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No matter how healthy you are there can be times where it’s hard to fall asleep.
When that happens most people reach out to their doctor to get sleeping pills (usually not a great option and should be a last resort).
Instead, here’s some natural options to consider.
Some I’ve personally tried and have seen benefit from.
Others I haven’t tried – but there’s evidence supporting their use. And others are just reports from patients and friends – but they’re safe and may help.
(1) Magnesium Citrate
A few years ago I heard a blogger rave about magnesium citrate helping him get to sleep faster.
Taken at low doses (just 200 to 350mg or so) it’s extremely safe for most people so I thought I’d give it a try.
It definitely helped. The best way I can describe it is I felt very relaxed.
I’ve tried a couple of different products over the years. Natural Calm is the one I personally use and recommend. Mixes easy and tastes great.
A couple of points here:
- Make sure your diet is on point first. Magnesium is found in a lot of leafy green veggies (spinach), meat, fish and some fruits.
- More isn’t better. Magnesium supplements at higher doses are actually used as laxatives. Not good. So keep the dose on the low side (200 to 400mg max).
(2) Eat Carbs (Yes Carbs) At Dinner
I’ve ate at every extreme you can think of. Vegetarian, all meat, Keto, Very Low Carb, Paleo and High Carb.
When I was on the Keto Diet I began to notice a number of health problems. One of which was difficulty sleeping.
Once I ditched Keto and began increasing the number of healthy carbs I was eating – not only did my overall sleep improve but I was getting to sleep faster.
I still stay on the lower end of the carb scale (usually 100 to 200 grams per day) but I’m not afraid to have a good amount before bed.
And no – carbs later in the day won’t make you fat.
(3) Experiment With Different Exercise Times
If you’re exercising the right way it shouldn’t be easy. It should raise your heart rate, your body temperature and even your cortisol levels (I know, cortisol is the devil. Only it’s not – but another article for another time).
But therein lies the problem – all those things can cause your sleep to go downhill.
Intense exercise in the evening really jacks up my sleep so my workouts are in the morning.
If you’re sleep is suffering consider moving your workouts earlier in the day.
(4) Stop Caffeine 8 Hours Before Bedtime
Caffeine is a stimulant that can still have effects on your body for up to 8 hours.
Trust me, I love a good dark cup of French roast (or Italian or any dark coffee for that matter) – but I make sure to not have any after 1 PM (most days it’s actually earlier).
You should also avoid ‘hidden’ sources of caffeine like tea and chocolate.
(5) Tap Into Your Natural Sleep Cycles
We all have ‘sleep cycles’ that – in theory – last roughly 90 minutes.
This has spawned a whole category of technology to help you monitor, identify and leverage your sleep cycles.
Do they work? The jury is still out.
Apps like Sleep Cycle work by placing your phone close to you as you sleep. By using the microphone on your phone it is suppose to monitor your movement to determine your sleep quality. It’s received a lot of high reviews on iTunes so maybe there is something to it
Sleepyti.me is a website where you can plug in your desired wake up time and it will calculate the ideal times for you to go to bed. Remember it takes – on average – 14 minutes to fall asleep. The times sleepyti.me suggests are when you should be falling asleep. So plan accordingly.
If you wear a FitBit these also can track your sleep patterns.
(6) Pressure Points
I personally haven’t tried pressure points and I haven’t been able to find any real proof that they’re effective.
But because it’s completely natural, easy and safe it may be worth a shot.
According to The Fusion Model – Neiguan (also called The Inner Gate) is one of the most effective pressure points to alleviate sleep problems.
To find it use 3 fingers on one hand and find the two main tendons at the base of your wrist. Neiguan is the small depression between those two tendons.
It is recommended to place light but steady pressure in that spot.
(7) Avoid Any Blue Light 1 Hour Before Bed
Blue light is helpful during the day because it helps boost your attention and mood and improve reaction times.
Which makes it problematic at bedtime. And there is no bigger source of bluelight at night then our electronic devices.
You have a couple of options here:
- Cut out sources of blue light 1 hour before bedtime and ideally have your lights in your home begin dimming a couple of hours before bed. You’ll still get some blue light but it’s an improvement.
- Block the blue light with glasses. You can go with cheap, effective but ugly. These Uvex safety glasses blocked nearly 100% of the blue light in a Consumer Reports test. Or you can go with something as effective, stylish but more expensive. These Classic Swannies were developed by James Swanwick who started out using safety glasses to help his sleep (they did help). But he wanted something he could wear in public or around friends who were over.
(8) Read Your Favorite Book
You’ve probably heard about all sorts of relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep. But one of the most effective is simply reading a book before bed.
In a study at the University of Sussex – Dr. David Lewis tested four popular relaxation techniques to help people fall asleep faster.
Reading worked best – lowering stress levels by 68% compared to 61% for listening to music, 54% for a hot drink and 43% for taking a walk.
In the study participants only had to read six minutes to get the stress lowering benefits.
(9) Use The Theater In Your Mind Technique.
In the landmark book Psycho-Cybernetics (terrible title – but a GREAT book) author Maxwell Maltz offers up the technique of visualization to improve your life.
Turns out it can also help you fall asleep faster.
In this study at Oxford University insomniacs were told to visualize a relaxing scene (that island you want to go to). When they did they fell asleep 20 minutes faster than those who to do nothing at all or tried to use distractions to fall asleep (i.e., counting sheep).
Important – when you use visualization make sure to use plenty of detail. Don’t just imagine the beach – watch the palm leaves swaying in the breeze, the scent of the ocean water reaching your nose, the sounds of the gulls, etc.
So here’s the basics when it comes to helping you get to sleep faster:
- Lavender is popular for sleep – but some people (me included) are aggravated by stronger scents. So it may make sense to use a diffuser or learn how to mix a milder concoction that can be applied to the skin.
- Quality of the oils varies. Aromatherapy has taken off in recent years as has the sale of essential oils. This has caused a lot of companies to jump into the business and quality is a concern.
Look for the following on any bottle you buy:
- Latin name (plant genus and species)
- Where and how the oil was distilled (lavender from France is considered superior to lavender in other countries)
- Organic or wild harvested
- Have a ballpark idea of prices
For a really good breakdown of the whole practice of aromatherapy check out Leigh Winters article at Mind Body Green. Very helpful.
(11) Try The “4-7-8” Method
Have you ever seen video of free divers about to go underwater? They’re doing breathing exercises to slow their heart rates and oxygenate their blood.
The ‘4-7-8’ method borrows the same philosophy. Here’s the basic process:
- Lie on your back in bed and place your tongue just behind your upper row of front teeth.
- Exhale completely through your mouth. It should make a ‘whooshing’ sound.
- Immediately close your mouth and breath in through your nose to a ‘4’ count.
- Now hold that breath for 7 seconds.
- Now let your breath out through your mouth, again with a ‘whooshing’ sound to a mental count of 8.
- This is one cycle. Perform 4 cycles and see if it helps.
(12) Cold Water Methods (Frontal Cerebral Thermal Transfer)
At the Sleep 2011 conference research showed that cooling parts of the brain with a water cap allowed women with insomnia to actually fall asleep 18% faster than women without insomnia.
Of course, you probably don’t have a water cap lying around.
Your best bet? Consider taking a cold shower or even submerging just your face in cold water.
While I shouldn’t have to say it – make sure to not start out too cold especially if you have any sort of heart condition.
(13) Lower Your Room Temperature
Keeping my room on the cooler side has been a big help for me.
I shoot for a temperature range of 63-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
(14) Make Your Room Completely Dark
Once I made the shift to sleeping a room in complete darkness my ability to fall asleep faster (and have better quality) sleep immediately improved.
The problem is most people underestimate just how dark things need to be. In short, you need to have it pitch black in your room.
You must eliminate all light sources in the room – and coming in from the outside. Here’s things I know to help or that I’ve used personally:
- Blackout curtains for your windows
- Putting a towel under hotel doors to block out hallway light
- Turning my smoke alarm so that the green indicator light showing it’s working is pointing away from my bed (but doesn’t effect the alarm effectiveness)
- Eliminating alarm clocks (I use my phone laid across the room)
(15) You Have To Be Comfortable
I’m going to be Captain Obvious here for a second and suggest that one of the quickest ways to get to sleep faster is making yourself comfortable. And the number one way to make that happen is to have a good mattress, pillow and sheets.
What constitutes ‘good’ can vary. But here’s what has helped others (myself included).
Spend the money for a good mattress. I know, mattresses are expensive but you also spend roughly 1/3rd of your life on it. Years ago my wife and I moved from a cheap Queen mattress ($400) to a larger King size Simmons Beautyrest ($1200).
We fell asleep faster, woke up much more rested and are still sleeping on it seven years later.
Pillows. Find one that works for you. I prefer flatter pillows and I think you’ll find better sleep with them. My wife and son love the Arc-4 Life pillows (great if you have any sort of neck pain and headache issues).
Higher Thread count sheets. Generally speaking the higher the thread count of sheet you have the smoother and silkier they feel. Meaning – you’re more comfortable.
(16) Contrast Water Treatment
I talked about cold water treatment above. But, you may be like me and benefit from contrast water treatment.
With contrast rather than just focusing on the cold water you alternate between hot and cold. I discovered this helped my by complete accident.
I was at Bozeman Hot Springs years ago and they had two small pools beside each other. One with very hot water and one with very cold.
I simply started alternating between them just to see what would happen. Aside from producing a Vagal Response when I got into the cold pool (big drop in blood pressure) I literally fell asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and had a great nights sleep.
Is there any science behind this? A bit – some studies show that rapid temperature decreases can slow your metabolism faster.
My preferred method at home is to do this in the shower. Always ‘end’ your session with cold water and – like I warned above – be careful with trying any type of cold water treatment especially if you have heart conditions. Ease into it and talk to your doctor.
(17) Try Wearing Socks To Bed
I’ve talked a lot about staying cool to fall asleep faster so why in the world should you wear socks to bed?
They think that the act of keeping the feet warm (they used a hot water bottle at the feet of participants) caused the blood vessels on the surface of the skin to dilate – leading to heat loss.
This shunting of blood away from the core to the extremities cools your body down. At least that’s the theory.
My personal experience: give it a try.
I don’t use it every night but I do pay attention to how my feet feel. I especially use this trick on the cold Montana winter nights.
(18) Stop Trying To Fall Asleep
Have you ever been driving or in a boring lecture where you’re trying to stay awake? And what happens? It’s harder than ever to stay awake.
So what’s going on?
No one knows for sure but there are a couple of factors at play and a big one may be stress.
When you lay in bed and can’t sleep it causes frustration. So you try harder. Still no results. Frustration increases.
It’s a nasty cycle. Instead, just try to stay awake.
Focus on keeping your eyes open and staying awake while you’re lying in bed.
A small study from the University of Glasgow found the same positive effect from insomniacs who tried to stay awake.
Personal experience: thumbs up. I’ve found this to work pretty decent for myself.
(19) Use A Trigger
According to Charles Duhigg – author of the best-selling book The Power of Habit (note: I have not personally read this book – although I should. It’s come highly recommended from others) – all habits follow a basic 3 step system:
- A Trigger – an event that starts a habit
- Routine – your ‘habit’ or ‘behavior’
- Result – the end result of your behavior – this can be good or bad.
The problem with sleep is that you can go to bed at 10 PM (trigger), toss and turn (habit) and lay in bed wide awake for another hour (result). Over time you begin to mentally associate bedtime with NOT falling asleep and frustration.
Instead, form a NEW trigger.
For example, when you go to bed at 10 PM if you aren’t asleep within 15 minutes get up and read a book until you begin to feel tired.
This will not only form a new habit but as the result improves (you fall asleep faster) it reinforces your trigger. It will become automatic for you to get out of bed and do something else if you aren’t sleeping.
(20) Pick Your Clothing Carefully (Or Go Full Monty)
Some people sleep better naked.
Some sleep better with clothes.
Sometimes the types of clothes matter (for example I prefer a short sleeve shirt – long sleeves make me feel claustrophobic).
Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you.
(21) Try Different Sleeping Positions
I’m much more of a side sleeper. Some people get to sleep quicker on their back. Other can be belly sleepers.
I recommend being careful with belly sleeping. If you are going to do it don’t use a pillow under your head – which can jack up your neck. Instead – bring one knee up high towards your belly.
Also, sleeping on your belly a lot can promote plantar fascitis (this happened in my son).
(22) Stop Killing Yourself With Shift Work (Literally)
I’ll keep this simple: shift work is a possible risk factor for cancer. Even if it wasn’t – it’s one of the worst things for your health you can do.
People ask me what they can do and the only REAL answer is to stop it. Granted, that’s radical. But it’s also a trade off.
If it’s one your comfortable making then that’s your decision. But you need to know the facts.
(23) Stop Supplementing With Melatonin
If you’re using melatonin for jet lag that’s one thing but if you are consistently supplementing with melatonin keep a couple of things in mind:
- Melatonin is a hormone. When you start supplementing with hormones you are going to effect other body processes down the line. Besides, the reason your melatonin secretion is off kilter is probably due to lifestyle issues (see the sunglasses issue just below as just one example). So implement the natural changes in your life first and your body will help you out.
- Most people who supplement with melatonin take WAY too much. Again, it’s a hormone. Tread lightly. If you insist on supplementing – I’d start out in the 200mcg range and keep it as a short term option.
(24) Ditch The Sunglasses
Quick Anatomy and Physiology lesson: when you’re outside in the sun your eyes send a signal to your hypothalamus which sends a signal to your pineal gland. The pineal gland is one of the biggest regulators of the hormone melatonin (we already talked about how important this is to your sleep/wake cycle).
So if you block that signal at the source with sunglasses it can definitely affect your ability to get to sleep.
If you have a valid medical reason for wearing sunglasses by all means keep doing it.
(25) Eye Covers And/Or Ear Plugs
I’ve personally tried these and they didn’t work for me. The eye covers were uncomfortable and ear plugs make me feel uncomfortable. What I mean is that I do like to hear some things at night. I have kids and a wife I want to be able to protect if something happens.
However, other people have good luck with them so you may want to give them a shot.
(26) Use A Fan For White Noise
This was a little hard to get used to at first but now I have a hard time getting to sleep without the fan. The noise is soothing to me.
We buy these fans and run them all night.
(27) No Beverages 2 Hours Before Bed
This is more of a common sense measure but one a lot of people break.
If I have to get up to pee at night I have a tough time getting back to sleep. So I limit beverages.