I grew up with insomnia. Seriously! I've been a troubled sleeper since I was a kid. It would take me up to 90 minutes to fall asleep most nights, and that time gave my mind a wide berth to explore, be creative, and be afraid of the dark, too. I'd wake up around 2 or 3am and again take 90 minutes to fall back asleep. Once my mind turns on, boy, it's hard to turn it back off. Once I entered adulthood, insomnia became more painful and actualized than it had when I was a child. Back then it was a nuisance, and my legs hurt with growing pains. The lack of sleep didn't bother my young body and mind as much, before real life seemingly entered the picture. Now, surprisingly, I'm a pretty good sleeper 80% of the time, but it's not because I suddenly had some natural, internal shift that came with age. No, it's because I follow good sleep hygiene practices - ones that actually work.
My doctor was the one who clued me into "sleep hygiene" a few years ago. Brushing your teeth does not fall on the list - it's not that kind of hygiene. What we're talking about is cell phone usage, steady bed times, and what to do before you get in between the sheets. All of the following things really help me, and because I know I have a lot of troubled sleepers out there reading da blog, I'm excited to share what has made a true difference in how quickly I zonk out, how long I stay asleep for, and the overall quality of sleep I'm getting.
Get Hot and Clean
Taking a hot shower or bath before bedtime allows the body to relax before trying to get some ZZZsss. The body's temperature naturally begins to fall a few hours before you go to sleep, and raising it in the bath, then allowing it to fall once you get out helps to force the body into that relaxation mode. Apart from the physiology behind it, I find that taking a soothing bath or shower helps to scrub my brain just as much as my body. The literal feeling of being clean also helps me for some reason.
Get Rid of Blue Light
We've all heard about the dreaded BLUE LIGHT by now. It comes from your cell phone and computer primarily, the tools we seem to have attached to us 24/7, even in bed. Blue light tricks the body into thinking it's daytime, and makes it much more difficult for your brain to naturally transition into sleep mode. If you CAN'T shake the habit of bringing your laptop into bed with you, install f.lux - a blue light reducing app that turns on around 7pm and turns off around 7am. It shields your eyes from the blue light your computer gives off by changing it to a warm, yellow color instead. You can adjust when it comes on and off, and how intense you want the protection to be.
Additionally, iPhones these days have its own blue light shield built in called "Night Shift" installed into the software. You have to manually turn it on, but it works in the same way that f.lux does. It really helps to reduce the blue light tricking your brain into thinking it's 2pm when actually it's midnight and you're stalking your ex on Instagram.
...And Get Rid of Your Devices
Now that the blue light has been eliminated from your comp and celly, let's get rid of them from your bedroom altogether. Yes, altogether now! HAHAH, I know - right? Can you imagine NOT reading emails and scrolling through Buzzfeed stories right before bed? Well, if you can imagine what it's doing to your brain you may consider putting. the. cell. phone. down. All you're doing is makin' your brain do a do-see-do up there by continuing to stimulate it with activity from your phone and computer.
Science has proven time and time again that our devices are keeping us up and in order to truly get a good night's sleep you have to make the decision to stop using them an hour or two before you go to bed, and don't check them again until morning or unless you need to call the fire department because your kitchen is ablaze. The absolute BEST way to give yourself something to do before bed is by reading a book - an actual, physical book, in low light before saying Z-YA-LATER to the world. I find that when I read a book it takes only minutes before my eyes begin to flutter.
Don't Check The Time
Once you fall asleep, if you wake up in the middle of the night, do everything humanly possible not to check and see what time it is. If you check the time, you are officially MIND FUCKED. Just trust that it's still dark outside, and you should be getting back to sleep.
Taking deep breaths actually helps to calm the nervous system and body. Scientists just proved it in mice (it was in the New York Times) and they think it's the real deal with humans too. As someone who does a lot of breathing exercises, I can say they really do help to chill out. We're not talking like 1 minute of controlled breathing, however. More like 10 or 15 minutes. Whether you're going to sleep or trying to get back there in the middle of the night, try my fave exercise. Simply count to 10 with your breaths over and over again. In - 1, out - 2, in - 3, you get the picture.
Take Your Magenesium
Forget spritzing your pillow with lavender. Do yourself a real favor and take 500mg of high-quality magnesium 30 minutes before you hit the sack. It decreases cortisol, the stress hormone and also allows your muscles to relax. If you've never taken it before, skip the Ambien and try this instead. I find that it helps knock me out cold til morning.
What helps you fall asleep at night? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!