Photo by Bruce Weber, Styled by Alex White, W Magazine, July 2008
I think we’ve all read articles about how important sleep is for us as humans to function properly (see links below), and that it’s best to get somewhere between 7 to 9 hours each night (but every person is different). Personally, I think I have a minor form of insomnia that comes and goes, and have throughout my life. I remember being a little kid and laying in bed for what seemed like forever trying to fall asleep. I also remember college being my good sleep years. I think that was due to my extremely busy schedule in college — lots of places to be, things to do, and tests to study for. My brain was constantly on, so falling asleep quickly and sleeping hard was no problem in college. I would even wake up five minutes before my alarm would go off, ready to pop out of bed and take on the day. Those were the years.
Other periods of my life where I’ve consistently been able to fall asleep easily typically have to do with exercise. When I am exercising hard 4+ times per week I sleep like a baby every night. Since I don’t exercise that hard as often as I should, I try to do some of my own sleep rituals to help me fall asleep. I’ve got a lot going on in my brain and sometimes I just can’t turn it off and I have a hard time falling asleep.
I also have the typical can’t-fall-asleep nights, like if you have an early flight the next morning, or you are about to go on vacation. I can never sleep those nights. All of these can’t-fall-asleep nights over the years has resulted in some rituals I have and tips for falling asleep and sleeping better. Many of these have been proven and recommended by professionals as well.
1. Invest in a good mattress.
Always wake up with back pain? Ya, probably time for a new mattress. We are in the market for a new one as well. Anyone have any suggestions?
2. Don’t drink caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
Obviously, drinking coffee at 4pm isn’t going to help you sleep. If you need an upper in the afternoon, go for something with less caffeine than a regular coffee, like green tea. Or drink decaf, or grab a green juice or something. I typically only have coffee in the morning and then tea and water throughout the day. Coffee makes me wired in the evening and I know it will be a late night if I drink it in the evening.
Ya ya, isn’t that the answer to all my problems? That and what you eat. But seriously, I know this is true for myself. When I am exercising consistently, like really exercising (running more than just 2 miles, or a long walk), I sleep soooo much better, and I have more energy throughout the day. Amazing what a little sweat can do for ya.
4. Wine Drinkers — Drink wine earlier.
Even though we think alcohol helps put us to sleep, it’s usually not a sound sleep. I know that if I have several glasses of wine, I will wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning parched and not able to fall back asleep until I’ve chugged a glass of water, which I have to get up and go to the kitchen to get, and it’s usually cold, which wakes me up. If you drink wine earlier in the evening then the effects will wear off before you go to sleep. Also, drink a lot of water if you are drinking alcohol to prevent dehydration.
5. Bath Takers — Take a bath earlier.
This one was news to me, but apparently doing anything to raise your body temperature close to when you were wanting to hit the sack isn’t necessarily helpful for dozing off.
6. Do your beauty routine and change into pajamas earlier.
Typical scenario: You are watching TV, you start to get tired and doze off, then you realize you still have your contacts in, your work clothes on, and a full face of makeup. I have contacts and this annoys me to no end. I also wash my face if I’ve put makeup on every night and I’m always glad in the morning that I did. Unfortunately, instead of just moving from the couch to your bed and dozing off, usually the water from washing your face, the minty freshness of your toothpaste, and touching your eyeball doesn’t help to keep you in sleepy mode. So do your beauty routine earlier. Maybe make a routine of when you do that — maybe after you eat dinner or after you watch Jeopardy — whatever it is, by making it a habit you will start to do it without thinking.
7. Set an alarm.
Not a wake up alarm (although you probably need one of those as well), but a get in bed alarm on your phone. I used to have this as a recurring alarm on my phone that would prompt me to take my lady pill each evening (if you know what I mean ladies), and a gentle reminder to get in bed. My alarm said Pill. Bed. This way if you get wrapped up in something, you will at the minimum have a little reminder of — remember how you said you wanted to get more sleep, ya, now is that time. I figured, if I at least got in bed at 10pm I’d have a better chance of actually going to sleep earlier than if I wasn’t in bed.
8. Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
Most people sleep better with a chilly room. Turn your air to 65 or lower, and use a fan if you have one. Fans also make great white noise for sleeping. Put lower wattage lightbulbs in your bedroom so you don’t have bright lights, especially for the light by your bed.
9. Have a wind-down hour (or two).
For an hour or two before you want to fall asleep — unplug. Stop using your computer and your phone — the screens are bad on the eyes, and you shouldn’t be responding to email anyway (guilty!). Do you ever really get important calls at night? Probably not, so turn off your ringer, or put your phone in sleep mode so the only sound it will make is your alarm.
During this hour there are a lot of sleep-prepping things you can do:
- Pick up your place
- Make a list of what you need to do the next day so you won’t fret over it while trying to fall asleep
- Get together anything you need to take with you the next day
- Listen to relaxing music
- Set your alarm for the next day, and turn it away from your pillow so the light doesn’t bother you while sleeping
10. Stretching, yoga, and meditation.
I think this one is obvious, but apparently getting in some stretching in the evening can help calm you down. Cat Cow anyone?
Ok, now it’s time to actually get in bed. Here are a few things to do right before you get in, and before you attempt to drift off to sleep:
11. Lavender spray or oil.
Spray your sheets with lavender spray, or put lavender oil on where you would put perfume, and take in a few whiffs. Close your eyes. Breathe. (Make your own spray with this Lavender Linen Spray recipe.)
13. Read a book or write in a journal.
Still not ready to put your head to the pillow? I’m not much of a journal-writer, but I love to get in some good reading time before I go to bed. It helps me take my mind off anything going on in my own head and usually helps me get sleepy eyes.
14. Melatonin or cherry juice.
Need a little extra help? I like to do things as naturally as possible (it takes a major headache to get me to take any pills) so when I really can’t get sleepy, I will take a small dose of melatonin, or drink a glass of tart cherry juice concentrate mixed with water. I keep these 1mg cherry flavored melatonin pills in my nightstand, and if I can’t sleep I’ll put one or two under my tongue and let them dissolve. If you are going to do this, you should either be reading or laying down. It’s a gentle help, but won’t put you to sleep if you are up being active. For the tart cherry juice concentrate, it has to be the natural tart (read expensive) cherry concentrate, which has melatonin in it. You mix the syrupy concentrate with some water (warm water if you can handle it), and drink it before you get in bed.
15. Use a sleep mask.
Need it to be pitch black? Try a sleep mask. It’s also kinda glamorous.
16. Relax all the way down your body.
My husband says he can just tell his brain it’s “off” and fall asleep. Ya, that just doesn’t work for me. I try, but apparently my brain doesn’t listen. So I started doing what one of my Bikram Yoga teachers would do at the end of class when we got into the final savasana — she would say (in her cute Asian accent) “Relax your hair, relax your forehead, relax your eyes, relax your ears, relax your nose, relax your cheeks, relax your tongue, relax your jaw, relax your lips…” you get the idea. Sounds a little weird, but she goes through parts that you don’t typically think to “relax” and when she says the part, like your jaw, you realize oh, why am I clenching my jaw? So when I’m laying there, desperate to fall asleep, I lay in the savasana position and start from my head and tell each part to relax all the way down to my toes, in my yoga teacher’s accent of course.
Put all of this together into an evening and here is your daily routine to help you fall asleep:
What’s your sleep routine? Do you have one? What helps you fall asleep?