Science shows that meditation significantly lowers stress and reduces anxiety. Meditation makes you aware of your automatc thoughts and impulses, and with that awareness comes more control. You learn to differentiate between a helpful thought and a destructive one. Meditation also rewires your brain, strengthening neural pathways that calm your nervous system.
Championed by best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil—and various wellness bloggers, the “4-7-8” breathing technique is purported to help you fall asleep in under a minute. The method is said to relax you by increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood stream, slowing your heart rate, and releasing more carbon dioxide from the lungs. According to DrWeil.com, here’s how you do it:
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, salt can help lower cortisol levels and balance blood sugar levels, which is what you want at night for restful sleep. Natural sugars can help by elevating insulin slightly, which helps lower cortisol (this is one of the reasons my doctor suggests consuming carbohydrates at night and not in the morning if you are trying to balance hormones).
Whole grain crackers. It’s not just a coincidence that you immediately want to take a nap after chowing down on a carb-heavy meal. Carbs cause your body’s blood sugar levels to spike, which appears to play a role in regulating your body’s sleep-wake clock, suggests a recent Japanese study. Still, you’ll probably get a stomachache and end up tossing and turning all night—by devouring a gigantic bowl of pasta. So pick a lighter option, like a handful whole grain crackers.
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.
Limit Your Intake Of Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine: Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine. Alcohol consumption can result in nighttime wakefulness.
Got grandkids? That means you probably have a plastic bottle of bubbles around the house. The benefits of blowing them before bed are two-fold: Bubbles are slightly hypnotic to look at and require a process of deep breathing to blow, said Rachel Marie E. Salas, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a recent New York Post article. “It’s like a deep breathing exercise, which helps calm your body and mind,” she says. “And since it’s such a silly activity, it can also take your mind off of any potential sleep-thwarting thoughts.”
REM sleep are particularly important. You can ensure you get more deep sleep by avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and being woken during the night by noise or light. While improving your overall sleep will increase REM sleep, you can also try sleeping an extra 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, when REM sleep stages are longer. See The Biology of Sleep to learn more.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) is shown to be incredibly effective for chronic sleep problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. While sleeping pills and other sleep aids may only treat the symptoms of insomnia, CBT-I helps identify the root of the problem, but it takes time and dedication, with regular visits to a clinician who may give you various sleep assignments to try at home and ask you to keep a sleep diary.
“Magnesium is my go-to recommendation for patients experiencing trouble sleeping,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s nature’s relaxer.” Magnesium plays an important role in helping to balance blood sugar and hormones; an imbalance in either could be affecting your sleep. By supplementing magnesium, “you’re replenishing a mineral that basically everyone needs, as well as helping to literally relax the body.” Before reaching for a traditional sleep aid, try starting off with magnesium to see if it makes a difference.
Clusters of sleep-promoting neurons in many parts of the brain become more active as we get ready for bed. Nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters can “switch off” or dampen the activity of cells that signal arousal or relaxation. GABA is associated with sleep, muscle relaxation, and sedation. Norepinephrine and orexin (also called hypocretin) keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake. Other neurotransmitters that shape sleep and wakefulness include acetylcholine, histamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin.
It’s actually pretty normal to wake up during the night, anyway. In The Canterbury Tales, one of the oldest manuscripts in English culture, they describe “second sleep.” There’s some evidence that we used to go to bed when the sun went down, then wake up for a little bit at night—putter around, make sure we’re not getting eaten by a lion—and then go back to sleep. So it’s pretty normal to like wake up in the middle of the night and use the bathroom or whatever.
Yes, it sucks when it’s 2 a.m. and you still don’t feel tired, despite knowing you need rest. But climbing into bed when you don’t feel ready for sleep is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, engage in relaxing activities (like gentle yoga and meditation or listening to soothing music) until you get the strong urge to snooze. If sleep hasn’t come within 20 minutes, get back out of bed and try relaxing activities again until you’re sleepy enough to give it another go.
There’s an epidemic and you’re part of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Americans are in the middle of a sleep loss epidemic. Nearly eight in 10 Americans say they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they had just one more hour of sleep. Getting that bit of extra sleep may seem impossible to you as you stumble out of bed every morning, but in fact there are secrets to getting more sleep that can add time to your 40 winks.
Treatment issues related to sleep and depression. Thase ME. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 2000, Aug.;61 Suppl 11():0160-6689. Most often, insomnia stems from a combination of factors, including medical and psychological issues, scheduling issues, relationships conflicts, and behavioral factors (poor bedtime routines, physical hyperactivity, watching TV right before bed, etc.).
Before setting off on this path of personal improvement, you should candidly assess your level of commitment. Are you willing to make some hard choices? Is it a good time in your life to focus on your sleep and set necessary boundaries? Can you see this process through to its end? If your life is in an uproar, now may not be the perfect opportunity to focus on your sleep. But if you're ready and willing to improve your sleep, there is no better time than the present to make some changes.
After talking with doctors and examining clinical studies, we learned that the research surrounding common remedies for restless nights, like melatonin and valerian, is often contradictory. To find the best sleep aid, it’s important to look for an active ingredient that suits your particular sleep problems — and to pay close attention to your dosage and timing.
Some sleep researchers believe that it might be normal to be awake some during the night. (The fact that you sleep straight through the night without budging may again be a sign of inadequate time spent sleeping and increased sleep pressure.) This phenomenon of being awake at night is called "quiet wakefulness" and is often observed when the sleep habits of non-Western cultures are studied. When people sleep in a group in close quarters, there is more time spent awake during the night. This makes sleep a more fluid concept. Time may be spent chatting, eating a snack or engaging others around you. In history, fragmented sleep with periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night was common, reflected in the midnight adventures seen in the plays of Shakespeare, for example.
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.