7 Unexpected Tips for Getting a Better Sleep8:00 am
Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
I spend hours awake in bed repeating this over and over in my head. Like millions of Americans, I can’t sleep. For me, sleeplessness comes in waves (3-4 weeks) every 4 or 5 months and manifests in the form of not being able to fall asleep for hours. The frustrating part is that I do everything right to set myself up for proper sleep: I go to bed at roughly the same time every day, I exercise 6 times a week - never close to my bedtime, and I only drink 1 cup of coffee a day (if any at all). Despite all of this, I still experience temporal insomnia. No wonder that insufficient sleep has become a national health problem.
Sometimes, I’m able to pinpoint the cause exactly, whether that’s stress from working and going to school at the same time, or just my hectic travel schedules, like in September when I was flying from NYC to California for 2 days at a time. Last month, I fought and hacked my way out of a long and worrisome bout of sleeplessness that lasted 6 weeks. Feeling every so charged and ready to tackle my sleep problem, I hacked and tweaked my way to a better sleep.
1. Take a warm (not hot) shower
Although I typically shower in the mornings after my workout, I’ve found that a hot shower or (even better) bath has been able to help me relax and fall asleep easier on at least a handful of occasions. For me, one oddity is that I can't take hot showers before bed - something about the hot water then makes me too hot when I do get into bed and makes me agitated - so I'm particular about the temperature of the water to be just a tad warm.
2. Flux your screen
Bright screens before bed is bad news for falling asleep. If you find yourself needing to continue working and looking at a screen until bedtime, use Flux which adjusts the color of your computer’s display to the time of day - so that your screen gives off a warm tone at night and doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep after. I have been a long-time user of Flux (3.5 years) and it’s helped my sleep (and my eyes) a lot.
3. Keep a notebook
More often than not, I find myself laying in bed running through all the things I have to do the next day, the next week, or just eventually. The list gets long when work is busy, I get behind on taking care of this travel blog, or when grad school demands all hit me at once. The first time I had my bout of temporal sleeplessness was in high school, when I found myself still awake at 3 in the morning, thinking about all these things I had to do over and over again. Now I keep a notebook by my bed and make myself write everything down - whether it’s a new creative idea for Just-in-Time, or a handful of action items I forgot to get to that day, jotting things down means I no longer have to hold it all in my head, and gives me permission to release them back into the world.
4. Breathe the 4-7-8
I learned this breathing exercise over the summer and it helped a lot the first week I tried it. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise regulates your breathing and bring a sense of calm. You inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, and exhale for 8. The long exhale, I find, helps slow your heartbeat and bring you into a state of relaxation.
5. Invest in a mattress
I was hesitant to get a new mattress since there was nothing wrong with my memory foam and I certainly slept fine on it during the nights that I am able to get a proper sleep. Plus, good mattresses are pricey. But Casper has a generous return policy, not to mention the convenient same-day delivery option in NYC, so Alex convinced me to give them a try. To my surprise, Casper feels firmer and has more support than my previous memory foam mattress. I’m typically suspicious of firm mattress since firm often = stiff, but the Casper also retains a comfortable amount of bounce. I no longer wake up with a sore shoulder on the odd night, and on a few mornings, I’ve even noticed that I wake up now in almost the same position that I fell asleep in.
6. Cool your room
This trick helped me combat sleeplessness during this past east coast winter. When you can't fall asleep, every little thing start to bother you, including being too hot under the blanket. Although some people find a warm and cozy room is the best for sleep, I need a cool room to feel at east and just right under the weight of my blanket.
7. Wear earplugs
On a few occasions, I found myself reaching for my earplugs to block out the noise in my on-campus grad school apartment building (read: a very old NYC building with thin walls). I must've gotten used to wearing earplugs when I go to sleep because I found that keeping earplugs in helped me fall asleep on a few nights even when there weren't any noise that needed to be blocked out.