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.
You toss and turn, trying to fall asleep, watching the minutes tick toward morning on your bedside clock. Does this scenario sound familiar? Do yourself a favor: Hide the clock. Constantly checking the time only increases your stress, making it harder to turn down the dial on your nervous system and fall asleep. “If you stare at the clock, it increases your stress and worry about not falling asleep,” says Meltzer.
Mantram is the practice of repeating over and over in the mind certain syllables, words or phrases that help unify consciousness and counteract negative mental states. It is especially helpful for people with restless minds, whose turbulent thoughts keep them from relaxing, concentrating and falling asleep. The repetition of a verbal formula is a way of focusing the thinking mind and counteracting the damage done to both mind and body by thoughts that produce anxiety, agitation and unhappiness.
Certain protein-rich foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy contain an amino acid called tryptophan that causes sleepiness, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. For best results, combine these foods with a source of carbohydrates, which help more tryptophan enter the brain. Some recommendations: roasted soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese, canned tuna, and pistachios. You don't need much: "Even smaller snacks can provide a tryptophan dose that studies have shown to be significant in helping with sleep," Rumsey says.
If someone has overdosed and has serious symptoms such as passing out or trouble breathing, call 911. Otherwise, call a poison control center right away. US residents can call their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. Canada residents can call a provincial poison control center. Symptoms of overdose may include: severe drowsiness, seizures, widened pupils. In children, mental/mood changes (such as restlessness, irritability, hallucinations) may occur before drowsiness.
Sedative-hypnotic medications (benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines) can cause severe allergic reaction, facial swelling, memory lapses, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts or actions, and complex sleep-related behaviors like sleep-walking, sleep-driving (driving while not fully awake, with no memory of the event) and sleep-eating (eating in the middle of the night with no recollection, often resulting in weight-gain). If you experience any unusual sleep-related behavior, consult your doctor immediately.
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones. They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.
It varies. There’s no clear answer. In our studies, we’ll play really loud sounds that people have no conscious awareness of at all: We can play a sound literally at 70 decibels, which is like someone screaming, and that’ll wake them up briefly and then they’ll go right back into the sleep stage that they were in. Other times you can get a full awakening, and you’ll have to go through the process again.
What you’re eating and drinking and when you’re enjoying it affects your sleep. Try to finish eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime so your whole system is ready to relax. Drink alcohol in the early evening instead of right before bed so your body has time to digest it before you hit the sack. Make caffeine a morning-only drink and stick to other beverages in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine stays in your system longer than you might think and can disrupt your sleep.
How glycine helps sleep: Glycine can improve symptoms of insomnia, and can help you bounce back to healthy sleep cycles after a period of disrupted sleep. A recent study of the effects of glycine as a supplement showed it triggered a drop in body temperature and at the same time helped people both fall asleep more quickly and spend more time in REM sleep. And glycine may help you move more quickly into deep, slow wave sleep.
The science behind the technique explains that when people are stressed or anxious, they tend to under-breathe (breathe shortly and shallowly). By forcing oneself to slow your inhale, you take in more oxygen, force it to affect your bloodstream by holding your breath, and then exhale slowly to release carbon dioxide. "The technique will effectively slow your heart rate and increase oxygen in your bloodstream."
Visualization: Involves actively imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed for 20 minutes before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen to the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
Why is working out seemingly so beneficial? The mechanisms aren’t entirely known, but National Sleep Foundation experts say that it could have to do with exercise’s ability promote feelings of relaxation and reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Staying active might also help to keep your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle in sync—particularly if you do it outside (more on that below).
Some newer medications don’t have the same chemical structure as a benzodiazepine, but act on the same area in the brain. They are thought to have fewer side effects, and less risk of dependency, but are still considered controlled substances. They include zalepon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), and eszopiclone (Lunesta), which have been tested for longer-term use, up to six months.
The key here is to keep dinners simple and moderate in portion, so you won’t be bothered with indigestion later. Eating carbs four hours before sleep was more effective than one hour prior in the study, meaning planning your evening meals could prove helpful. Spicy foods can also affect your ability to fall asleep quickly, so keep that in mind, too.