Sleep deprivation is the worst: Just ask any new parent or a college student cramming for finals. When you can’t give your body the sleep it truly needs, your whole life is off-kilter.
Sometimes, you actually have the time to sleep, but can’t get your body to cooperate. If this sounds like you, we have some things to try that can help you get precious ZZZs.
1. Wear socks
According to the National Sleep Foundation, having toasty tootsies causes vasodilation (dilation of the blood vessels), which sends a signal to your brain that it’s nighttime.
But socks are not for everyone: If you’re one of those who just have to let your toes roam free, try an extra blanket on your feet. Or take a chance on Grandma’s old-fashioned standby, a hot-water bottle.
2. The 4-7-8 breathing method
Dr. Andrew Weil, the director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, teaches the “4-7-8 Breath” method, which goes like this:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
- Then, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale audibly through your mouth again, but this time, count to eight while doing so.
These steps are one breath cycle. Rest the tip of your tongue on the ridge just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. Repeat the steps. (You can watch a video here.)
Once you’ve tried it once or twice, you’ll realize it’s not that difficult, and the deep, cleansing breaths put you in the ideal relaxed state for sleeping.
3. Ditch the screens before bed
In this day and age, not looking at a smartphone, laptop or tablet computer before bedtime can seem almost unnatural. Many of us claim that looking at these devices is how we wind down, whether reading online articles, catching up on email, or flipping through Facebook or Twitter.
But our beloved screens emit a kind of artificial light called blue light that the human brain interprets as daylight. And the last thing we need before sleep is for our brain to think it’s high noon.
You don’t have to give up the phone completely, but try to put it away for an hour before you want to nod off.
4. Can’t ditch the screens? Dim them
If you just can’t give up the screens before bed, at least dim them. You can use a program like f.lux to make your screen’s brightness always match the room you’re in, or you can manually dim your screens.
Another tip is to dim your home lights several hours before you start to get ready for bed, as if you’re preparing to close your eyes.
For more on this technique, check out “How Cheap Light Bulbs Let Me Sleep Soundly.”
5. Get blackout curtains
What kind of window coverings are in your bedroom? Light-colored, pretty curtains? Blinds or shades that you always forget to pull? To promote sound sleep, you want to make your sleeping area as cave-like as possible, so look into what are called blackout curtains.
These curtains don’t have to be black in color, but they often come with a liner to block outside light for extra sleep-inducing darkness. Many stores — including Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target — carry them.
6. Try soothing scented oils
Scent is an incredibly powerful and underrated sense. This is obvious if you’ve ever sniffed the kind of Chanel perfume your grandmother wore years after you last saw her, and suddenly felt her presence.
Now you can use scent to your advantage. Certain smells — including orange, lemon, lavender, rose and geranium — are known to be sleep-friendly. You can find essential oil versions of these in your favorite health-food store (or Whole Foods). For a scented sleep assist, try one of the following:
- Dab a few drops on a cotton ball to be placed on or under your pillow.
- Apply behind your ear.
- Add a few drops to a relaxing nighttime bath.
7. Skip the nightcap
The word “nightcap” makes it sounds like an alcoholic drink before bed is a perfect remedy for insomnia. Here’s the dilemma: While it may help you get to sleep, doctors say your alcohol-induced sleep will be restless and unsatisfying.
8. Stick to a comforting bedtime routine
So much of getting to sleep is mental, not physical. Begin now to develop a pre-sleep routine that you stick to every night, and soon your mind will begin to associate the items on your to-do list with slumber.
You might incorporate a combination of the steps listed above — for example, put on those cozy socks and skip the smartphone. It’s worth the ramp-up time to get the routine established. After all, sleep is the one thing we never get tired of.
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