Have you ever spent hours in bed, staring at the ceiling, desperately trying to fall asleep? Insomnia affects everyone at some point, and whether it’s temporary or a lasting issue, it’s always an annoyance.
From pre-sleep anxiety to simple hormonal issues, a variety of factors can keep us awake at night. Some of these factors stem from medical issues and are difficult to fix naturally, while others are easy to diagnose and treat with nothing more than a simple change to your routine, your diet, or your lifestyle.
These ten safe, simple, and natural tactics can help you fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed. If you’ve struggled with insomnia and poor sleep, try each one for a more energising night’s sleep and less time tossing and turning.
Switch off lights 30 minutes in advance
Electricity has given us hundreds of incredible technological innovations, but it may be hampering our sleep. Keeping lights on late into the night disrupts your circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells you when to wake up and when to go to sleep.
Harvard Medical School professor Charles Czeisler, Ph.D., claims that keeping your lights on too late reduces the production of melatonin, an important hormone that prompts you to feel sleepy.
Try to switch off non-essential lights at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep in order to maximise melatonin production. Can’t turn off the lights? Put on a pair of sunglasses to artificially dim your home and speed up sleep hormone release.
Keep TVs and technology out of your bedroom
TVs and computers have the same effect on your brain as excess light – a decline in the amount of melatonin that’s produced and a sharp increase in the level of stress hormones that can be measured in your body.
Keep TVs and technology in your living room or home office, and keep them out of the bedroom if sleep is important to you. For even quicker sleep, stop using your computer or smartphone at least an hour before you get into bed.
Soak in a warm bath before you get into bed
Before you start to feel tired, your body is hard at work preparing for sleep. In the two hours before you start to feel sleepy, your body temperature starts to dip and production of sleep hormones starts to increase.
You can enhance the effects of this change in temperature by enjoying a warm bath about two hours before you go to sleep. Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., from the New York University School of Medicine, recommends a 20-30 minute soak two hours before bed.
Exercise during the daytime for faster, deeper sleep
Exercise is widely considered to be the most effective non-pharmaceutical form of treatment for insomnia. Dr Kelly Baron of Northwestern University has found that sleep and exercise are closely linked, with one having a massive effect on the other.
Dr Baron found that four 30-minute weekly exercise sessions were enough to cause a significant improvement in sleep quality for patients suffering from insomnia. It’s a small price to pay for serious benefits, ranging from better sleep to better health.
Keep pre-sleep notes to avoid bedtime anxiety
Have you ever been struck by an inspiring thought just moments before you went to bed? Leftover thoughts – whether they’re ambitious plans or silly facts – can stick in your mind and make it impossible to fall asleep.
Instead of letting your leftover thoughts keep you awake, use a diary or notebook to record your thoughts for the next day. Keep a notebook on your bedside table and jot down late-night ideas as they enter your brain to help avoid insomnia.
Drink coffee? Eliminate any afternoon caffeine
A single cup of coffee can keep you awake for as long as 14 hours, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. While five-a-day espresso addicts might not feel the effects of a single cup, light coffee drinkers are often keeping themselves awake by drinking coffee in the late afternoon.
The half-life of caffeine is about four hours – enough time for your body to rid itself of half of the drug. However, the leftover caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for half a day, causing you to struggle to fall asleep during the night.
If you’re a light coffee drinker, make sure you enjoy your last cup by 2PM. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, consider scaling back your intake as the day goes on so you’re never left awake and full of energy at midnight.
Go to sleep at a consistent bedtime
While electrical lighting and 24-hour technology make it possible to stay up all night if you want to, your body is designed for a consistent schedule of sleeping when the sun goes down and waking when it comes back up.
Set yourself a consistent bedtime – preferably at least seven hours before you plan to wake up – and make sure you’re in bed with the lights out by the time you’ve set for yourself. Consistency is key when it comes to enjoying night after night of healthy sleep.
Eat a protein and fat-heavy meal before bed
If you eat dinner at 7PM and sleep at midnight, your body may not be getting its full nutritional requirements during the night. While carb-heavy meals provide a great source of short-term energy, protein and fat-heavy meals are far better for enjoying a night of healthy, rewarding sleep.
This is because fat is your body’s diesel fuel source – a more efficient, longer lasting version of sugar’s raw petrol. A light meal of almonds, Greek yoghurt, or cottage cheese consumed about one hour before bedtime makes it easier for your to fall asleep and can even help you lose weight.
Finish your work as early as possible
Whether it’s homework or paid work, being productive late at night often makes it harder for you to fall asleep. Increased neural activity before bed slows down other parts of your brain, reducing the output of sleep hormones and increasing output of stress hormones like cortisol.
Avoiding this sleep setback is easy – turn off your computer and put away all of your work at least an hour before you sleep. The more relaxed you are when you get into bed, the easier you’ll find it to fall asleep within minutes of your bedtime.
Set your bedroom to the right temperature
The temperature of your bedroom can improve or compromise not just your sleep quality, but the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep. Just like a pre-bed bath helps induce sleep through temperature change, setting the right temperature in your bedroom helps your body fall asleep and stay asleep.
Experts recommend a bedroom temperature of 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 to 22 degrees Celsius. If you can’t fall asleep at room temperature, try adjusting your heater or air conditioner to keep your bedroom air within this range.