But with schools continuing to open at ridiculously early times and bosses still mostly unwilling to embrace the science calling for shorter workdays, it's hard to see how most of us are realistically going to either sleep in later or get to bed earlier (especially if, you know, you want to squeeze in fluffy extras like seeing your loved ones, feeding yourself, and enjoying life in the evenings).
Black, D. S., O'Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015, April). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 494–501. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998?hc_location=ufi
Similarly, if you’re having sleep troubles, limit your cell phone use around bedtime. One study found that people who spent more time on smartphones, especially close to bedtime, were more likely to have shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and take longer to fall asleep (PLoS One, Nov. 9, 2016). So, turn off your cell phone, computer and television at least an hour before bedtime. (See the chart for other behavioral changes you can make to improve your 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."
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.
Go the drugstore and you’ll see dozens of so-called “natural” sleep supplements. The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements for safety, quality, effectiveness, or even truth in labeling, so it’s up to you to do your due diligence. Although the evidence is mixed, the following supplements have the most research backing them up as insomnia treatments.
A 2016 study published in the journal Explore found that college students who inhaled a lavender-scented patch before bed reported better nighttime sleep and more daytime energy, compared to those who inhaled a placebo patch. Studies in other populations, including middle-age women and heart-disease patients, have also suggested that lavender can improve sleep quality.
Melatonin has been used successfully for sleep enhancement in healthy individuals, as well as to reduce feelings of jet lag during global travels. This natural hormone is also being tested as a sleep aid with the elderly and other populations. In addition, studies are focusing on whether or not melatonin can help improve sleep patterns in individuals with depression.
Cherries. They’re the only edible source of the sleep hormone melatonin, so consider having a bowlful for dessert. If they’re not in season, opt for thawed frozen cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice. Drinking two glasses daily helped people with insomnia sleep for 90 more minutes, found one study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
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.
If your mind tends to race as soon as your head hits the pillow, put the brakes on this sleep-stealing habit by distracting yourself from rehashing the day’s events. One tip Breus offers his patients: Count down from 300 in multiples of three. “Because this task is mathematically complicated to do in your head,” he explains, “it forces your brain to focus on something else besides your worries.”
Are you physically uncomfortable? A too soft or too firm mattress, an uncomfortable pillow, or an older, worn-out bed can all impede a good night’s sleep. Check your mattress for signs of wear at least twice a year, and consider new pillows. You may also want to see an osteopathic physician who specializes in osteopathic manipulative therapy. A session or two of this safe and effective sleep aid treatment can be life-changing.
Eat Foods That Help You Sleep: Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat carbohydrate snacks such as whole grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6, found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas, which enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan. Note that L-tryptophan supplements are not recommended as they have been linked to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome.
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).