Insomnia can be the result of an illness or mental condition (such as stress, depression, or chronic pain), or it can stem from circumstantial factors like relationship conflicts, busy schedules, shift work, or bedtime routines that don’t promote sleep.
Regardless of its cause, insomnia can be treated. Ready to feel rested again? Try putting any or all of these science-backed tips to the test.
1. Make the bed a “sleep only” zone
Leave bill paying, work, and Instagramming out of the bed (Better yet? Leave them out of the bedroom entirely). Performing non-sleep-related tasks in bed can cause your brain to associate the bedroom with activity rather than restfulness. Declare the mattress a space for sleep or sex only—no exceptions. Eventually, your brain will learn to associate the bed with sleep and respond accordingly.
Maintain this association by getting out of bed anytime you wake up and aren’t able to fall back asleep within about 15 minutes. Leave the bedroom and spend a few minutes performing an activity that engages both your hands and brain, like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Head back to bed only when your mind has calmed down. That way, your brain won’t learn to think of the bed as a place for lying awake with anxious thoughts.
2. Dim the lights
One study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that exposure to electrical lights during the hours between dusk and bedtime suppresses melatonin levels and makes it harder to sleep well once you’re in bed. As the sun goes down, dim the lights inside to decrease exposure to artificial lighting.
Also invest in “soft/warm” light bulbs to further prevent lights from having a harsh effect on your circadian rhythms. And prevent street lights from messing with your nervous system by hanging black-out curtains on bedroom windows—studies consistently find that people sleep better in darkened rooms.
3. Skip the nightcap
Drinking alcohol before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, decreases the quality of sleep once you actually nod off, and increases the chances that you’ll wake up earlier than needed. Aim to avoid alcohol after 6 pm.
4. Dunk your face in cold water
It may sound unappealing, but plunging your face into a bowl of ice-cold water for 30 seconds can trigger a reaction called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which can lower blood pressure and heart rate. This in turn helps the body calm down and be more receptive to sleep.
5. Perform leg exercises
This one may seem counter intuitive—after all, conventional wisdom says we shouldn’t raise our heart rate right before bed. But according to well-known doctor Lissa Rankin, performing a few squats or leg lifts before hopping into bed can divert blood flow toward the legs and away from the brain. The result is a quieter mind that’s more able to drift off to sleep.
6. Ditch the screens
Sorry, Daily Show fans—watching TV or looking at screens in bed exposes us to “blue” (i.e. artificial) light that stimulates daytime hormones, thereby disrupting the body’s ability to fall asleep. One large study published in the journal Sleep analysed responses from 21,475 participants and determined that exposure to screens before bed is consistently linked to getting less sleep. Turn off all TVs, phones, and computers at least an hour before bedtime, and keep screens out of the bedroom.
7. Keep it cool
Just as light can affect our sleep, so can temperature. Research consistently finds that cooler bedrooms promote better sleep. Harvard docs recommend setting the thermostat to between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum rest. Experiment with different temperatures to find what works best for you.
8. Don’t stare at the clock
Obsessively checking the time while struggling to fall asleep increases your stress, which then makes it even harder to go to sleep. Prevent this negative feedback loop by keeping the clock pointed away from the bed (and out of arm’s reach).
9. Try reverse psychology
One small study of 34 insomniacs published in Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy found that attempting to keep yourself awake can actually be an effective antidote for insomnia because it reduces the anxieties that can come with struggling to fall asleep. To try it, simply lie in bed with your eyes open and concentrate on staying awake.
Insomnia can be beyond frustrating, but getting flustered will only make the issue worse. Instead, take the time to calmly experiment with these different strategies to find what works best for you. Whatever you settle on is guaranteed to be more effective than counting sheep.
Featured photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller via flickr.com