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.
Forcing the mind and body to regulate the breath
This is really the key point explaining why the 4-7-8 breathing technique is so powerful.
Holding the breath brings our bodies into a deep state of relaxation. It gives the body time to replenish its oxygen, giving your organs and tissues a much-needed oxygen boost.
Relaxation techniques like this one help bring the body back into balance, regulating our fight-or-flight response system.
It’s a way to combat the usually stressful experiencing of lying awake at night, fighting to get back to sleep.
The 4-7-8 technique forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than worrying about not sleeping. Weil describes it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
According to Healthline, the overall concept of 4-7-8 breathing can be compared to practices such as:
- Alternate nostril breathing involves breathing in and out of one nostril at a time while holding the other nostril closed.
- Mindfulness meditation encourages focused breathing while guiding your attention to the present moment.
- Visualization focuses your mind on the path and pattern of your natural breathing.
- Guided imagery encourages you to focus on a happy memory or story that will take your mind off your worries as you breathe.
It’s a simple technique, but you can see that it incorporates a number of very powerful elements. Often the best ideas are the simplest ones.