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.
Finally, we checked our remaining contenders for any deal breakers. Was the bottle impossible to open? Were the pills too big or too oddly shaped to swallow? Most of our finalists passed these tests with flying colors, but several natural options fell short on one critical metric — smell. A pill that smells unappetizing is a turn-off, and most of our valerian supplements had an old-sock odor that might discourage us from ever opening the bottle.
Even without considering genetics and age, the National Sleep Foundation's 2008 Sleep in America poll found that many adults are apparently not meeting their sleep needs, sleeping an average of only 6 hours and 40 minutes during the week, and about 7.5 hours on the weekends.2 How can you tell if your sleep is adequate and meets your needs? Sleep scientists and physicians have a variety of methods to help determine if you are getting enough sleep.
You may be doing all the right things—respecting your sleep needs and patterns, setting aside an ample amount of time to sleep, keeping a sleep diary—but still experiencing daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or insomnia. If that's the case, you should consider consulting a sleep specialist who can help you set up a better sleep environment, provide support for making behavioral changes that may be interfering with sleep, or possibly diagnose a sleep disorder. You have a right to feel well rested—and there are many resources available to help you get the sleep you need.
A smart tip for jetsetters: Pack melatonin supplements, such as Natrol Melatonin Fast Dissolve Tablets. The supplement helps your body better adjust to the new time zone, allowing you to fall asleep come bedtime and avoid jet lag. But the sleep aid isn’t just for jet lag. You can also pop the tablets when you have occasional sleepiness or when your sleep schedule shifts and you need to get your body into sleep mode. It’s recommended that you start with a small 1 mg dose (take it 20 minutes before bedtime). You can slowly increase your dosage, but don’t exceed 10 mg.
Eighteen leading scientists and researchers came together to form the National Sleep Foundation’s expert panel tasked with updating the official recommendations. The panelists included six sleep specialists and representatives from leading organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Anatomists, American College of Chest Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Geriatrics Society, American Neurological Association, American Physiological Society, American Psychiatric Association, American Thoracic Society, Gerontological Society of America, Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, and Society for Research in Human Development. The panelists participated in a rigorous scientific process that included reviewing over 300 current scientific publications and voting on how much sleep is appropriate throughout the lifespan.
Even if you’re exhausted, try to stick to within 30 minutes of your normal bedtime. Going to bed hours earlier than usual may throw your body’s normal rhythm out of whack, says Dr. Emsellem. “Sticking to a routine is key to keeping insomnia at bay. While you may hate being locked into a schedule, your brain likes following a pattern.” Likewise, daytime napping, even if you slept poorly the night before, is also a no-no if you’re prone to insomnia.
A lot of people don’t understand that these are two very, very different processes. A lot of people probably learned from basic psych in high school that you have these sleep stages: light sleep > deep sleep > light sleep > REM, and repeat. As you sleep more, you get less and less deep sleep, and also if you sleep-deprive yourself, you get more deep sleep.
Fortunately, doing that is easier than you might think. Below, we’ll take a look at the multitude of lifestyle changes—both big and small—that you can make to help you sleep better. We’ll also explore proven herbal remedies that can give you a relaxation boost when you really need it, minus the side effects that tend to come with prescription meds.
It may sound hippy dippy, but if you focus on it effectively, daydreaming about relaxing scenes can really help ease your mind. During visualization, know that it’s OK if your mind wanders but keep returning your focus to the scene. Try out different methods and audio tracks to see what works best for you. Visualization can also be a helpful mid-day stress reliever to keep in mind.
When figuring out how much sleep you need, it’s important to know your sleep debt as well as your basal sleep need. Many people assume that if they lose an hour of sleep, they just need to get an extra hour of sleep the next night; however, you also have to make up for the extra hour that you were awake and your increased activity during this time. Using your basal sleep need as a foundation, you can determine your sleep debt and adjust it based on how tired you feel or how much extra sleep you think you need.
SOUND: We focus on sound a lot. Quiet environments are going to improve your sleep quality. Your brain has these micro arousals throughout the night without you being consciously aware of it—even an air-conditioning unit turning on wakes up your brain. So blocking out noises is a low-hanging fruit to improve your sleep quality. Bose just released an earbud that you can sleep with, for example.
Abdominal breathing. Most of us don’t breathe as deeply as we should. When we breathe deeply and fully, involving not only the chest, but also the belly, lower back, and ribcage, it can actually help the part of our nervous system that controls relaxation. Close your eyes and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make each exhale a little longer than each inhale.
One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us solidify and consolidate memories. As we go about our day, our brains take in an incredible amount of information. Rather than being directly logged and recorded, however, these facts and experiences first need to be processed and stored; and many of these steps happen while we sleep. Overnight, bits and pieces of information are transferred from more tentative, short-term memory to stronger, long-term memory—a process called "consolidation." Researchers have also shown that after people sleep, they tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.
Set a Routine. If you get up early one morning and then sleep in the next, it can be hard to fall into a rhythm. For the 17 percent of Americans who do shift work, an erratic schedule may be part of the job. But if that doesn't apply to you, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times every day can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.