Stop fluffing your pillows for the millionth time, pull those covers back up under your chin, and keep reading. These expert tips for falling asleep will have you snoozing in no time.
By now we’re all familiar with the benefits of sleep — and the not-so-nice side effects of not getting enough of it. The secret to falling asleep faster is to recognize all the sleep wreckers in your life; things like long afternoon naps and caffeine before bed are sure to sabotage your sleep. Once you realize all the things you’re unknowingly doing wrong (we’re guilty of them too!), you can work to make things right.
For many people, something as simple as regulating breathing is enough to fast-track them to dreamland — no sheep necessary. Others need to spend more time creating a bedroom that encourages sleep. But no matter your sleep worry, we have a straightforward solution that will knock you out fast. Keep scrolling for expert-approved sleeping tips that will help you catch more zzzzs.
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Bedtime Routine For Adults
Establish a bedtime routine.
It’s common for people to stay busy right up until bedtime only to lie in bed tossing and turning once they decide to turn in. But your nervous system needs time to switch from “adrenaline mode” (the sympathetic nervous system) to the “digest and sleep mode” (the parasympathetic nervous system), Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, tells FirstforWomen.com.
“The main reason why people have trouble falling asleep is that they think that they can go from going 100 miles per hour to out cold,” Dr. Teitelbaum, explains. You can’t stress yourself out, ramp up your adrenaline, crank up your adrenal stress hormones, and then expect to conk out in two minutes flat.
“When it comes to falling asleep, adults are just big children,” Teitelbaum says. And just like we arrange bedtime routines for our children, so too should we do for ourselves. Think of this before-bed period as “me time” and indulge in a hot bath with epsom salt and lavender oil, a glass of your favorite wine, candles, and a teeny-tiny bite of chocolate. If you’re not a bath-taker, try reading or watching something light, like a rom-com. Routines clue in your body that it’s time to start transitioning into sleep mode.
Best Foods For Sleep
Stay full with a protein-rich before-bed snack.
Whether it’s dessert with dinner or a nibble before bed, sweet treats can cause drops in your blood sugar that wake you up in the middle of the night. This is because your adrenal glands produce adrenaline, signaling your body to make more sugar.
The trick to preventing plummeting blood-sugar levels is to graze on foods like hard-boiled eggs, meat, cheese, or fish. These may not seem like the average bedtime snack, but they’ll keep your blood sugar stable so you don’t wake up hangry at 2 a.m.
If you’re desperately craving something sweet, Teitelbaum recommends less than an ounce of high-quality chocolate. This small amount won’t trigger a blood-sugar crash, plus there’s not enough theobromine, an ingredient in chocolate that affects the body similarly to caffeine, to mess with your ability to fall asleep. Even better, a July 2017 meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients found that moderate levels of chocolate consumption reduced a person’s risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Foods With Magnesium
Try mighty magnesium.
Melatonin is the M word that comes to mind when you think of sleep — but magnesium plays an important role, too. In a December 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, older adults with insomnia who took magnesium supplements fell asleep faster, slept longer, and had better sleep efficiency (this is a measure of time spent sleeping while in bed) than participants with insomnia who were given the placebo. The group receiving the supplements also woke less frequently in the early morning hours.
“Most people are not taking in optimal levels, and it is a mineral that is deeply connected to restorative, deep, relaxing sleep by way of how it acts of neurotransmitters in the brain,” Samantha Cassetty, RD, tells FirstforWomen.com. “It also has an impact on stress and anxiety, which are two things that can interfere with sleep. Many common lifestyle [habits] and conditions can impact your magnesium absorption, [causing] people to take in an insufficient amount.”
The best way to up your magnesium intake is to eat foods that are rich in it: leafy greens, whole grains, beans, and nuts. If you prefer to take magnesium in supplement form, Cassetty recommends OMG! Nutrition ($19.99 for 30 packets, Amazon), a high-absorption magnesium glycinate supplement that won’t cause GI distress. Melatonin is a short-term fix, while magnesium can be a long-term healthy habit, explains Cassetty, an advisory board member for OMG! Nutrition.
Best Tea For Sleep
Be smart about your liquids.
When should you stop drinking caffeine? A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a substantial amount of caffeine six hours before bed was enough to disrupt sleep. So, it’s better to stop drinking caffeine earlier in the day.
If you’re still craving a cup of joe, opt for decaf. Or, better yet, try a caffeine-free herbal tea. Valerian root tea is a popular choice, as is chamomile.
As for whether it’s bad to drink alcohol before bed, Teitelbaum says one drink is fine. Excessive alcohol intake not only affects sleep quality, but it can also cause your blood sugar to plummet, exacerbating your sleep problems.
Breathing Exercises For Sleep
Breathing is something our bodies take care of without us even realizing, so it's not surprising that many people don't realize it can affect your sleep. "Breathing properly can increase relaxation and reduce tension making it easier to stay asleep," celebrity sleep coach Nick Littlehales tells FirstforWomen.com.
Two popular breathing exercises for sleep are the 4-6-7 Technique and a combined breathing and muscle relaxation method the military once used. Both routines require you to practice deep breathing, which, according to a June 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, can reduce the negative effects of stress while boosting cognitive functions.
Of course, you can't practice your deep breaths if you're all congested. If this is the case for you, a nasal strip can help open things up so you can breathe better. Littlehales recommends Breathe Right ($22.92 for 30 strips, Amazon), an easy-to-apply adhesive that lifts and opens your nasal passages.
Cozy Bedroom Ideas
Dedicate your bedroom to sleep and relaxation.
If you can train your body to only associate your bedroom with sleepy time, you may have a better chance of falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Lots of people do work in bed (it’s comfy, so we don’t blame them!), but that means your brain doesn’t automatically think it’s time to start winding down when you curl up under the covers. By using your bedroom only when it’s time to de-stress, your body will naturally start to get sleepy when you shimmy into your PJs.
A few other suggestions for turning your bedroom into a sleep haven include lowering the thermostat (the best temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees); investing in comfy sheets, pillows, and blankets; buying a white noise machine to block out street traffic, picking up blackout curtains, and even painting your room a more calming hue.
No Phones In Bed Rule
Implement a no-phones rule.
Many of us are guilty of endlessly scrolling through our Facebook feeds or playing Candy Crush before bed, but a growing body of research regarding the negative effects of blue light particularly on sleep may make you rethink your bad bedroom habits. A January 2017 paper published in the journal Translational Psychiatry noted that people who used eReaders during the four hours before bed took longer to fall asleep and were less alert in the morning. It’s not surprising then that many experts recommend ditching your phone before crawling into bed.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to this electronics ban. Phones are still great tools if you use them the right way. For example, sleep apps, white noise apps, and guided meditation apps are totally fine.
Bedtime Yoga Poses
Practice yoga or mindfulness meditation for easy, pain-free sleep.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 20 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain. Adopting a soothing bed yoga routine can ease tension in your body’s pain points and help you sleep easier at night.
If you prefer a more low-impact exercise, try mindfulness meditation. In a March 2016 paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience, participants were exposed to painful heat and asked to meditate. The people in the meditation group reported “significantly lower pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings compared to those who did not meditate.”
And not only can mindfulness be used to treat pain, but it’s also an effective sleep aid. According to an April 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation is a low-cost method of remedying “moderate” sleep problems and “sleep-related daytime impairment.” However, more study is needed to determine the effects of long-term mindfulness meditation.
Best Nap Length
Avoid long naps.
It’s easy to say, “I’m just going to rest my eyes,” only to wake up two hours later feeling groggy and disoriented. That said, dozing during the day doesn’t have to be to the detriment of your sleep. It’s all about finding the best nap length.
So, how long should you nap? The National Sleep Foundation says the ideal snooze is just 20 minutes. Once you start sleeping longer than that, your body enters deeper sleep, which leads to brain fog after a long nap. If you have an empty afternoon, you can doze for a whole 90 minutes, which is how long it will take your body to complete a sleep cycle.