If you find it hard to get to sleep, you’re not alone! A huge number of people suffer from sleep problems. The good news is that simple solutions exist which are virtually foolproof, as long as you pay attention to your body. Here’s our overview of tried-and-tested methods for falling asleep fast.
This is one of our top tips. Firstly, avoid all stimulants after 3pm, or earlier still if you’re particularly susceptible to the effects of caffeine or theine. This goes for cola, energy drinks and black coffee too. Decaffeinated versions or herbal teas are equally good alternatives taste-wise so opt for these instead.
Secondly, avoid looking at any kind of screen for at least an hour before going to bed. Scientists have observed that the light emitted by screens stimulates brain activity and reduces the production of melatonin. It’s clear that TV screens or those of other electronic devices disrupt the body’s natural cycle and prevent sleep (1). Try not to keep your phone in your bedroom, or if that’s not possible, at least turn it off for the night.
Finally, avoid having animated discussions close to bedtime! Anger, in particular, has been shown to be detrimental to sleep (2).
We all know it’s better to go to bed in a calm state and leave behind the worries of the day. There are various options to help you do just that.
Yoga nidra, for example, is specifically designed to help you reach a state of deep relaxation conducive to sleep. Mindfulness meditation is a technique whereby you become fully aware of your body and surroundings. Concentrating in this way should produce the right level of serenity to enable you to fall asleep quickly. Have you heard of the 4-7-8 technique? It involves placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, then exhaling all the air from your lungs. You then breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale loudly through the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 3 times! When practiced twice a day for several weeks, this method has been hailed by some as nothing short of miraculous. Breathing is always the basis for deep relaxation.
More specifically, the techniques of positive visualisation, borrowed from sophrology can be mastered easily. We can all visualise a favourite place where we feel at peace. It may be a wildflower meadow, the inside of a cloud, a waterfall... Imagine yourself there and work on your breathing by inhaling and exhaling deeply, several times in succession. Your body and muscles will relax more easily, and sleep won’t be far behind.
A similar technique worth trying is self-hypnosis. In this case, you have to tell yourself a story – it could simply be recounting the events of the day, or inventing a fictional story. This technique is a little more involved than sophrology so be sure to make use of aids such as mobile apps, or even better, a coach to help you learn how to do it by yourself.
We don’t all need the same amount of sleep, nor do we follow the same rhythm. Certain methods will suit some people better than others and it’s essential to listen to your own body’s signals. For example, don’t wait till you start yawning, feel drowsy or can’t keep your eyes open before going to bed. Sleep comes in cycles so if you miss one, you’ll have to wait for the next! If you’re in the middle of watching a film, record the rest of it. The same applies if your partner’s not sleepy – it’s worth going to bed at different times if it means getting a good night’s sleep.
Mobile apps can also help you synchronise with your own sleep rhythms. Based on your own respiratory rate and movements while you sleep, they will tell you the best time to go to bed to get the maximum benefits from a deep sleep. This is the only valid excuse for ignoring the rule about not keeping your phone on in your bedroom!
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the hours of darkness by the pineal gland, located in the middle of the brain. It naturally regulates the sleep cycle, and its production is correlated with exposure to daylight: as daylight fades at the end of the day, melatonin production increases The body receives the message that it will soon be time to sleep and follows the natural circadian rhythm. When sleep is disrupted, supplementing with melatonin can thus be very beneficial (3).
There are two types of melatonin on the market: immediate-release and prolonged-release. The first helps you fall asleep, while the second helps you stay asleep (generally recommended for those who wake up in the night). In most cases, both should be taken 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed. The dose should be tailored to the individual: be sure to consult your GP or pharmacist for advice on this.
Once again, it’s our hormones that come into play here: endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and prolactin... During and after sex, the body secretes an assortment of relaxing hormones (or even soporific ones in the case of prolactin). This is truer still following an orgasm! It’s worth noting that while these effects are more pronounced in sex between two people, they still occur with an orgasm experienced by an individual alone (4).
It’s often said that maintaining good habits in life is the best remedy of all and this is borne out by science: eating a balanced diet encourages good quality sleep (5). France’s National Institute of Sleep actually gives the following nutritional advice: eat protein more at lunchtime, opt for light meals, have dinner two to three hours before going to bed, and avoid alcohol which is a stimulant. And be aware that obesity increases the risk of sleep apnoea.
Hence the importance of a balanced diet and regular physical activity. Exercise also releases a number of calming hormones such as endorphins. Take care, though – exercising intensively at the end of the day can be a stimulant for some people in which case it’s better to opt for a gentler form of activity.
Valerian, passiflora, hawthorn: all these plants have recognised soothing properties and are recommended for helping you to get to sleep. They can be taken in tablet form, for example. In terms of herbal teas, verbena, camomile and lime blossom are classic choices that are always reliable! Other less well-known plants such as lemon balm and hop are equally effective.
The dietary supplement Advanced Sleep Formula combines the best of these (hawthorn, hop, valerian, passiflora, California poppy) and also contains melatonin. It’s definitely one to take if you regularly suffer from sleep problems.
Some essential oils can also be helpful – they can either be diffused into the atmosphere or you can sprinkle a few drops on the corner of your pillow. Basil, lavender, marjoram are all good options, or choose any oil with a perfume you like. But take care to use essential oils sparingly, and be aware they should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or by young children. You’re strongly advised to seek advice from your pharmacist before using essential oils or taking any dietary supplement.
To get to sleep easily, it’s important to establish your own routine that’s conducive to sleep. Taking a bath and getting into your pyjamas an hour before bed is enough for some people, while others may need to do a little more. Light a candle, lightly-scented if you prefer, and either immerse yourself in silence, or listen to some soft background music. You could also try an ASMR video, specifically designed to induce a state of extreme relaxation, but again, these only work if you are sensitive to them! You could instead read a few pages of your book before going to sleep each night. The main thing is to find the routine that works for you. It’s always preferable, however, to keep the lighting in your bedroom soft and the temperature cool.
If, after trying everything, you’re still tossing and turning for hours before ‘dropping off’, it’s important to consult your doctor. You may be suffering from a health problem that’s affecting your sleep, such as sleep apnoea, severe insomnia, restless leg syndrome or even depression. In such cases, your doctor will be able to prescribe the right treatment for your condition.
All these methods have been shown to be effective at inducing deep, restorative sleep. Finding your natural rhythm, being in synch with your biological clock: these will both help you perform more effectively during the day, and help you really ‘sleep on it’ at night!
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