Picture the scene – you’re lying in bed, wide awake, clock ticking loudly. You have a busy day at work tomorrow and you must get a good night’s sleep. But the harder you try, the further sleep slips from your grasp. The frustration and worry that causes makes it even less likely you’ll sleep. And so the vicious cycle continues…
Difficulty falling asleep is widely experienced, especially on a Sunday night before the working week. So what can we do once we are in the throes of insomnia, aside from helplessly count sheep and curse those who sleep like babies? Try the following scientifically-supported sleep hacks to beat the insomnia.
Our minds are tricky creatures, and often try to do the opposite of what we want them to. This theory applies to sleep in that if you try to fall asleep, chances are your brain will put a swift stop to that. On the other hand, if you try to stay awake without distractions, it’s likely your brain will fight it and send you to sleep.
A small study conducted at the University of Glasgow found that those who were instructed to lay in bed and try to stay awake with their eyes open fell asleep more quickly and easily than participants told to fall asleep without this “paradoxical intention”.
Journaling can help you sleep as it frees your mind and provides a dumping ground for all the thoughts racing around your brain. Just the act of releasing those thoughts from your head and putting them onto paper can be calming.
More specifically, writing a to-do list can help you sleep. A study by psychologists at Baylor University found that writing down a to-do list for the next day can help you fall asleep quicker. Interestingly, participants who wrote longer and more specific lists fell asleep faster than those who wrote shorter, more generalised lists.
However, once insomnia has you in its grasp, you might not want to turn the light on, stumble around finding a pen and paper and start writing. But have no fear – there’s an alternative!
Try creating a mnemonic to-do list. This technique gives your mind something to do, whilst ensuring you remember everything you need to do tomorrow. For example, if you need to send back your online purchase, lunch with your mum, edit your presentation for work, enroll in the new yoga class you’ve been meaning to join and pack for your weekend away, then remember the mnemonic S.L.E.E.P.
SQUEEZE AND RELAX YOUR MUSCLES
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation as a way of falling asleep fast. The practice involves slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle in your body to help your body unwind.
Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in either your toes or your neck and head, and progressively work upwards or downwards. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds, then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
A breathing exercise championed by holistic health and well-being guru Dr. Andrew Weil, this method is said to relax you by boosting the amount of oxygen in your blood stream, slowing your heart rate, and releasing more carbon dioxide from the lungs.
We often take breathing for granted, passing it off as something insignificant that our bodies do all the time. But, used correctly, it's actually a highly powerful way to control our minds and bodies.
According to Dr Weil, here’s how you do it:
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS...
This may seem counter-intuitive (and really hard to do!), but if you are struggling to fall asleep after 20 minutes then get out of bed and do something relaxing in a different room.Try something that requires the use of your hands and your head, like a jigsaw or some colouring.
You want your brain to associate your bed with relaxation and sleep and not with overthinking, insomnia and anxiety.
However, make sure you avoid devices that emit blue light (e.g. laptops, TVs, phone and tablets) as they suppress melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone.
So if you find yourself in bed tonight spending the wee hours with insomnia, try the above and kick that sleep thief out of the bedroom!
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NB: This article is for information purposes, and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, or have symptoms which prevent you from sleeping well, you should contact your medical practitioner.