It’s 3 a.m. and I am lying in my bed wide awake. I am not exactly sure what woke me — perhaps the cat resettling on the bed, or my husband rolling over, or the fact that I have to go to the bathroom because I drink too much water at night. But when I get back into bed and shut my eyes, desperately hoping to drift off into dreamland, I can’t stop reviewing the list of things I have to do the following day. The deadlines and errands. Bills and appointments. My mind fixates on it all, and then the existential thoughts creep into the mix. And boom — I am wide awake and not likely to fall back asleep anytime soon.
We all know we need to sleep — 8 hours for that matter, according to scientists — so our bodies and minds can restore themselves. Remember the good old days when you could sleep in until noon? Ha. These days, I find myself terribly jealous of the deep heavy sleep that my teenage daughter enjoys on the weekends. Or slightly annoyed by those people who can take 20-minute power naps and wake up feeling perky and refreshed! Not me!
As we age, a good night’s rest seems to get a little trickier. And sleep deprivation certainly has its share of negative effects. It’s hard to concentrate and easy to make poor decisions. It makes you irritable and then even the smallest of tasks can seem impossibly difficult. And these are just a few of the symptoms. Lack of sleep can also have a damaging impact on us health-wise, according to Consumer Reports.
So what should one do to fall asleep more easily and calm the monkey brain when it kicks in? Here are ways to quiet your mind and get some proper shut-eye.
Read a book, not a screen.
So many things are interrupting our ability to sleep deeply, especially technology. All that blue light from our screens is said to suppress melatonin and alert the brain to stay awake, so checking Instagram before bed is not a good idea. Neither is reading articles or a novel on your phone, tablet or computer. Good old-fashioned, page-turning books are much better when it comes to falling asleep.
Clearly, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. For example, my husband can drink an espresso or soda before bed and then fall asleep. I am tremendously envious that sleep comes so easily to him. If I have caffeine after 4 p.m., it completely jeopardizes my night. Not to mention, when my husband puts his head on the pillow, 42 seconds later he is out. I usually have to read for a good hour. But then again, I enjoy reading and the quiet.
Meditation slows our brain waves and gets our minds into a calm alpha state. An easy meditation is to inhale for 8 counts as you say the word “sleep” (or your mantra), and then exhale for 8 counts while saying your name. Simply repeating words that coincide with your breath can quiet an overactive brain. Another uncomplicated practice is a basic relaxation technique. As you lay in bed, do a full body scan, starting at your toes and focusing on relaxing each body part. Hopefully you’ll be sawing logs before you reach your nose. This can also work if you wake up in the middle of the night — keep the lights off, gently focus on your breath and do a simple meditation. If you cannot do it yourself, there are also guided meditation apps — but beware of that blue light!
Take a hot bath.
There’s nothing like a warm soak to relax the muscles and let the mind drift. Add a few drops of calming lavender oil and you’ve got another good recipe for luxurious sleep.
Ditch the bedside clock.
Watching time tick by is the absolute worst when you are trying to fall asleep, so cover your clock or remove it. The sense of time slipping by and the thought of morning thundering in creates nervous tension, which elevates the heart rate and wards off sleep.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool. Often, pajamas overheat the body, and being too warm can wake us up. It’s better to sleep without clothes under the covers rather than in clothes without covers. Sheets or blankets cocoon us and lend a sense of security. Also, women experiencing night sweats are often woken up, so it’s a good idea to be proactive and regulate the temperature of your room. Fans are another good solution as they also create white noise, which can aid in better sleep.
Consider herbs and supplements.
According to a Consumer Reports survey, an estimated 164 million Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week. And millions take prescription drugs to combat this. Unfortunately, many of these drugs have side effects and may be harmful in the long run. Personally, I would rather take an herb over a drug, and, happily, I discovered valerian a few years back. Valerian, a plant whose root is ground into a powder, calms the brain and nervous system.* Not only can it help you fall asleep, but it can enhance the quality of your sleep as well.* What’s even better is that Swisse makes a product called Swisse Ultiboost Sleep that combines valerian with magnesium — a great duo, as magnesium may also help calm the nervous system and help the brain relax.* The mineral plays a role in the regulation of our own natural melatonin, which influences our sleep cycles.* Swisse Ultiboost Sleep is best taken a few hours before bedtime during periods of occasional sleeplessness.*
Put a muffler on that monkey brain by turning off your screens, taking a hot bath and trying some Swisse Ultiboost Sleep, so you can drift away and wake up feeling refreshed and restored. It works for me!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.