My teen-aged son Connor is going through some bad insomnia. This is terrible for him. It’s also bad for Laura and me, because when he can’t sleep, he comes into our room and wakes us.
I’m lucky that I’ve rarely had trouble falling asleep. But right after my transplant, when my body was getting used to all the new anti-rejection drugs, I suffered from some terrible insomnia and found it incredibly frustrating.
Here are six hacks to help you fall asleep faster and to wake up feeling more refreshed.
1. Avoid screens
The human body has an internal clock that tells us when it’s time to go to sleep. Light is an important trigger for that clock. Exposure to light sends a signal to our bodies to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that makes us feel sleepy. The brighter the light, the worse the impact.
One study had one group of test subjects read a paper book at bedtime using a dim lamp. Another group read on an iPad. In just five nights, the iPad group took longer to fall asleep, spent less time in the restorative REM sleep and felt more sleepy and less alert in the morning. Any light near bedtime is harmful to natural sleep patterns, but phones, iPads and laptops may be worse than lamps and TV screens because we hold them close to our eyes and because they emit blue light that is especially triggering for our internal clocks.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day — including weekends — helps your body’s internal clock to function more effectively. It’s also helpful to have a bedtime routine to help your body get ready for sleep. About an hour before bedtime, dim the lights, turn off electronics and do something relaxing like taking a bath or mindfulness meditation.
3. Go for a long walk
The best exercise to beat insomnia is a long walk, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Research shows that a single long walk will help you fall asleep sooner. More intense exercise may be less helpful over the short-term, especially close to bedtime. The sleep benefits of vigorous aerobic exercise or weight-lifting kick in after a month or so, research shows.
4. Turn down the thermostat
A bedroom temperature of between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 and 19.5 degrees Celsius) creates the optimal temperature for falling asleep and for getting a better sleep. That’s because the body isn’t focused at regulating temperature, and can devote it’s resources to the more restorative aspects of sleep.
5. Don’t abuse the snooze
Sleep experts are divided about the snooze button. There’s agreement that if you use it repeatedly — delaying your wakeup for an hour, for example — you’ll wake up feeling much more tired than if you’d just slept undisturbed for that extra hour. Some sleep experts say the snooze button should be avoided altogether. Others say using it once can be helpful, especially when the alarm disturbs a REM cycle.
6. Avoid booze
Okay, this one won’t apply to my son, not yet. But booze is sneaky. Yes, alcohol can help you fall asleep faster. But research shows that it disrupts sleep patterns and the quality of sleep you get. So while you may fall asleep faster, you’ll wake up feeling more tired.
What about you? Do you have any hacks that help you get a better night’s sleep?