If you try just one sleep hack, make it this one. Junk light — the blue light that emits from your smartphone, laptop, and tablet screens — is wrecking your sleep. Too much blue light messes with your brain’s production of melatonin — the hormone that tells your body when it’s time to snooze. Blue light wakes you up and tells your brain that it’s daytime. Screens aren’t the only source of junk light — street lamps and LED lightbulbs are also to blame.
It’s well known that babies fall fast asleep when they’re rocked gently back and forth in a carriage or a mother’s arms. Surprisingly, the same trick works with adults. According to a small preliminary study published in Current Biology, when study participants napped in a hammock-like bed, they fell asleep faster and slept more soundly than when they slept in a regular bed. It seems that the gentle swinging sensation primes brain activity that fosters deep sleep. While you can’t exactly doze off in a hammock every night, try chilling out in a rocking chair before hitting the sheets to mimic the motion and help your body feel sleepy.
Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change, and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These awakenings not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more awakenings we have at night, the more likely we will awaken feeling unrefreshed and unrestored.
It’s tempting to reach for coffee when we’re tired after a poor night’s sleep, but drinking caffeine can make it harder for us to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Snel J, Lorist MM. Progress in brain research, 2011, Aug.;190():1875-7855. Can’t quit cold turkey? Try limiting caffeine intake to earlier in the day so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. Lahl O, Wispel C, Willigens B. Journal of sleep research, 2008, Apr.;17(1):1365-2869. But try to avoid napping after 3:00 or 4:00pm, as this can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. Effects of afternoon "siesta" naps on sleep, alertness, performance, and circadian rhythms in the elderly. Monk TH, Buysse DJ, Carrier J. Sleep, 2002, Feb.;24(6):0161-8105.
4. Sleep in a familiar, dark, and quiet room that is adequately ventilated and neither too hot nor too cold. If possible, try to use this room for sleeping only, so that you come to associate it with sleep. In time, your room could become another sleeping cue. If your sleeping environment is sub-optimal, try to use aids such as earplugs or a sleeping mask.
That doesn’t mean that you should never use medication, but it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks. In general, sleeping pills and sleep aids are most effective when used sparingly for short-term situations, such as traveling across time zones or recovering from a medical procedure. If you choose to take sleeping pills over the long term, it is best to use them only on an infrequent, “as needed,” basis to avoid dependence and tolerance.
Mindful breathing practices have been a part of yoga and Eastern wellness modalities for centuries but aren’t as popular in Western culture. The most well-known champion of the 4-7-8 breathing technique in the U.S., who is somewhat responsible for the prevalence that the technique does have amongst integrative medicine practitioners, yogis, and those in search of stress reduction and overall relaxation, is Harvard-educated Andrew Weil, MD.
Generally, non-benzodiazepines have fewer drawbacks than benzodiazepines, but that doesn’t make them suitable for everyone. Some may find this type of sleep medication ineffective at helping them sleep, while the long-term effects remain unknown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently directed the manufacturers of Ambien and similar sleeping pills to lower the standard dosage due to the serious risk of morning grogginess while driving, especially in women patients. Other side effects include:
Of all the sleep tips you could ever read or hear about, the most important one is to stick to one sleep schedule—every day. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and all of your other bodily functions will go smoother, including your sleep. You are probably squirming as you read this tip, thinking about your own sleep issues and how you have anything but a regular sleep routine.
See a Doctor. While lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment for sleeplessness, if you’re still not getting enough rest after improving your bedtime routine and trying a variety of relaxation strategies, a physician may be able to help determine if your sleeplessness is merely a symptom of another health concern, and prescribe appropriate treatment.