Even if we don't regularly suffer from insomnia, most of us have experienced nights when we've tossed and turned, wondering why we can't fall asleep more easily.
The consequences of missing even a few hours of sleep can be significant. One study revealed that drowsy drivers who had been awake for 18 hours were just as impaired as drivers who had been drinking. The reality is that we could all use a reminder about some basic sleep routines.
Here are some steps you can take to help ensure you'll actually fall asleep once your head hits the pillow.
Do a 60-minute wind-down
If you're moving at full-speed all day, it can be tough to suddenly switch yourself "off" at night. Give your mind and body a full hour to wind down from work before you try to fall asleep. I know it’s difficult these days, but try to shut down all electronic devices at least 30 min. before getting into bed.
Take a warm bath or shower
Spending time in a steamy shower or soaking in the tub could be beneficial even if you don't need to rinse off. Your body temperature drops rapidly once you exit the shower and research shows that this decrease in temperature can trigger a sleepy feeling because your heart rate, digestion and other metabolic processes slow down. This can make it easier for your brain and body to power down, too.
Put on socks
Showering isn't the only temperature trick in the book. When it comes to optimizing your temperature for sleep, the ideal balance is a cooler core and warmer extremities. One study revealed that wearing socks dilates your blood vessels and can help blood flow, leading to a more optimal temperature for snoozing.
Try the 4-7-8 exercise
We've all been there: No matter how many times you flip over, you just can't seem to find that sweet spot that will let you slip into slumber. But instead of trying to find the perfect position, concentrate on finding the perfect way to breathe.
By deliberately changing the pattern of your inhales and exhales, you can change your heart rate and blood pressure, two systems linked to sleepiness. Many relaxation specialists recommend inhaling through your nose, focusing on filling your chest and lungs (for about three to four seconds) and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for double the time you were inhaling.
Another method, known as the "4-7-8 exercise," involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds.
Don't get in bed until you actually feel sleepy
Trying to score some extra zzz's by going to bed at 8 p.m. is a recipe for disaster. If you aren't sleepy, your body won't settle down and your sleep will actually be worse the longer you stay in bed. Eight hours of sleep is more efficient than nine to 10 hours in bed.
Okay....Can't fall asleep - get out of bed
Lying in bed and worrying about your inability to fall asleep will not help. The second you start feeling tense, go into another room until you start feeling sleepy. You want to condition your brain to associate the bed with sleeping and nothing else. Feeling frustrated can create a stress response where adrenaline increases. To combat this harmful feedback loop, divert your attention by reading, doing crossword puzzles, knitting or folding laundry until you start to feel sleepy.
Hide your clock
When you're constantly checking the time, you're putting pressure on yourself and creating a more stressful environment. Plus, your phone can pull you back into daytime stressors with every text, email or app notification. If you need to use your alarm clock or phone to ensure you get up on time, put it under the bed or in a drawer.
Vent on paper
If racing thoughts keep you up, consider writing down what's on your mind before you head to bed. Processing your feelings can help you relax into a sleepier state of mind. By writing things down or making a list of tomorrow's to-dos, you'll tame any bouncing or circular thoughts. Instead of endlessly worrying about the next day's workload, you'll have already plotted out how you'll get everything accomplished before you fall asleep.
Fall Asleep Faster