1 in 3 adults is sleep deprived. That’s what the Center for disease control (CDC) said back in 2016. I can only imagine it getting worse today. This article will show you how to fall asleep when you can’t, and we’ll discuss a few healthy sleeping habits to improve the quality of your sleep.
We know sleep is important. There is abundant research which shows that sleep is necessary for a myriad of biological and psychological functions. Quality sleep is a key part of being a physically and mentally healthy human.
The lack of sleep has detrimental effects on us. Poor sleep:
- Deteriorates physical health
- Deteriorates mental health
- Compromises cognitive function
- Compromises daily functioning and relationships
Even though we know that a good night’s sleep adds significant value to our lives, sometimes we can’t sleep. We don’t get sleep even if we are exhausted.
Then the golden question is – how do we get some nice healthy, relaxing, cozy sleep and wake up feeling rested?
In this post, I’ll describe 7 ways to get a good night’s sleep. These are research-based tips so you can rely on them and expect real tangible results.
7 Ways To Fall Asleep
If you cannot get sleep, this is what you should try out.
1. Wear socks and warm your feet
Some people love socks, some don’t. The thing about socks is that socks cover 2 of our appendages that play a role in regulating the body temperature. When our body transitions into sleep, the core temperature of the body begins to fall and reaches its all-time low in about 4 hours. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, signals heat-loss that makes us drowsy. When heat exits the body, a cascade of biological reactions occur that initiate sleep.
Because heat loss is easy from the hands and feet, the sock hack works remarkably. In a process called Vasodilation, blood vessels dilate (expand) and it is easy for heat to exit the body. This lowers the core temperature. Socks (and other warming techniques) warm the feet which increases vasodilation. The vasodilation triggers heat loss. Once there is heat loss, the brain receives feedback signals based on the body temperature relaying the message ‘it is time to sleep, take control, and do it’.
Having a warm water bath before sleeping has a similar effect. Right after bathing, the body begins to cool down. This cooling down is again associated with sleep initiation.
The characteristic of sleep which is lowered body temperature is used to slingshot into sleep by sort of tricking the brain. Warming feet (and hands) by wearing socks/gloves or heating in warm water can be a safe way to reduce sleep-onset delay.
Healthy sleeping tip: Wear socks, have a warm bath, warm your feet and hands.
2. Use blue light filters
This trick has become a common sleep hack as of 2018. Tonnes of blog posts cover it and tonnes of technology experts promote it. There are spectacles that have a blue light filter, there are phone and computer applications that remove a specific wavelength of light that we call ‘blue’. It’s a really narrow wavelength so we don’t really feel the change in overall color. It is easy to implement this hack as one can buy blue light filtering spectacles or download mobile and computer apps to remove the blue light emitted from screens.
Research shows that blue light does, in fact, interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin (a hormone that facilitates sleep), Suppression is bad for a healthy sleep routine. Not just that, as discussed in the previous point, a gradual drop in body temperature facilitates sleep and reduces the sleep onset time. Blue light seems to affect that as well. Overall, the research found that blue light disturbs the circadian cycle (internal body clocks), reduces sleep time and quality, and induces tiredness. Our eyes are more sensitive to this light, this the effect of this particular wavelength is a lot stronger than other forms of light.
However, blue light is not always bad. Bluelight from screens during the day reduced the chances of day-time sleepiness, improved alertness, and attention by increasing reaction time and the attention span (duration of how your attention).
Use blue light filters at night for a healthier sleep cycle if you use a screen, or just avoid digital screens.
Healthy sleeping tip: Use blue light filters on your devices. They are usually free and available in app stores. This hack is about minimizing damages; not a full-fledged solution.
3. Avoid procrastination
We all do it, don’t we? We like to put things off until ‘next time.’ Procrastination and quality of sleep have an intimate relationship. First, let us look at the key aspects of procrastination. Procrastination involves creating a sort of distance between an activity and now. It also involves a perceived anxiety about the outcome of a certain activity that you want to avoid. Perhaps its just intimidation or doing an activity or a confrontation that could take a mental toll. It’s natural to procrastinate when the activity has some uncertainty, overwhelming complexity, and anxiety associated with it.
Sleep, on the other hand, is literally filling up the distance with a lack of awareness. But, if procrastination is a habit, one still doesn’t want to complete the activity. And then, sleep, which forms a buffer between the activity and ‘now’, is further delayed.
If you wish to learn how to kill your habit of procrastination, use this strategy.
Procrastination can directly delay the onset of sleep, in fact, now it has a term: sleep procrastination.
Healthy sleeping tip: Don’t procrastinate, complete the work you’ve planned to do.
4. Spend your day productively and reduce worry
Chances are your day will be more productive if you do not procrastinate. This is an extension of the previous point. Productive days are often characterized by finishing tasks, feeling satisfied with the work, and a readiness to end the day. An unproductive period of life or a new form of stress is a source of worry and stress, especially before bed because it is the day’s end. Worrying in bed can impair sleep, increase sympathetic nervous activity, and reduce parasympathetic nervous activity. The sympathetic nervous system alerts the body and the parasympathetic system relaxes it. So worry stimulated the body and hinders relaxation.
Thinking, or overthinking, before sleep is often mixed with feelings of dread, guilt, anxiety, self-loathing, and critical self-assessment about life, productivity, relationships, unfinished work, and future work. Such thinking can delay the start of sleep and even worsen the quality of sleep. Evidence suggests that work-related rumination has delayed effects on sleep and rest – stress today can affect sleep quality in a few days.
This has 2 implications for bedtime: One, recurring thoughts of incomplete work are less likely to keep you awake; and two, you may have recurring thoughts about the next day’s work. In the former outcome, transitioning to sleep might get easier. In the latter, sleep gets no benefit from your productivity. But this can be dealt with too. Develop a routine conducive to productivity. This will help you feel you are in control of your work and can manage the tasks at hand.
It would help if you can jot down your tasks and duties so you can plan them beforehand. Just being aware of your work is also enough to really know where you stand with respect to productivity. The added benefit is that your counter-act work-related stress. Especially the stress that comes from a lack of clarity about your work.
Healthy sleeping tip: Create a productive routine
5. Prioritize your mental health to reduce sleep disturbances
Poor sleep is a characteristic of or a diagnostic criterion for many mental health problems (general issues & disorders). The body and the mind are so well integrated that there are feedback mechanisms where one affects the other in simple and complex ways. Sleep is a complex way. Trauma can lead to night terrors, night terrors could lead to inadequate sleep, this could lead to fatigue at work, fatigue at work may lower productivity, leaving you burdened, and finally, it may again interfere with your sleep quality. This becomes a vicious circle.
The role of sleep in coping with mental health problems is a very broad topic. A few factors jump. Quality of sleep is associated with both physical well being and psychological wellbeing, obsessive thoughts can interfere with and exhaust mental resources. Anxiety can exhaust you. A body in a fight or flight conflict cannot easily relax for sleep. In fact, disturbed sleep is a very common occurrence in anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Anxiety is often the biggest culprit and can exacerbate many other issues and worsen the quality of sleep.
Stress of many kinds (work, familial, personal, external & self-imposed, etc.) can lead to unhealthy behaviors that interfere with the quality of sleep- alcoholism, binge eating, drugs, smoking, social withdrawal, various addictions, etc.
It should be your top priority to manage your mental health healthily, especially when you are concerned about your sleep disturbances. Goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. If you want to sleep better, take care of your mental health. Negative thoughts and pre-occupation with something upsetting are common reasons why people can’t sleep at night. If you cannot do it on your own, visit a professional. Try these techniques as well.
Are you unsure if your mental health is good? Here are some indicators of poor mental health. Go through those, they’ll help you understand your mental health.
Here a strategy to mitigate your anxiety.
Healthy sleeping tip: Take care of your mental health. Have clarity in your thoughts and emotions to lower anxiety and stress.
6. Correct your initial posture & sleep environment
A little bit of experimentation goes a long way. Most adults know what environment gets them to sleep well. But one wouldn’t know if one doesn’t try enough options – Different pillows, different blanket weights, different clothes, different lighting, different temperatures, etc. This may often be enough. But if it isn’t, let us look at what science recommends.
Whether you initiate your sleep like a soldier in the attention posture or like a baby curled up on the side, sleep positions have different effects on your body. If you are prone to acid reflux, or backaches, it is best to meet a physiotherapist or a doctor to understand what is appropriate for you. Here are some suggestions from Webmed.
A key component of the environment is the temperature around you and how this temperature affects your body. This factor also includes sleeping nude or semi-nude or fully clothed. Heat exposure may disturb sleep, cold exposure may initiate sleep faster. The national sleep foundation recommends a temperature of 60 to 67 F (15 to 20-degree Celsius). This temperature assumes regular breathable clothing and bedsheets on your bed as a part of your environment. A review of many studies confirms that heat exposure and cold exposure from the environment have potentially detrimental effects on specific aspects of sleep. But cold exposure might affect your sleep-wake cycle lesser than heat exposure, so comfortably cold can reduce the chances of disturbances.
Mild constant noise like pink noise may help people sleep. However, this should be taken with a pinch of salt as research has not clearly defined its role. Abrupt sounds can interfere with sleep, especially during the lighter stages of sleep. A constant backdrop of mild noise may lead to habituation (getting used to and thus ignoring) and not affect you. Background noise may also increase the acoustic arousal threshold which means, you’ll need more noise to actually disturb you.
Weighted blankets are a great choice if you have insomnia and related psychological disturbances like depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety. According to a study, weighted blankets (as opposed to light blankets) showed dramatic improvements in the quality of sleep and daytime activity after just 4 weeks. Weighted blankets can be an effective way to reduce the severity of insomnia and reduce daytime lethargy.
Healthy sleeping tip: Control your environment and posture, let the temperature be lower than your body temperature and wear breathable clothes.
7. Exercise to improve the quality of sleep
Researchers have shown that aerobic exercise aids sleep and can even help insomniacs sleep better. The general consensus is that exercise helps in managing physical & mental health. The research shows that exercise alleviates depressive symptoms and the quality of sleep improves if a person exercises a few times a week. While this seems very intuitive and obvious, the picture is not very clear.
Sleep and exercise have a bidirectional influence. Exercise helps improve the quality of sleep AND poor sleep reduces the quality and available resources for exercise. Exercise is not a panacea for sleep disturbances. Some research shows that improving the quality of sleep does not necessarily improve physical activity during the day – a counterintuitive finding because people assume that getting sleep always improves energy levels the next day. With poor motivation for activity in the day, resources for exercise may be limited. Forcing oneself to exercise might not improve sleep in all cases, but it is a worthy strategy. If it doesn’t work, you have other strategies to look at.
Healthy sleeping tip: Get some aerobic exercise done a few times a week (walking, jogging, cycling). If the quality of your sleep does not improve after a week or two, visit a sleep clinic to know better.
These 7 tips should help you get better sleep. In case you are thirsty for more tips, read on.
Bonus tip 1: Stimulation.
This may be an odd method to fall asleep quickly but it does work for many. Mild auditory stimulation in the form of light music, podcasts, can interfere with unwanted thoughts. This, in turn, has a positive effect because these unwanted thoughts could be a source of anxiety. A core function of music is sleep regulation.
Bonus tip 2: Bed usage
One of the most underestimated ways to fall asleep is to use your bed just for sleeping. Don’t condition yourself to spend your whole day on a bed, that’ll just confuse the brain into associating the bed with wakefulness, sleep, food, sex, work, etc. Work and eat elsewhere, not the bed.
Preparing yourself to sleep well
Here are some basic conditions that you should meet before you work on getting adequate quality sleep.
First, make sure you are mentally committed to working on your sleep habits. However, avoid being preoccupied with your sleep problems. Research shows that night-time sleep-related worry is bad for sleep because it could maintain insomnia. 2 mechanisms are possible here: night-time worry can counter relaxation or insomniac people have the additional opportunity to worry. Both mechanisms could become a feedback loop and a vicious cycle.
Second, prepare your day in a way that you can afford enough sleep hours. I mean, don’t book an appointment for 7 a.m. if you can’t sleep before 1 a.m. the night before.
Third, eliminate distractions such as notifications. Keep your phone next to you if you want to, just keep it silent so you aren’t alerted with noise. Avoid social media engagement because it could trigger social cognition (thoughts about people, comparison with others, etc.) that could worsen the mood and engage the mind that could interfere with sleep.
Fourth, eat healthily and drink enough water.
Hope these sleeping tips improve your sleep! Good night, sweet dreams.
Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. Each article is frequently updated with new research findings.
I’m an applied psychologist from Pune, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play the guitar.