Can’t sleep? Well, you’re not alone.
Welcome to the world of nocturnal beings, or as science puts it – insomnia.
According to research, an international survey on sleep problems in the general population showed a high prevalence of insomnia e.g. 23% in Japan, 56% in the United States. With that, 47%–67% did not seek medical attention for their sleep difficulties, making it an undertreated problem.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty of falling asleep, staying asleep, or causing you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.
Although it may not directly lead to death, the lack of sleep can make you irritable and foggy. Other than that, here are some of the serious effects of sleep loss:
- It can cause accidents
- It dumbs you down
- It can result in serious health problems
- It kills your sex drive
- It can make you anxious and depressed
- It ages your skin
- It makes you gain weight
Symptoms of Insomnia
Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. But if you have difficulty sleeping, you will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- You can’t sleep at night
- You wake up during the night
- You wake up too early
- You don’t feel well-rested after a night’s sleep
- You feel tired during the daytime
- You are irritable, depressed, or anxious
- You have difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
- You worry about your sleep pattern
The good thing is that insomnia is treatable. Treatment options range from behavioral therapy to the use of prescription medication.
But if your insomnia is not chronic, you can try these steps to fall asleep fast:
1. Try reverse psychology
An experimental investigation was conducted at the University of Glasgow using paradoxical intention (PI), a cognitive treatment approach. A small group was instructed to lay in bed and try to stay awake with their eyes open and the result was surprising.
Participants in the PI group showed a significant reduction in sleep effort and sleep performance anxiety which made them fall asleep easier.
People with insomnia often complain of anticipatory anxiety leading up to bedtime, which interferes with the ability to fall asleep.
They worry that it will take a long time before they get to sleep, and think about how difficult the next day will be because they haven’t got enough sleep.
Paradoxically, if you change the goal from desperately trying to fall asleep to trying to stay awake, the anxiety around falling asleep will decrease, making it easier for it to happen.
So the next time you can’t sleep, do not focus on sleeping. Try to stay awake. It might do the trick for you.
Lisa Meltzer, an education scholar for the National Sleep Foundation and associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health in Denver said:
“I always tell people, sleep is the one thing in life where the harder you try and the harder you work at it, the more likely it is you’ll fail. Reverse psychology is not a long-term solution, but it can help.”
2. Your bed should only be for sleeping (and sex)
Your bed should be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re sleepy. This is called the stimulus control theory.
It is said to exist when an organism consistently behaves in some way in the presence of a discriminative stimulus.
For example, when you see your bed, you should only think of sleeping in it and not associating your bed with being awake, according to Richard Wiseman, professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and author of Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep.
Meltzer backed this up, saying:
“This is a stimulus control theory. Everything in life has a stimulus value, even your bed. 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.”
The next time you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed and do an activity like a jigsaw puzzle or a coloring book.
3. Stay away from the TV and digital screens
Melatonin is a hormone that plays an important role in your natural sleep-wake cycle. But when you expose yourself to blue light, such as TV or phones, your sleep pattern is affected negatively.
According to Harvard research, blue light wavelengths produced by electronics and overhead lights suppresses the production of melatonin. The lesser the melatonin levels, the hard it will be for you to fall asleep fast.
“In terms of light and our brains, there is a spectrum of wavelengths that impacts the human circadian system. Blue light is the most sensitive side of the spectrum.” – David Earnest, a professor and circadian rhythms expert at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.
To prevent insomnia and get better sleep, avoid using artificial light altogether. The ideal environment for sleep should be dim so your body can start naturally producing melatonin.
Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute added:
“To prevent sleeping problems, avoid any exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed. That means, no TV, tablets, computers or smartphones.”
4. Avoid looking at the time
According to Lisa Meltzer:
“If you stare at the clock, it increases your stress and worry about not falling asleep.”
Constantly checking the time will only increase your stress, thus making it harder to turn off your brain and nervous system. Try to hide the clock, unless you really need to wake up at a certain time.
5. Cool your room
According to Harvard Medical School, our bodies begin to lose some heat to the environment just before we fall asleep. Researchers believe that the drop in your body temperature helps you to sleep.
This is the reason why the National Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temperature of 60 to 67 degrees F for the most sleep-friendly conditions.
“The secret is cool, dark, comfortable bedrooms. Darkness cues the brain to make melatonin, which tells your interior clock that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin cools your internal body temperature, which reaches its lowest point between 2 and 4 a.m.,” says Meltzer.
6. Take a warm shower
A warm shower an hour before bed makes your body temperature drop and rapid temperature decrease slows your metabolism faster and helps you sleep faster. According to Meltzer:
“Showers can also be very relaxing, so that helps, too. If you shower every night around the same time, making it part of a consistent bedtime routine, you’ll see the most sleep value from it. Then your body has an expectation of what’s coming next.”
7. Warm your feet and hands
According to a Swiss study, warm feet and hands were the best predictors of rapid sleep onset. In the same study, the participants placed a hot water bottle at their feet. It widened the blood vessels on the surface of the skin and increased heat loss.
8. Immerse your face in very cold water
It may be surprising to know but a face full of ice-cold water could help you sleep faster. Think of it as a way to reset your nervous system especially when you’re anxious.
This technique comes from the Mammalian Dive Reflex theory, a remarkable behavior that overrides basic homeostatic reflexes. When you submerge your face in a bowl of cold water, it lowers your heart rate and blood pressure to help you sleep.
(To learn more about the benefits of taking a freezing, cold shower every day including helping your insomnia, click here)
9. Use the “4-7-8” method
The 4-7-8 method is a breathing technique purported to help you fall asleep fast. It does so by increasing the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, slowing your heart rate, and releasing more carbon dioxide from the lungs. Thus, you will feel relaxed and sleeping will come easily.
According to DrWeil.com, here’s the proper way to do it:
1. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
2. Exhale completely through your mouth around your tongue, making a whoosh sound.
3. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose, count to four
4. Hold your breath and count to seven.
5. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
6. Repeat 1-5 three more times for a total of four breaths.
(To learn more breathing exercises to help you relax, check out this article that covers three of them here)
10. Use lavender to relax
Some people respond well to aromatherapy which is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being.
According to AromaWeb, lavender is one of the most popular herbs not only because of its lovely smell but also because of the benefits it can give such as being able to relax your nerves, lower your blood pressure, and promote a calm environment.
In fact, research backs up its use for sleep loss in a 2005 study at Wesleyan University. The results show that subjects who sniffed lavender oil for two minutes at three, 10-minute intervals before bedtime were able to sleep fast and felt more vigorous in the morning.
“Some people respond really well to scents,” added Meltzer. “If they’re breathing it in deeply, it can help them clear their minds. Also, if it’s part of a bedtime routine, that might be the secret.”
11. Visualize your happy place
If counting sheep keeps your mind awake, try to visualize your favorite place where you feel calm and happy. A study states that distraction with imagery is more successful because the visualization occupies sufficient “cognitive space” to keep the individual from re-engaging with thoughts, worries, and concerns during the pre-sleep period.
The insomniacs who were instructed to imagine a relaxing scene fell asleep 20 minutes faster than insomniacs who were told to count sheep or do nothing special at all.
12. Listen to relaxing music
According to a 2008 study, music improves sleep quality in students. Classical music or those that have a slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can help make you sleep faster.
Aside from the significant improvement in sleep quality, their depressive symptoms also decreased statistically.
13. Blowing bubbles help you sleep faster
Who would think that a simple activity will help you sleep faster?
It works because blowing bubbles require a process of deep breathing to blow. According to Rachel Marie E. Salas, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:
“It’s like a deep breathing exercise, which helps calm your body and mind. And since it’s such a silly activity, it can also take your mind off of any potential sleep-thwarting thoughts.”
14. Practice progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation is a deep relaxation technique introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s. It has been effectively used to help people sleep faster and involves slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle in your body to help your body relax.
To do this, start by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes. Then, work your way up to your neck and head or you can start with your head and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
15. Practice acupressure
Acupressure is an alternative traditional Chinese therapy which believes that a network of energy flows through specific points in your body. When these channels are blocked, illness can occur. Thus, pressing on these points will help restore balance and regulate your mind, body, and spirit.
The four best acupressure points to help you sleep faster are the Neiguan, Shimien, Shenmen, and Anmien.
I know there will be some nights when falling asleep won’t be easy. But with the simple strategies mentioned above, your sleep quality will be improved if done properly.
Remember, you spend about one-third of your life sleeping. You better do it right this time.
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