How to Fall Asleep
Sleep is vital to our health. Lack of sleep can lead to cognitive impairment in as little as forty-eight hours, and other health problems soon follow. Lack of sleep causes memory loss, trouble with concentration, and other serious medical, neurological, and psychiatric problems. REM sleep is an important part of natural rest, and without sleep your body will suffer.
People who have trouble falling asleep have plenty of options. Insomnia is usually caused by one of several factors, from the comfort level in your sleeping space to more serious health problems. Here’s a breakdown of what could be keeping you from falling asleep, and some tactics to get around these troubles.
Some foods are known to help you fall asleep. You should eat lots of carbohydrates, fruits like bananas, and snack foods like peanuts and figs. These, along with milk, contain a chemical called tryptophan, a natural sleep aid.
Good snacks to eat if you have sleep troubles include cookies and milk, lettuce, bananas, and whole grain bread.
Foods to avoid when you have trouble sleeping are those high in protein. Protein containing foods have high levels of a chemical called tyrosine that is known to keep people awake. Spicy foods are a no-no at bed time because they can cause indigestion and keep you awake.
Other diet tips for sleep health:
- Never eat a large meal close to bedtime. Large meals can give you acid reflux or heartburn, either of which will keep you wide awake.
- Never go to bed hungry. Being hungry, like being hot or cold, will make it impossible to fall asleep.
- Try to reduce your intake of the good stuff in life — that means no nicotine, sugar, alcohol, or caffeine.
Getting proper exercise during the day is a great way to ensure good sleep — just make sure not to work out anywhere near your bedtime.
Exercising within three hours of trying to fall asleep is a losing battle. Exercise excites and awakens our brains for up to three hours after we finish working out. Exercise also directly impacts our level of melatonin, a chemical needed to get us to sleep.
You should exercise every day — just not near your bedtime. Work out during the day or (at worst) in the late afternoon. You should always try to work out first thing in the morning. This kind of workout keeps you awake and jump-starts your metabolism.
For some people, naps are as refreshing as a short workout. If you’re a napper, you may find yourself having trouble becoming tired at the end of the day. There’s nothing wrong with a nap, but you may consider only napping every other day, or limiting the length of your nap.
You should avoid taking naps whenever possible, but when you must get some shut-eye during the day, limit it to a “power nap” of 15 minutes. Any longer nap will make it harder for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is hard work — no booze, no cigarettes, and no naps. Eight hours sleep every night is such a big part of health, you can afford to give up a beer and a nap every now and again.
No-brainer here. Stress can interrupt your sleep cycle.
If you know you have lots of stress, you’ll need to reduce your stress level before trying to fall off to sleep. Call it stress, worry, or anxiety — all of it (along with depression) can really interrupt your ability to sleep. Stress management means finding positive ways to deal with stress, like exercise, yoga, relaxation, therapy, meditation, visualization, or any number of other methods. If you are dealing with anxiety or serious trauma, or find yourself a little depressed, it is normal for your sleep cycle to be interrupted.
If stress is the cause of your daily struggle with sleep, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from medication therapy, such as antidepressants or even sleeping pills. Unlike the sleeping pills our grandparents took, today’s sleep medication carries little to no risk of dependency and many of these pills are safe for long term use. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any medication.
If your bed and your bedroom aren’t comfortable, you’re not going to fall asleep. If your bed is too hard or soft, too lumpy or firm, or if your mattress is more than five years old, it may be time for an upgrade. Remember, an investment in your bed is an investment in your sleep and your health, so go ahead and buy a nice mattress for yourself.
Other bedroom problems include things like the room temperature. If your room is consistently too cold or too hot, it is no wonder you’re having trouble passing out. Smart people tell us that ideal room temperature for sleep is between 61 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Those same smart people say that any temperatures higher or lower can really affect your ability to fall asleep. Choosing bed sheets that wick away sweat naturally is the final piece of the puzzle for many people.
Environment (Noise and Light)
For me, noise is the biggest hindrance to sleep. When you focus on a noise while trying to fall asleep, you’ll soon grow frustrated with your inability to drift off, making it even less likely that you’ll go to sleep normally. Street noise is the toughest to combat, as you’ll have to install double glazed windows or put up thick shutters to block it.
If the noise that keeps you up is something inside your house, you can easily solve your sleep problem. Consider closing your bedroom door and blocking out noise from the rest of your home — or walk around and determine the source of that annoying noise that’s keeping you awake and take care of it.
For many people, a device called a white noise machine can block out most noises that keep them awake. These machines produce a neutral sound, similar to the whirring of fan blades, that blocks out noise. For some people, a ceiling fan is all that’s needed for them to get their forty winks.
As for light pollution — using a low level of light as you fall asleep is critical. Try making your room as dark as possible, using blackout curtains or blinds to make the room totally dark. Cover up items that produce light — put a towel over your alarm clock. If all else fails, try a simple sleeping mask.
Missing out on sleep can really hurt you physically and mentally. People who lack sleep perform poorly at work, can’t concentrate, become nervous and angry easily, and just generally look ill. Take a look at your patterns and determine if any of the above factors are to blame for your lack of sleep.