Fall Asleep Faster
The red numbers floating in the darkness of my bedroom were tormenting me, and the coming day deteriorated further with every passing minute. At 1 a.m. I was annoyed that I was still awake. By 2 a.m. I was angry, and by 3 a.m. I had completely given up on the next day -- before I had even fallen asleep.
The Centers for Disease Control have declared that "insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic," and it seems they're not exaggerating. "A minimum of 40 percent -- and up to 70 percent -- of the population has various types of sleep disorders, either acute or chronic," says Dr. William Kohler, medical director at the Florida Sleep Institute.
Per the CDC, sleep deprivation isn't just about being tired: It's "associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions -- such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression." It has also been linked to weight fluctuation and impaired cognitive function.
Care for a scarier stat? According to a 2009 CDC sleep study, up to 7.2 percent of respondents claimed to have nodded off or fallen asleep while driving within the previous month, and up to 43 percent reported falling asleep unintentionally during the day.
Do you have trouble getting all the sleep you need? See if you can relate to any of these excuses:
But… I feel like I'm always running until I fall into bed exhausted every night. Creating an evening ritual that helps you wind down is an important part of switching from daytime running mode to nighttime resting mode. "Each evening, I take my time preparing for sleep," says Shanan Kelley, a yoga teacher and entrepreneur in Bend, Oregon. "I bathe and take care of my teeth. I apply oil to my body and moisturize my face. I unplug everything in my home except for my fridge. I shut my phone and all computers down completely, to minimize the electromagnetic field in my home. I then light a small beeswax candle, get into bed and put on my eye pillow. The candle burns for 15 to 20 minutes -- the perfect amount of time to fall asleep without having to worry about blowing the candle out." Decide what time you'll start winding down every night, then create your own ritual and follow it step by step. Soon, the routine itself will train your brain to realize it's bedtime.
But… I have a glass of wine (or a beer) each evening to wind down, and even that doesn't help. Seems counterintuitive, but booze may actually be harmful to your sleep. "Alcohol has been used for eons to help put people to sleep," says Dr. Kohler. "But once it puts you to sleep, it also metabolizes and becomes an irritant that disrupts the quality of your sleep. So even though it might be beneficial [for helping you] get to sleep, it has significant negative consequences for [your ability to] stay asleep."
But… I can't fall asleep without watching TV in bed. There's compelling evidence that watching TV before bed curtails the amount of sleep we get. A New Zealand study, published in Pediatrics, adds to previous evidence that the more television children watch in the evening, the less sleep they get. While this study focused on kids, there's no reason to think there's a different outcome for adults, so turn off the telly at least an hour before bedtime.
But… there's always one last text or email to send from my phone or laptop. We all love our fancy devices, but those backlit displays may be getting between you and your precious Z's. "We are having an absolute increase in sleep disorders due to our lifestyles, particularly among people who are using cellphones and texting at night," says Dr. Kohler. A study conducted at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center found that two or more hours of exposure to backlit devices can suppress melatonin by as much as 22 percent. "Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using the devices prior to bedtime," said Mariana Figueiro, associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
But… I toss and turn in bed for hours each night. It may seem counterintuitive, but per some experts, you may want to go ahead and get up if you don't start snoozing within 20 minutes. Leave the bedroom and do something relaxing: read, listen to soothing music, meditate. Don't try to "get stuff done," and don't turn on the TV or computer. Return to bed when you feel sleepy, and if necessary, repeat the process again. You are training yourself to know that bed is sleeping, not for tossing and turning.
But… I always end up going to bed at different times every night. See tip number 1 on the list above? Experts agree that creating a sleep schedule and sticking to it is crucial to good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at about the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning, even on Saturday and Sunday. Your sleep program will become routine, and your body will become habitualized to falling asleep faster.
But… all the clutter in my bedroom distracts me. Experts from the Mayo Clinic and the National Sleep Foundation agree: Just use your bedroom for sleeping and sex, and resist the urge to read, work, watch TV or eat in bed. That way, your bedroom will become a relaxing sanctuary, and you'll feel an instant calm when you enter the room.