Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times -- is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.
Try “belly breathing.” Controlled, deep breathing is simply a way to direct your mind away from thoughts that might keep you awake. If you find your mind racing as you lie down to go to sleep, place a hand on your belly and breathe in deeply through your nose — so deeply that can feel the air filling your abdomen. Hold it for a couple of seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth. Breathe mindfully like this for a few minutes, just trying to focus your attention on the rising and falling of your belly as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to your breathing. The more often you practice this relaxation technique, the easier and more effective it will be.
Finally, you may find yourself turning to over-the-counter medications to help your sleep. One of the most common is a naturally occurring hormone called melatonin. It is sold in many pharmacies and herbal supplement stores. It can be highly effective if you have insomnia related to a poorly timed circadian rhythm. As it has a low risk of major side effects (the most frequent is sleepiness), it might be an option to consider. Other herbal supplements (such as valerian root) do not have a lot of research supporting their efficacy.
Valerian is one of the most common sleep remedies for insomnia. Numerous studies have found that valerian improves deep sleep, speed of falling asleep, and overall quality of sleep. However, it's most effective when used over a longer period of time. One caveat? About 10% of the people who use it actually feel energized, which may keep them awake. If that happens to you, take valerian during the day. Otherwise, take 200 to 800 milligrams before bed.
Anyway, basically your biggest zeitgeber is sunlight, and that’s the environmental cue that controls energy levels as well. But then also timing of meals, exercise, and having a consistent bedtime are all zeitgebers that impact your circadian rhythm. A bigger part of the problem is that we’re indoors so much now, so we don’t get that natural occurring sunlight when you wake up in the morning. That’s one of the best things that you can do to entrench your circadian rhythm.
Want help achieving and maintaining a healthy weight? Aim for eight hours of sleep a night. Research suggests that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin – a hormone that stimulates hunger – and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night. So make sure getting adequate sleep is near the top of your optimum health checklist!
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
“This is a stimulus control theory,” says Meltzer. “Everything in life has a stimulus value, even your bed,” meaning your body should recognize that lying in bed means it’s time to go to sleep. To give your bed that value, the only things you should be doing in it are sleep and sex, she explains. “Getting out of bed if you can’t sleep is the hardest one to do, but it’s so important. If you’re spending 10 hours in bed, but only sleeping six, that’s really bad. Your bed becomes a place for thinking, worrying, watching TV, and not for sleeping.”
If you’re anxious or distressed at bedtime, the best medicine may be a face full of ice-cold water. When you’re in a full-on state, your nervous system desperately needs to be reset to help you calm down. Submerging your face in a bowl of cold water triggers an involuntary phenomenon called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Then it’s off to bed with a soothed system.
CHEMISTS’ OWN SLEEP AID tablets belongs to a group of medicines called antihistamines. They block the action of histamine and other substances produced by the body to provide relief from allergic symptoms. Some antihistamines, including doxylamine cause the central nervous system to slow down at the same time and this provides relief for insomnia. There is no evidence that CHEMISTS’ OWN SLEEP AID tablets are addictive.
“Pregnant women see an increase in sleep problems in the first and last trimester. During the first trimester, sleep problems are caused by hormonal changes, and during the last trimester, the baby is larger and creates pressure on the diaphragm, which creates breathing problems,” Chokroverty says. “The baby also puts pressure on the bladder, so a pregnant woman needs to wake up during the night to urinate. Lower back pain and stress and anxiety during the last trimester also cause sleep disturbances.”
No matter what sleep schedule you follow, you can improve your quality of sleep through practicing certain techniques and tricks, just like any other talent or skill. Since poor sleep is generally caused by short disturbances in sleep, your overall goal should be to eliminate any factors that might interrupt your sleep cycle. Experiment with the tips for better sleep below to see which of them improve your sleep quality.
Work stress, a tall stack of bills or relationship woes can keep you up at night. To the rescue: Stress-Relax Tranquil sleep aid. The tropical fruit-flavored chewable tablets contain melatonin along with the amino acids suntheanin and 5-HTP, which work together to boost relaxation and nix stress for more restful sleep. And because the formula is fast-acting, you’ll be off to dreamland in no time.
The word meditation might make you think of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but brain training techniques can be incredibly powerful for helping you drift off. Calm features a series of guided meditation sessions lasting up to 30 minutes that can help you clear your mind at night before you sleep. Other 'mindfulness' apps to look at include Headspace and Buddhify.
The most important thing is taking that time off—it’s more conducive to your productivity. A lot of times people think they can like fight through and push harder and harder and harder to get better results, but sleep can give you that, too. When you transition in and out of sleep, your brain produces theta waves, which help you think more divergently. That’s why a lot of times when you wake up from a power nap or from sleeping, you’ll be able to solve that intractable problem that you couldn’t earlier in the day. That’s one of the reasons I think taking a break—whether it’s meditation or nap—during that circadian dip can be much more conducive to productivity.
Sleeping pills and other sleep-promoting pharmaceuticals can offer a short-term solution to a temporary bout of insomnia. And plenty of people use them. But often, prescription sleep aids come with unpleasant side effects like headaches, sore muscles, constipation, dry mouth, daytime fatigue, trouble concentrating, dizziness, and more. Add them all up, and they’re about as bad—if not worse–than your garden variety sleep deprivation.
Insomnia usually becomes a problem if it occurs on most nights and causes distress or daytime effects such as fatigue, poor concentration, and irritability. It predisposes to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders; to physical problems such as infections, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes; and to motoring and other accidents. The relationship between insomnia and psychological symptoms is far from simple, as insomnia can both cause, and be caused by, depression, anxiety, and stress, opening up a vicious circle.
The thalamus acts as a relay for information from the senses to the cerebral cortex (the covering of the brain that interprets and processes information from short- to long-term memory). During most stages of sleep, the thalamus becomes quiet, letting you tune out the external world. But during REM sleep, the thalamus is active, sending the cortex images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams.
“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.
There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when you don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.
Time to bust some long-held myths: Waking up early does not make you a better person. The early bird does not always catch the worm. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock, and it’s going to look different to your neighbor’s. When you go to sleep and wake up in accordance with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’ll sleep better, and be more alert and productive during the day. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, identified four sleep chronotypes (aka your circadian rhythm personality). These are:
Taking a nap might seem counter-intuitive to good nighttime sleep, but short naps of 10 to 30 minutes actually help you gain extra energy during the day and don’t disrupt your sleep. Even a 10-minute nap can improve your alertness for 2-and-a-half hours if you’re sleep-deprived, and you can feel the benefit for up to 4 hours if you are well-rested.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic “number of sleep hours” that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development (especially of the brain). School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
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).