Lately, for whatever reason, a handful of my friends have been complaining to me about their lack of quality sleep. Whether it’s trying to fall asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, I continue to meet people who struggle with one or both.
Luckily, I’m fortunate to say that I have been blessed with an ability to sleep anytime anywhere at a moments notice. I’ve been known to fall asleep on a plane before it takes off, and my most impressive feat was falling asleep while riding in a rickshaw, stuck in traffic in Agra, India, during a monsoon, with horns blaring in my face.
Needless to say, getting a good night’s rest hasn’t ever really been a problem for me.
I personally feel that getting good sleep is more of a product of the way that you spend your entire day. Many people like to focus on only their sleep problems, but chances are if you are having trouble sleeping it’s because of the way your lifestyle is designed on the whole.
You might not get enough activity, drink too much coffee, not give yourself time to wind down, not do a variety of things that give your brain the ability to calm down and pass out. There’s no easy fix to living an unhealthy lifestyle. I suggest you check out my Daily Routine to get an idea of how I spend my days on the whole.
Nevertheless, there are a handful of techniques that I use to wind down and get my body prepared to go to sleep. I will admit that some of the later suggestions are a bit wacky, but most of these are pretty standard. I’ll start with the techniques that are easiest to implement, and then get to some of the ones that are a bit more “out-there”, but are incredible nonetheless.
Disclaimer before you get started: If you complain about having trouble sleeping, but you take melatonin every night to pass out, I have no sympathy for you. Melatonin is meant to be used as something to “reset” your sleep cycle after jet lag or pulling an all nighter or messing up your normal sleep cycle. It’s meant to get you back into your normal sleep cycle. It’s not meant to be something that you take every night to go to bed. It’s incredibly addictive, and will, over time, affect your brains ability to produce melatonin naturally, which in turn will have a very bad effect on your sleep and could cause severe insomnia. Plain and simple, stop using it if you already are.
Now, rant aside, I’ll jump into some actual tips:
1) Go to bed and wake up at the same time
The first step to setting up healthy sleeping habits is to be disciplined about what time you wake up and go to bed every night. Your brain thrives off of habits. If you are serious about getting good sleep, make sure that you are serious about the schedule that you want to follow, and you stick to it.
Now, for those who aren’t tied to a 9–5, It’s sometimes easy to justify staying asleep for an extra 2 hours when you couldn’t sleep all night. The quintessential “I was up until 3am so I can sleep until 11am” can be a downhill spiral quickly.
Although your day might be crappy and sluggish the next day, force yourself to get up at the time you have scheduled for yourself. If you go back to sleep you are only furthering the negative cycle and setting up poor habits. This one sounds like common sense but I meet so many people who fall victim to this.
2) Stop Drinking Caffeine
You love your coffee, I get it (I do too). It’s delicious, filled with antioxidants, and helps you feel superhuman throughout the day.
Unfortunately, your love for it might be exactly what is keeping you up at night, especially if you’re one of those people who likes to have another cup of coffee after lunch or before your gym workout (this also applies to those who take pre-workout supplements that are loaded with caffeine).
If you value your sleep, cut out the caffeine and re-implement it only once you are back in a good sleep routine (or not at all).
I meet a lot of people who can’t sleep well at night and I ask them, “do you exercise?”, and many times the answer is no. Exercise helps you to burn calories and most importantly, excess energy. The best way to get yourself nice and tired is to kick your own ass in the gym — go for a long run, or do some form of exercise that leaves you exhausted. Yes, exhausted. Anyone who has done manual labor outside all day will tell you that they had the best night of sleep that same night, and it’s for a reason. If you exhaust all of your energy throughout the day, you will sleep far better.
4) Put your phone away
Practically everyone I knowl lies in bed aimlessly scrolling through Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Horrible idea if you want to get a good night’s rest. Your phone emits what is known as “Blue Light” and this can mess with your circadian sleep cycles. I recommend turning your phone on airplane mode and putting it away at least 1 hour before bed.
5) Eye mask and ear plugs
Simple enough. If you can’t fall asleep this one should help you out. Blocking out noise and light will help you block out all of the distractions preventing you from sleeping (especially if you live in a big city where there’s constantly noise outside, or your room gets a lot of light in the morning).
6) Melatonin inducing foods
There are a handful of foods that will naturally boost melatonin (a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that regulates your sleep and wake cycles) production, such as walnuts, tart cherries, kale, pineapples, bananas, oranges, and tomatoes to name a few. Personally, before bed I like to have a handful of walnuts, as I don’t like to have foods with a high Glycemic index (foods that will spike insulin) before bed. If you’re also trying to get yourself off of melatonin pills and need an alternative, these foods will work incredibly well.
7) Drink Tea
Chamomile tea is a popular favorite for relaxing and calming down the mind. There are a handful of others as well, such as Passionfruit, Lavender, St. John’s Wort, and Peppermint. These all work well, but probably won’t do the trick on their own.
8) Avoid alcohol/pot
Similarly to melatonin, you can quickly become dependent on these. I used to smoke a lot of pot when I was in college, and on days when I didn’t smoke anything I had a hard time falling asleep. Both might help you to initially fall asleep, but in the long run will hurt the quality of your sleep and can cause a lot of waking up in the middle of the night as you begin to get older.
9) Turn off the TV
Many people claim they like to sleep with the TV on…stop lying to yourself. It’s not a good habit and will interrupt your sleep throughout the night. You will also probably become dependent on it, and struggle to fall asleep when you don’t have a TV near. It amazes me how people can complain they can’t sleep yet they have the tv on all night. Silly humans 😛
10) Relaxing Music!
I love me some smooth jazz or meditation/yoga type music. Here are some of my favorites:
(If you want more let me know!)
11) Read a book
Reading a book before bed is a great way to calm your mind down, especially for those who have a hard time falling asleep because they have too many thoughts weighing heavy on their mind. If you’re anxious or stressed, this is the perfect remedy (other than meditation, which I’ll get to).
What type of book? This depends on your personality. I have found that fiction has a tendency to wake me up, especially if it’s a page-turner. Nonfiction on the other hand (especially history), puts me to sleep like a baby. I encourage you to experiment with what works best for you.
Taking 10–15 minutes before bed to stretch, focus on your breathing, and calm your body and mind down works wonders for the body (and it’s also very healthy for you). I find that doing some light stretching before bed relaxes me and releases some of the tension I’ve built up throughout the day.
13) Pranayama Breathing Exercises
There are certain breathing exercises that are really good for helping your mind calm down and put you to bed. These work wonders for me and send me into a crazy deep sleep. I’m not very consistent with them, but I know people who have implemented ONLY breathing techniques and have completely cured themselves of insomnia (one friend has done this within the last few weeks, and is part of the inspiration to write this article).
I personally practice two forms of breathing exercises, and there are tons of youtube videos you can look at to learn the technique. 1) Kapalbhati and 2) Anulom — Vilom
I can’t stress the benefits of meditation enough. Even 10 minutes before bed will help you to fall asleep (especially if you’re a beginner). I find that many of the thoughts that will pop up while meditating are the same ones that will pop up when I put my head down to rest. Taking ten minutes to sit with yourself and let these thoughts arise and pass will make it so that when you finally put your head down to rest they won’t have the same level of disruption they normally do, and you won’t chase those thoughts and have them keep you awake. Easiest way to get started — try Headspace
Now let’s get weird 😛
15) Binaural Beats
Your brain experiences a variety of different brainwaves throughout the day, all associated with different forms of brain activity. They range from alpha, beta, theta, and then gamma. Why is this important? When you go to sleep, your brainwaves change.
Binaural beats are audio tracks of these frequencies that, when listened to, will put you in various states of mind ranging from creativity and concentration to deep sleep and lucid dreaming. There are certain frequencies of sound that can trigger types of brainwave activity to help you to fall asleep, and stay asleep, more easily. I have experimented with these in the past with incredible, even scary, success.
Here are some ones I’ve used in the past that helped me:
Last year a friend of mine introduced me to youtube clips of people who have really soft and soothing voices who can literally talk you to sleep. He swears by them. I’ve personally never tried them, but if you can’t fall asleep I think it’s worth the experiment. I did some quick research and these are some women with very soothing voices 😃
If you absolutely need to sleep though, and nothing has worked, here is a holistic and all natural remedy that will KNOCK YOU OUT: Melatonin and Valerian root. I will normally take 1 5mg melatonin pill and 5 valerian root pills. CAUTION — I once took these and I was OUT COLD for 14 hours straight. This remedy is no joke. If you need to be awake for something the next day I don’t recommend this at all.
I hope this helps! Let me know what has worked best for you as I’d love to hear if any of these tips work!
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
Also published on Medium.