as: (17)
Some people turn to “natural” sleep remedies or over-the-counter supplements, such as melatonin, to help them sleep. Melatonin may be helpful if you have insomnia caused by disruptions in your sleep/wake cycle, such as problems related to shift work, jet lag, and delayed sleep phase syndrome, but you should take it about five to six hours before bedtime. Also, some data suggest that taking magnesium supplements can promote sleep, especially in people with restless legs syndrome.
Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).