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.
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 pineal gland, located within the brain’s two hemispheres, receives signals from the SCN and increases production of the hormone melatonin, which helps put you to sleep once the lights go down. People who have lost their sight and cannot coordinate their natural wake-sleep cycle using natural light can stabilize their sleep patterns by taking small amounts of melatonin at the same time each day. Scientists believe that peaks and valleys of melatonin over time are important for matching the body’s circadian rhythm to the external cycle of light and darkness.
Scientists continue to learn about the function and regulation of sleep. A key focus of research is to understand the risks involved with being chronically sleep deprived and the relationship between sleep and disease. People who are chronically sleep deprived are more likely to be overweight, have strokes and cardiovascular disease, infections, and certain types of cancer than those who get enough sleep. Sleep disturbances are common among people with age-related neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Many mysteries remain about the association between sleep and these health problems. Does the lack of sleep lead to certain disorders, or do certain diseases cause a lack of sleep? These, and many other questions about sleep, represent the frontier of sleep research.
Maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time all seven days of the week is important for quality slumber (yes, even on the weekend!). “People stay out late on Friday night after a long week, then sleep in the next morning, which carries over to Sunday; then you have Sunday night insomnia, which sets you up for sleep debt during the week, and it becomes a cycle,” says Dr. Dasgupta. (Do you have a sleep disorder? Answer these 5 questions to find out.)
Gaia is a premium option at $0.30 per serving. However the valerian is sourced from the company’s organic farm in North Carolina, and each bottle comes with an ID number that allows you to track the batch and learn more about the source of your supplement on the manufacturer’s website. If you’re conscious about organic products, the price may be worth it, but know that there are cheaper valerian options out there.
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.
But then something changed starting at around the ninth night. And honestly, I can’t be sure if it was due to the technique itself or the sheer boredom caused by trying to calm my body into a lump-like state. I relaxed my muscles and visualized swinging in a velvety hammock. And the next thing I knew, it was around 3 a.m., and I woke up, awkwardly splayed over my bed, with my feet still touching the floor and the bedside light still on. I was deeply tired and only woke enough to swing my legs into bed and turn off the lamp.
Memory consolidation: While you sleep, the brain repeatedly replays remembered events from that day; if these phases are interrupted, memories aren’t fully formed, or even not formed at all. This is part of what helps you learn new skills. One study found that mice doing an hour’s training followed by sleep would ‘learn more’ than mice who did three hours of training but were then sleep deprived. This process is the result of connections forming between neurons, which happens more often during sleep.
“Usually products that you put under your tongue are absorbed quicker because that area of your mouth is very viscous,” explained Dr. Breus, “as opposed to pill that you swallow that has to be broken down in your stomach, where you stomach acid will eat up half of it.” This gives it an edge over chewable tablets or gummies, which both have to be chewed and swallowed.
You’ve got an early day tomorrow, and you know you should be asleep — but instead you’re just lying there, wide awake, watching the minutes tick by on the clock. It’s called sleep-onset insomnia, and the irony is, the more you worry about falling asleep, the less likely you’ll be able to. But there are some easy things you can do to break the cycle. Below we discuss simple changes to your lifestyle and your sleep environment that can help you fall asleep faster and get a more restful night’s sleep.