January 8, 2019 | Categories: Sleep
(This article originally appeared in Centennial’s Sleep magazine. Read the full article here.)
A good sleep routine involves setting aside time to prepare for sleep.
Here, we talked to Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., ER doctor on faculty at Erlanger Hospital Emergency Medicine, author of Mom Hacks (February 2019) and Jennifer Reis, Certified Yoga Therapist, Kripalu School of Yoga and Integrative Yoga Therapy faculty, creator of Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra.
“The number of people taking sleep aids has doubled since 2004,” says Dr. Darria. “The reality is all of this, whether it’s a sleep aid supplement or a medication can have a place in the short term, but are not really sustaining in the long term and really create dependence.” (Trick this trick to fall asleep faster.)
Studies have shown that lifestyle changes, sleep hygiene, behavioral therapies and behavioral changes are as effective if not more than in six weeks than sleep aids and are definitely more effective in the long term, says Dr. Darria. “I always start with lifestyle changes and behavioral changes for people.”
“You can’t fall asleep if you’re not relaxed,” says Reis. You need to retrain the nervous system to relax which will benefit the nervous system and your sleep, she says.
Follow these tips to set up your bedroom and body so you can fall asleep faster. “You can be creative with your sleep routine,” says Reis. “Take the components and pieces you like and mix them together in a way that feels nourishing with this self care. Much of sleep is all about self care,” Reis says.
“What does your sleep space look like?” Dr. Darria asks. “If your bedroom has lots of bright lights and it has your computer there and it has piles of laundry, then your bedroom is a virtual to-do list. Turn it into a place of rest.
Dim the lights that you use at night, nothing above 40 watts, suggests Dr. Darria. You might want to get blackout shade or curtains and cover up any electronic lights before you settle into bed. Make the room cool. Block outside noise with a white noise machine. “Little things like those can make surprisingly big differences with helping you to fall asleep faster,” Dr. Darria says.
Examine what you’re doing in the hour or two before bed. “Are you sitting there staring at your phone on Facebook or Instagram? Because if so, not only are you possibly stressing yourself out, you’re suppressing your melatonin, and I can guarantee that you will not be falling asleep in the next two hours,” says Dr. Darria. Have a bedtime routine you stick to every night. Put down those blue-light emitting devices in the last hour or two before bed, Dr. Darria advises. Set an alarm on your phone to go off about an hour before bed. Use that time to prep for tomorrow (lunches, backpack, clothes), then wash your face and brush your teeth, and use the last 20 minutes for bed to relax, stretch, read and go to sleep, Dr. Darria advises.
Squeezing and releasing your muscles is a good practice to help you fall asleep, says Reis. You could do the entire body at once, or work your way up from each foot, each leg, then your torso, hands, arms, and all the up to your face. “Contract the muscles for a moment and then let them go,” Reis suggests.
This restorative yoga pose helps you relax. Simply lie on your bedroom floor on a towel, blanket, or the rug and place your legs up the wall, butt against the wall, making an L-shape, suggests Reis. This inversion is thought to be helpful for calming the mind and helping the body get ready for sleep.
Lavender is said to help with a relaxation response, or any of the tree oils like cedar wood, pine or things like that that are, may help you feel more relaxed and fall asleep if you inhale them before bed. Consider adding a few drops of lavender to a tissue and placing it under your pillowcase so the scent wafts up while you snooze.
You could do this as part of the progressive relaxation process, or do it on its own, without tensing and releasing the muscles. “Just lie there and systematically go through each body part, simply becoming aware of each part of the body, that really helps people fall asleep,” says Reis.
“Nidra” is Sanskrit word for “sleep” and yoga nidra is a conscious relaxation technique. Doing a practice like yoga nidra retrains your nervous system time to relax every day—particularly at the time when you want to sleep, says Reis. “When your head hits the pillow, your nervous system says, ‘Hey, I remember this, let’s relax now,’ and then the nervous system relaxes as well, she says. All you need is 15 or 20 minutes, she suggests.
You could listen to a yoga nidra practice through an app—like Insight or Yoga Nidra—when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, or, if you wake up in the middle of the night, press play and do this practice. It can help with insomnia, says Reis. Even if you aren’t able to fall asleep after this, you’ll be relaxed, which is beneficial for your health. One hour of yoga nidra is believed to equal to four hours of normal sleep, according to guru Swami Satyananda Saraswati who created this technique.
Start counting backwards, just your exhalations. Start with any number you choose: 100, 50, 20, and just count the exhalation in your mind. “The exhalation puts your body in parasympathetic nervous system mode,” says Reis. “That’s the relaxation mode. The inhale is the active node. Inhaling is rejuvenating, it’s during the exhale when people fall asleep,” she says. Here’s why mindfulness can help improve sleep.
Self massage is thought to help promote sleep, and Reis suggests gently rubbing your earlobes and feet to relax the body, according to Ayurvedic beliefs. The ears and feet have maps that connect to all parts of the body, she says.
Try these natural sleep aid techniques first to see if they work and you find you’re able to fall asleep faster. If you don’t think they’re working, consider working with a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If you can’t afford to see a therapist in person, consider an app that offers these services. “Some of them are free. A lot of them cost some money. Some of them, your employer will even help pay for depending on who you work for,” says Dr. Darria. CBT can help how you think about sleep and reframe those moments where you’re lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and you can’t fall asleep, says Dr. Darria.
You might think that you can scroll through your phone up until you want to sleep and then pop a melatonin pill and everything will be fine, right?
“Melatonin has many effects, and taking a pill can never replicate the kind of exquisite balance our body is intended to have [naturally-produced] melatonin,” says Dr. Darria, who recommends checking with your doctor before taking any supplement.
“If you want to take melatonin two to three days as you’re also doing all the other behavioral things I talked about, you can kind of use it as a quick reset,” she says, noting that she’s not giving a prescription. “Take a small dose (0.1-0.3 milligrams) about 1.5 to 2 hours before you intend to be asleep,” she says.
Keep in mind that melatonin is a hormone and it’s going to have other effects. It’s a supplement that isn’t regulated by the FDA. Look for ones that say USP on the label, meaning the United States Pharmacopeial verified contains the ingredients it says are on the label. This shouldn’t be a long-term solution, says Dr. Darria.
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