We all know the feeling of looking at the clock as the hours left to sleep before the alarm goes off, slowly dwindle away. Unfortunately, trying to fall asleep may be the most counter-productive activity we ever engage in.
The human body needs sleep to function physically and mentally. Insufficient sleep weakens the immune system and slows cognitive function. Lack of sleep leads to irritability and feeling tired throughout the day. Fortunately, there are many ways to fall asleep and conquer insomnia.
The military method was originally developed to help pilots fall asleep in under two minutes. It starts with relaxing the entire face, including muscles inside the mouth. Allow both shoulders to drop along with both hands alongside the body. Consciously relax the muscles in the legs, thighs, and calves. The last step is imagining a relaxing scene for 10 seconds at a time.
The 4-7-8 breathing method works in cycles. Each cycle starts by exhaling with lips parted slightly, so breathing out makes a 'whoosh' sound. Close lips and inhale silently through the nose while counting to four, then hold that breath for seven seconds. Make sure the exhalation, with the whooshing sound, lasts for eight seconds. This method should be practiced frequently to complete the cycles mindlessly. Most people feel sleepy after four cycles.
Bright light influences the body's circadian rhythm, so people stay awake and alert during the day. The absence of light at night tells the body to rest. Blue light emitted from many electronic screens, including computers, tablets, and cell phones interrupt circadian rhythms and prevent sleep. Try to avoid electronic devices for 30-60 minutes before going to bed and remove all electronic devices from the bedroom. Reading and listening to music helps many people relax, but using electronic devices for relaxing is counter-productive. Keep devices that play music far away from the bed, so the light does not disturb sleep. Read from a paperback or an e-reader specifically designed not to produce blue light.
The reverse psychology method of falling asleep seems very counter-intuitive, but several small studies have documented success with this method. Sometimes people worry so much about their inability to sleep that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The brain can not shut down and allow sleep because sleep anxiety itself causes too much frustration and worry. The process of reverse psychology for insomnia involves paradoxical intention. People lay in bed and try to stay awake with their eyes open instead of trying to fall asleep.
Checking the time continuously while tossing and turning is an automatic reaction. Insomnia becomes more upsetting every time a glance at the clock shows less time remaining before the alarm goes off. The stress and worry prevent sleep. Remove every time-keeping device from the bedroom except an alarm. Turn alarm clocks, so the face is not visible, or place them out of sight entirely.
Internal body temperature plays a key role in the body's biological clock and sleep. Body temperature drops as people fall asleep. A cool, dark bedroom triggers melatonin production. Melatonin reduces body temperature and encourages sleep. Body temperature reaches its lowest point between 2-4:00 a.m. Most people fall asleep faster in temperatures between 60 to 67° Fahrenheit.
Some people fall asleep faster after submerging their faces in cold water. This seems ridiculous at first, but the shock from the cold water triggers the Mammalian Dive Reflex. The involuntary reflex slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It acts as a reset button for the nervous system to give the body a chance to calm down. People often fall asleep within 15 minutes of cold water submersion.
Acupressure comes from Chinese alternative medicine techniques. Pressure applied to specific parts of the body helps regulates energy to balance the mind. Gently press on the small depression between the eyebrows that sits right above the nose. Many people feel relaxed after massaging both ears for about one minute. Another pressure point exists on top of the foot between the first and second toes. A foot massage has a calming effect because the sole of the foot contains several pressure points.
Food and beverages have a significant impact on sleep. Large amounts of carbohydrates cause drowsiness. People may sleep for a short time after a carb-heavy meal, but they often toss and turn for the rest of the night. Foods with high-fat content actually promote restful sleep much more effectively than carbohydrates. Avoid carbohydrates for at least four hours before going to bed.
Caffeinated beverages also interfere with sleep and should be avoided for at least 6 hours before bedtime. Chamomile tea does not contain caffeine, and it has calming properties to encourage relaxation. Almonds and other nuts are a good bedtime snack because they contain fat and protein.
Raw honey or honeycomb enhance relaxation and sleep. Low glucose or glycogen levels sometimes cause people to wake up from a deep sleep. A bedtime snack of raw honey or honeycomb stabilizes glucose and glycogen levels to avoid waking up in the middle of the night. Honey also raises insulin levels slightly to trigger a release of tryptophan. Tryptophan is the amino acid found in turkey that causes drowsiness after Thanksgiving dinner. The body changes tryptophan into serotonin, which is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood and sleep.