One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four…zzz. If only it were that easy, right? Well, turns out it can be, if you know the right tricks. We’ve found five hacks that will have you on your way to Slumbertown in no time.
1. Fake a sunset
Science says, we’re supposed to get sleepy when the sun sets, but since we spend most of our nights indoors basking in the glow of our cell phones and tablets, our brains still think it’s daytime and refuse to shut down. So, here’s what you do: Put the gadgets away and watch the sunset. It being winter and all, that can be difficult. Philips’ Wake-Up Light ($180 at Amazon) offers the ability to fake it. Simply, set it to sunset simulation mode; it will gradually decrease light and sound (on your timeline) to help prepare your body for rest.
2. Do the four-seven-eight
Not willing to part with your cold, hard cash for a sunrise/sunset simulator? This breathing exercise will help lull you to sleep for free:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds.
- Repeat this process until you fall asleep.
This technique acts like a natural tranquilizer by slowing down your heart rate. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, “Unlike sleep medications, which often lose effectiveness over time, four-seven-eight breathing is subtle at first but gains power with practice.” In other words, the more you do it, the better it works. So, what are you waiting for?
3. Pretend you’re really, really tired
We swear, we’re not pulling your leg. Try and remember what you physically feel like when you’re tired: Do your arms go limp? Do your eyes roll back into your head? Now, mimic those physical signs: While lying in bed, think of a weight pressing evenly across your entire body. Okay, that sounds a little scary, but concentrating on the weight will stop other thoughts (e.g. the school lunches you still have to pack for tomorrow) from distracting you. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself waking up the next day, wondering how the heck you fell asleep so fast.
4. Hypnotize your way to a deep sleep
If pretending you’re tired sounds like too much work for you, you might want to look into hypnosis. Get that image of a creepy guy swinging his pocket watch back and forth until you bark like a dog out of your head. We’re talking about watching a five-minute hypnosis video while tucked in your bed. (YouTube is full of them; search “hypnosis for sleep.”) It might sound like a bit of hogwash, but researchers from the universities of Zurich and Fribourg beg to differ. Their 2014 study on the subject concluded that hypnosis can actually increase the quality of sleep. Huzzah.
5. Make like an astronaut
We know we told you to put away your phone before bed but, for this, we’ll make an exception. Try to drown out the noise of your fighting neighbours and their barking dog with an app like Sleep Genius ($6 on iTunes). Its underlying technology has been tested and used by NASA to help astronauts fall asleep. We say: If it’s good enough for the space program, it’s good enough for us.
Sleep Hack No. 1: Drop the Temperature
It doesn’t take a genius in science to know that if you’re uncomfortable when trying to get to sleep, you’re going to have a tough time. Temperature extremes can be perhaps the biggest drivers of discomfort as far as this is concerned.
Dr. Christopher Winter, medical director at the Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine facility, writes that “most studies agree that a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for sleeping, with temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees disruptive to sleep.”
He continues: “Body temperature has also been linked to the amount of deep sleep an individual gets during the night, with cooler body temperatures leading to more deep sleep. Sleeping in a hot environment has also been shown to increases wakefulness and decreases slow wave sleep. The addition of high humidity can intensify the effect of heat.”
Sleep Hack No. 2: Remove Your Snooze Button
We don’t mean you have to physically remove the snooze button — that may be impossible if you use your phone, after all — but you should definitely curtail the practice of hitting it.
But wait, you may be thinking, the snooze button is about waking up and this article covers sleeping! Yes, that’s true. But how you wake up often influences how well you’re able to fall asleep, so it is worth pointing out.
The snooze button jacks with your REM cycles and makes you feel even groggier and more listless than if you simply set your alarm for a little earlier or later and got up at the end of the REM cycle. Huffington Post has an excellent piece for kicking the snooze button habit that you need to check out.
Sleep Hack No. 3: Selective Reading
It has been said that sleep and sex are the only two activities that should go on in bed. We’ll even touch on that here a bit later. But from personal experience, you shouldn’t close the door on some light reading before bed.
We’ve even found ourselves getting quickly conked out reading our glowing backlit eReaders with the lights out. (Glowing devices are supposedly a big no-no, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, but it only takes one or two times of the tablet or phone falling out of your hand and hitting the ground before you realize there is something to it.)
Ultimately, we advise that it’s okay to do some selective reading while in bed, and that it may even help you grow more tired and ready for deep sleep. Just stay away from those “unputdownable” books, or else you’ll be up until the wee hours of morning.
Sleep Hack No. 4: Get Exercise
Exercise is another great activity for making sure that you’re ready for bed, and ensuring a smooth transition into REM sleep. However, there is one thing you’ll need to keep in mind before you rely on it.
It only works if you schedule your exercise time as far away from bedtime as possible. That means keep it to in the mornings or throughout the day. Working out too late at night tends to key you up and keep you going for a few hours longer, and yes, there is science to back that up, particularly this 2013 Sleep in America survey.
That study is really worth reading, by the way, because it has a few other interesting tidbits. For instance, sedentary people tend to report more daytime sleepiness; and less time sitting is linked to better quality sleep.
Sleep Hack No. 5: Kick Your Pets Out of Bed
We know that Fido or Felix are cute and cuddly, but very few animals are truly hypoallergenic, and the fact that they are there sharing close quarters with you in a twin-, queen-, or even king-sized bed, means that any allergy troubles you have during the day will only be exacerbated by their presence.
Still, even if a pet owner knows that it’s a problem, they may find it difficult saying no to that little cuddly-wuddly. Derek Damin of Kentuckiana Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Louisville, Ky., has advice for all pet owner types when it comes to their sleeping habits.
In an article for WebMD, he says that people who suffer pet allergies or asthma should not sleep with their dog or cat “or even allow them in the bedroom.”
“Use a HEPA filter and keep them out of the bedroom to give your nose a few hours a day to recover,” Damin said. And if you’re not the type of pet owner that can force your furry family member out of the room, he advises that you start taking allergy shots “to build up a tolerance to the pet dander that causes allergic reactions.”
Sleep Hack No. 6: Address Mattress Issues
Mattresses can play a major role in disrupting your sleep. That’s why Dr. Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, advises that you test out mattress sizes before making a purchase. He advises people, when buying a mattress, to first run a test to see if it’s the right fit for them.
“Lie on your back in the middle of the bed,” he tells Huffington Post. “If you can roll over onto your stomach in both directions, it’s the right size for you. If you’re sharing the bed, you should both get comfy, then make sure you can each roll to one side comfortably.”
For this reason, twin- and full-sized beds are usually not good purchases, Breus adds, pointing instead to the queen and king sizes. It is also important to make sure whatever size you go with is long enough so your feet aren’t hanging off the bed, and mattresses should be discarded every five to 10 years.
Sleep Hack No. 7: Alarm BEFORE Bed
The alarm clock is typically considered a device that helps you wake up in the morning, but some have reverse-engineered its purpose to act as a “go-to-sleep-now” device.
Whether you choose to set your alarm for the exact moment to be in bed or just as a reminder to start getting ready for bed (i.e. brush teeth, put on pajamas, etc.), the act of knowing your alarm is there can be a good alert to speed up your activities and get done the things that you need to get done before bed, so that you can drift off to dreamland more quickly.
Sleep Hack No. 8: Dim the Distractions
Bright light has been known to trigger the “wake up” mechanism in your brain, as Dr. Lisa Shives of the Linden Center for Sleep and Weight Management in Chicago points out. Her advice:
“Dim the lights one hour before desired bedtime and also turn off the screens one hour before bed. Light, including that from computers, iPads, TVs and smart phones, is the most powerful trigger for our neurotransmitters to switch to the ‘on’ position. If people have a tendency toward insomnia, they can be up for hours waiting to switch to turn off.”
There is definitely data to back up that claim, though it is arguable that certain activities on a smartphone or tablet can be more conducive to shutting down your neurotransmitters than others. For instance, social media scrolling is simple because it constantly repopulates and convinces you there is no harm in reading just one more status update or tweet.
Reading the chapter of a book or a magazine article, on the other hand, gives you a fixed purpose and may be less likely to keep you up long after you’re tired.
Sleep Hack No. 9: Wear Socks to Bed
Nature: The International Weekly Journal of Science reported in a 1999 study that warm extremities seem to be good indicators of the ease with which a person will fall asleep. Unfortunately for those of you plagued with cold hands or feet, those nights tossing and turning can seem a little longer.
One suggestion that may not be particularly sexy is to slip on a pair of thick socks before bed. This can help regulate the temperature of your feet upward while the blankets do the rest.
Sleep Hack No. 10: Go Dark
There are basically two types of fall-asleepers in this world — those who need background noise and those who need to recreate the experience of laying down in a dark void. If you fall into the latter camp, then you may want to look in to sealing the light sources in your room — night lights, glowing alarm clocks, baby monitors with blinking lights.
If all that seems a little too difficult, then you may want to try out a sleep mask and, for those of you with snoring spouses, ear plugs.
Sleep Hack No. 11: No Caffeine After 2pm
All too often, caffeine is a necessary part of our days. That’s because we feel that we need the pick-me-up to push through. But as it turns out, all that added caffeine may just be adding to our tiredness due to the time that we decide to drink it.
“Drinking a big cup of coffee on the way home from work can lead to negative effects on sleep just as if someone were to consume caffeine closer to bedtime,” study researcher Christopher Drake, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, said in a statement to Huffington Post. “People tend to be less likely to detect the disruptive effects of caffeine on sleep when taken in the afternoon.”
Most sleep experts advise not drinking any coffee, cokes, or other caffeine-infused drinks six hours before bed.
Sleep Hack No. 12: Avoid Heavy Meals Before Bed
Really, the only way to implement this sleep hack into your life is to stay away from the refrigerator before bed. If you do have to eat, try to stick with light, low-protein meals. The scientific explanation behind this is that the body should only be focused on sleep while sleeping, not digestion.
Ignoring this warning could lead to an upset stomach or restlessness while trying to get to sleep. You also have less time to work off the calories that you take in during the day.
If you’re just not ready to give up the late night snack yet, though, here are 8 foods you should definitely avoid.
Sleep Hack No. 13: Limit Your Bed’s Functions
It was alluded to earlier in this post, but it deserves its own place here — your bed is for “sleep and sex only.” By associating your bed strictly for those two activities, you limit the amount of cognitive acts that take place in the place reserved for sleep.
While we’re not completely against some light reading in bed, your sleep is better served if you delay going to bed until you’ve done everything that you need to do before hitting the hay.
Sleep Hack No. 14: Sound or Silence — Make a Decision
An article from the website Health argues that you should keep your room quiet if you plan to get fitful sleep, but that is only true to an extent, especially if your main problem is that you have trouble getting to sleep.
In our experience, it never hurts to set the “Sleep” timer on your television and go to sleep to the cadence of a funny television show, but as with reading, make sure it’s not too involving. (That’s why we tend to select favorites we’ve seen a jillion times.)
Where silence is particularly helpful is throughout the night as you enter and exit REM cycles. Depending on where you’re at in the progression, noises can jar you out of your slumber.
Sleep Hack No. 16: Separate Beds
Sleeping in separate beds was the norm for television series throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. The happiest couples in the world — Ricky and Lucy, Rob and Laura — chose to sleep separately from one another in spite of the fact that they seemed madly in love.
Well, as it turns out, that’s not an altogether unrealistic notion. An expose from this separate beds phenomenon by the Daily Mail showed that a number of couples are happier — and even have better sex lives — if they choose to bed down in separate beds or even separate rooms.
“Everything about our relationship has improved,” one participant named Jane confessed to the site regarding her and husband Phil’s relationship.
She continued: “We sleep better, feel healthier and don’t have to put up with each other’s very different sleep patterns, which used to make us so irritated with each other. … Phil snores heavily and I hog the bedclothes. So half the night I’d be awake nudging him, and the other half he’d be awake, shivering. I also like to read for an hour before going to sleep, but he likes to get in bed and immediately turn out the lights. … Before, when we made love it was only in bed and it was getting a bit boring. Now we have to make more effort we pay ‘visits’ to each other’s bedrooms. And because the bedroom isn’t an automatic option, we’ve made love in almost every room in the house, which is far more exciting!”
Stories like Jane’s are not uncommon. Huffington Post, AskMen, the Chicago Tribune, and a variety of other popular blogs and news sites have featured studies in which couples reported more happiness in separate beds.
Sleep Hack No. 17: Night Journaling
Even if you hate to write, journaling at night can be a great helper in getting to sleep fast. The reason, of course, is that all the thoughts about your day and life that “keep you up at night” have somewhere to escape to.
The act of laying it all out on paper is cathartic and places your mind in a good place for when you do finally traipse off to the bedroom.
Sleep Hack No. 18: Count Your Breaths
NPR reports that taking deep breaths is the body’s natural stress reliever. That’s because the act of inhaling and exhaling slowly and completely recreates the state that your body is in when it’s at rest.
The simplest exercise that you can do to ensure that you’re getting into a rhythm of deep breaths is to count out each one. What will likely happen is that you’ll get to 10 or so before your mind starts to empty and prepare for sleep. Think of it as sleep meditation!
Sleep Hack No. 19: Shower Before Bed
We all feel better after taking a nice hot shower or warm bath, and so it stands to reason that we would sleep better after one. Not only is this common sense, but there is also an actual study to back it up.
According to the NCBI, healthy female volunteers between the ages of 22 and 24 sat in baths of warm or cool water for 90 minutes on separate occasions. The hot-water group experienced increased rectal temperature by an average of 1.8 degrees Celsius while the cool-water group saw no significant change.
“All-night sleep EEGs were monitored after both occasions and on baseline nights,” the study notes. “Following COOL, there was no significant change in any sleep parameter. After HOT there were significant increases in: sleepiness at bed-time, slow wave sleep, and stage 4 sleep.”
Sleep Hack No. 20: ‘Self’ Hypnosis
Hypnosis is often looked at as some type of mystical mumbo-jumbo by those who have never taken the time to read up on it. In actuality, hypnosis is very real, and it is, at its core, a simple set of visualization strategies to achieve a deeper state of relaxation. You can even engage in “self” hypnosis with tapes and headphones.
We suggest getting some over-the-ear phones that are comfortable enough to sleep in. Then, simply listen to the audio and try to “go” where your mental guide is leading you.
You can even get a number of effective programs on the Apple and Google Play stores.
Sleep Hack No. 21: Take Steps Against Snoring
Snoring can be impossible to eliminate altogether, and in severe cases — such as sleep apnea, more on that later — it can even be life-threatening. However, there are some very basic and affordable accessories that can be life-altering.
Our favorite are Breathe Right strips and their generic offshoots. You will want to try a few brands before settling on one because strength of the adhesiveness can vary from product to product. Breathe Right is more expensive, but it’s also a brand that consistently stays on your nose through the night.
If you would prefer to keep things off your face, then consider strapping a tennis ball to each side of your body, so that sleeping on your back or stomach becomes uncomfortable. This will force you onto your side where snoring is less intense.
Sleep Hack No. 22: If You Must Nap, Take Short Ones
Seinfeld’s George Costanza once said that a good nap was “sometimes the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.” While it’s easy to laugh at and relate to that, the reality is that naps can derail your nighttime sleeping patterns.
That doesn’t mean they are inherently bad, but it does mean you should consider limiting the length of time that you allow for a daytime nap.
Most sleep experts will tell you not to sleep any longer than 30 minutes if taking a nap. To help that along, you should set a timer for that length of time, and then kick back in a chair, feet up, until the timer goes off. Try to stay away from your bed for naps. It’s too easy to cancel your timer, roll over, and go back to sleep.
Bonus tip: for a little extra boost, drink an 8-ounce cup of coffee before setting your nap timer. When you awaken, you will feel more alert and ready to face whatever lies ahead of you. (Until bedtime anyway.)
Sleep Hack No. 23: Be Consistent with Your Schedule
One common rule of thumb that teachers and, to a lesser degree, students like to implement as they get ready to go back from summer break is to stop sleeping in the last week of vacation. By getting into the sleep pattern they will have to follow for the entire fall semester, they can enjoy an easier transition from time-off to time-on.
No matter what profession you’re in you can implement this by eliminating “sleep-in days” from your vocabulary. By keeping a steady schedule even through Saturday and Sunday night, you’ll find all the other days to be easier to manage as you get into a healthy sleep routine. It isn’t easy giving it up, though; we’ll be the first to admit it!
Sleep Hack No. 24: Prayer or Meditation
Saying a prayer and/or doing a timed meditation exercise before bed can help you get centered and put your thoughts in order in the same way that night journaling does.
Where this goes a little further in its benefit is that both activities remind you that there is a bigger world around you — a cosmic order, so to speak — and that it isn’t realistic to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Belief systems, whether “legit” or not, definitely provide a benefit to those who embrace them. So whether yours involves a God or not, spend some time with it before bed, and you’ll sleep better.
Sleep Hack No. 25: Lavender Therapy
Studies in 2005 and 2008 found that lavender, when sniffed before bed, led to deeper sleep for participants, with the 2008 study being geared towards woman while the 2005 was for a mix of genders.
In the earlier study, there were 31 participants (consisting of 16 men and 15 women), who were tested in a sleep laboratory over three nights — one adaptation, one stimulus, and one control, with the latter two nights in counterbalanced order.
According to NCBI, subjects received a “hit” of either lavender oil or distilled water in the first two minutes of a 10-minute interval. This occurred between 11:10 and 11:40 p.m. Standard polysomnographic sleep and self-rated sleepiness and mood data were collected.
Lavender increased the percentage of deep sleep in both men and women, and all 31 subjects reported higher vigor the morning after lavender exposure. The oil also increased stage 2 (light) sleep, and decreased rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and the amount of time to reach wake after first falling asleep in women, with opposite effects in men.
The study was able to come to a conclusion that lavender is an effective mild sedative “and has practical applications as a novel, nonphotic method for promoting deep sleep in young men and women and for producing gender-dependent sleep effects.”
Sleep Hack No. 26: Progressive Muscle Tension
Essentially, progressive muscle tensing (or relaxation, as some call it) is the act of focusing on one muscle group at a time from your feet to your head. As each group comes to you, you tense the muscle for a short period of time, then relax it. You do this through your entire body.
The University of Maryland Medical Center has a full description for those of you who want to hear it from a professional.
The benefits are two-fold in that it can reduce fatigue and produce a higher quality of sleep.
Sleep Hack No. 27: Don’t Force It
Have you ever come out of a deep sleep in the “middle of the night” with a couple or three hours still left to go until the time your alarm goes off? Many people try to go back to sleep, and after some difficulty, are able to do so only to be awakened in the middle of a sleep cycle. As a result, the day ahead is a hard one to get through as the roused sleeper experiences increased fatigue and irritability.
A better solution: if you cannot get back to sleep in 20 minutes or less, get up and start your day. While you may not get as much sleep as you want, you will have the kind of sleep that you need, and the likelihood of easily drifting off to deep sleep later that evening is higher.
Sleep Hack No. 28: Burn Yourself Out
This sort of goes in keeping with No. 27, only instead of getting up in the middle of the night when you accidentally “fall awake,” you simply stay up as late as possible until you’re actually tired.
In other words, don’t go to bed at 10 p.m. if you’re not tired, but you have to be up at 6 a.m. If you’re still alert, you’re just going to lay there and get frustrated with how long it takes to drift off.
It’s far preferable to push through your alertness and burn off your mental and physical energy until you are actually ready for bed. While that may mean one short sleep night, it will help you regulate for the nights ahead.
Sleep Hack No. 29: Ditch Bad Habits
Are you a smoker, or do you drink heavily? Do you have a poor diet? Are you not exercising as you should? Do you sit too long each day? All of these things can have adverse effects, not just on your overall health, but on the quality of sleep that you get.
Habits become habits for a reason. You get used to doing them, and then it becomes hard to stop. Not such a big deal if the habits are things like exercise, reading, eating right, etc. But when they consist of the things mentioned above, they can put you in an early grave.
What works for us: replace one bad habit with one corresponding good habit. The next time you get the urge to eat a batch of cookies, think about how many calories you’re going to consume and log it in a calorie-tracker app. Better yet, log everything you eat and drink in a calorie-tracker app.
As you get in the habit of logging the detrimental things you’re doing to your body, that will be ample motivation to ditch at least one of your bad habits, and if you’re capable of giving up one, you’re capable of ditching them all. Your sleep quality and the speed with which you fall asleep will improve as a result.
Sleep Hack No. 30: Track Sleep
As with calories, if you start tracking the amount of sleep that you’re getting each night, you will be able to tell when you need more sleep and what your ideal bedtime is. For this last part, we recommend calculating your perfect bedtime using this app, and never wake up groggy again!
Sleep Hack No. 31: Supplement!
There are a number of sleep supplements out there that could help you achieve sleep faster, though we would precursor that by saying results vary from product to product. Collagen, krill oil, and magnesium, are three favorites, as well as chamomile and synthetic melatonin.
The latter two have shown some positive scientific results as a sleep aid — chamomile for animals and melatonin for easing nervous disorders that may negatively impact sleep (like jet lag, for instance).
Try some of these out, but keep in mind that the results cannot be guaranteed.
Sleep Hack No. 32: Sleep Without Bedding
One of the tougher things to do on a cold morning is roll out from under the covers. Your sheets and comforters make you feel warm and cozy, and if only you could call in sick and go back to sleep!
We’ve all been there, so this may be hard to try, but it’s worth it if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your sleep.
Strip your bed of all bedding save for the fitted sheet that goes over your mattress. Then, fold over your towel a few times and use it as a pillow. Sleep in temp-friendly attire, and keep the thermostat at a level that is comfortable for you.
Allow yourself to fall asleep in this state. Then, the first time that you wake up, simply get out of bed, take your towel with you to the bathroom, disrobe, and hop in the shower.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t something we care to do every night, but if you have to be up early for work for a five- or six-day stretch, it can help you get a higher quality of sleep and keep you from oversleeping. Just keep that cozy comforter around for your days off, and use it as a reward instead of a mainstay.
Sleep Hack No. 33: Get Tested for Sleep Apnea
Do people tell you that you snore like an out-of-control freight train? If so, you may suffer from sleep apnea, or as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) defines it “a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths” during the night.
The NIH notes that untreated sleep apnea can “increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes; increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure; make arrhythmias … or irregular heartbeats, more likely; and increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents.”
It’s definitely not something you want to mess around with, so talk to your doctor if you’re exhibiting heavy snoring.
Sleep Hack No. 34: Use the Restroom Before Bed
Using the restroom before bed to get all the fluids out of your bladder improves the odds that you won’t have to get up in the middle of the night.
Your body doesn’t want to lose control of its functions, and it will usually rouse you from sleep, even if you’re still tired, to take care of business.
By going to bed “empty,” this is less likely to happen, thus ensuring that if you’re in the middle of a sleep cycle, you actually get to finish it.
Sleep Hack No. 35: Switch Pillows
Pillows are just like little mini-mattresses for your head. They wear out after a certain length of time, thus jacking with your spinal alignment. They can also collect dust and other allergens to irritate your sinuses over an accumulation of time.
By switching out your pillows every six months, you can avoid many of the irritations and issues that may arise.
Sleep isn’t just something we all love to do and that we all need more of; it’s also a necessity for strong health. The faster you go to sleep, the longer you’ll stay that way, and the deeper quality sleep you will enjoy.
While not all of the 35 sleep hacks we’ve presented here will work for you, we’re confident that you’ll find something to move past your insomnia and enjoy dreamland. What are some sleep hacks that work for you? Sound off int he comments section below!