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We've all been there. You settle into bed and turn the lights out, but find yourself tossing and turning all night, sometimes not even falling asleep until the early morning hours. And no matter how many proverbial sheep you count, you still find yourself lying awake in the dark.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, whether it be insomnia, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. So if you lie in bed staring at the ceiling until 3 a.m., know that you're not alone.
But there are ways you can fight back and become more well-rested (and no, listening to Samuel L. Jackson narrate a questionable children's book is not one of them). Here are some science-backed ways to fall asleep fast.
An easy way to fall asleep is to set a natural rhythm for your body. Wake up around the same time every day, and go to bed around the same time as well. This will program your internal clock and make you sleepier around your designated bedtime. But this means no sleeping in -- even on your days off.
Along with regulating your sleep schedule, the National Sleep Foundation recommends practicing a nighttime routine to get your body prepared for sleep. Whether it's brushing your teeth, washing your face, or taking a warm bath, these signals will let your body know it's time to wind down for the night.
There's no point in just lying there for hours and listening to the clock tick away. Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, says it is important that your body doesn't associate sleeplessness with your bed. Therefore, if you wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do an activity (but remember to avoid those screens).
A warm bath or shower can help you wake up in the mornings, but showers will also help your body relax before bed. Research suggests showering 90 minutes before you turn out the lights can not only help you fall asleep faster, but give you a better night's sleep and make you feel more well-rested in the morning.
There's nothing worse than summer nights, lying on top of your sheets underneath your ceiling fan and still being too hot and sweaty to get comfortable. This is why it's recommended that you keep your room at a cool temperature, between 60 and 67 degrees, at night. If you get too cold, pile on the blankets instead of turning up the heat.
If your mind won't slow down at night, try turning on some music. But don't tune into a Top 40 station -- try the classical Mozart or Bach, some soothing indie tunes from Bon Iver, or even go the more new-age route with Enya. Studies have shown a direct correlation between relaxing music and reduced sleep problems. Whatever music you choose to listen to, just make sure it's at a low volume.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but how many times have you hit that 2 p.m. slump at work and needed a pick-me-up latte? For the sake of your sleep schedule, don't do it.
Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours. To avoid having problems falling asleep, you should stop drinking caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime. In general, just try to keep your coffee intake to the a.m. hours.
As aforementioned, it's important to keep your sleeping space on the cooler side. But make sure your feet don't freeze. Research suggests heating cold feet can signal to the brain that it's bedtime through a process called vasodilation, which is the dilation of blood cells. Basically, the more vasodilation in the feet has been linked to less time falling asleep. So whether it's by wearing socks or pushing your feet under your disgruntled, but oh-so-warm significant other, keep those toes toasty.
Like in meditation, focusing on your breath helps calm your mind and quiet those stressful thoughts that might be circling around in your head. Simply closing your eyes and focusing on breathing can do wonders. Breathe slowly and visualize the air flowing into your nose, down your throat and into your chest and stomach before being released. If your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to your breath.
Another meditation trick that doubles as a sleep exercise is the practice of guided imagery. In a 2002 study by Oxford university, insomniacs who imagined a peaceful scene fell asleep an average of 20 minutes faster than those were told to do nothing. Conjure an image of tranquility -- a waterfall, a beach, a lovely meadow with a stream -- and build an imaginary world around you.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, regular physical exercise improves both the quality and duration of your sleep. Be careful with timing -- while early morning and afternoon exercise can trigger a feeling of sleepiness hours later, exercising too close to bedtime can leave you over-stimulated and too pumped up to slumber.
After a hectic day, your mind might be going a mile a minute and the stress can keep you from sleeping properly. This is why it's important to take some time to unwind at the end of the night. In the hour before hitting the hay, do something calming (but, again, don't stare at a screen). Some calming hobbies to pick up may be reading, drawing, knitting, or even jumping on the adult coloring book trend.
While light snacks are OK, it's important not to eat a big meal before bed. Once you eat, your metabolism revs into action and can disrupt your sleep. It's recommended that if you eat a big dinner, be sure to do so at least three hours before going to sleep.
Have you ever gone to take a 30-minute power nap... and woken up three hours later? Yeah, we're all guilty. But if you're having problems falling asleep at night, it's important to refrain from those afternoon siestas, as they deal a devastating blow to our sleep schedules. If do you choose to nap, the National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your naps 20-30 minutes long and to only nap in the early afternoon.
Sleep deprivation is a serious problem that can affect your physical and emotional health. If you've tried all these tricks and still can't sleep soundly, contact a doctor.
We know chances are you're reading this on your phone right now, so we're sorry to tell you staring at a bright screen isn't exactly conducive for falling asleep fast. According to the National Sleep Foundation, our bodies are naturally tuned to stay awake during daylight, and the blue light from TVs, phone screens and tablets mimic that light, thus stimulating us and making it more difficult to fall asleep. It's recommended that you put down the phone at least 30 minutes before bed. Put it down, put it down now!
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