You’ve been up for hours counting sheep yet you can’t seem to fall asleep. The night slowly slips by until you are forced to awaken in the morning, exhausted and frustrated. If you’re here now, you’ve decided that enough is enough.
If you’re ready to implement effective ways to fall asleep, this article is for you. We’ll be going through the most common reasons why people can’t sleep. We’ll also outline an ideal bedtime routine which you can get started with tonight to fall asleep faster and more soundly.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Trouble sleeping is a common issue. Nearly half of all men and women report having trouble falling asleep. On top of that, nearly 50 percent of adults do not receive the minimum recommended seven hours of sleep, according to the Center for Disease Control. A 2014 study found that 20 percent of 25- to 45-year-olds slept “90 minutes less than they needed to be in good shape.”
Sleep problems contribute to accidents and human errors. Driver sleepiness or fatigue causes between 10 to 15 percent of fatal motor-vehicle crashes. Since the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes is expected to double to 2.3 million deaths worldwide per year by 2020, that means lack of sleep will cause between 230,000 and 345,000 deaths annually. Disturbed sleep also nearly doubled the risk of a fatal accident at work in a national sample of over 50,000 people in Sweden.
On a personal level, lack of sleep reduces the quality of life, diminishes cognitive function, and contributes to depression. Not getting your minimum required sleep can weaken the immune system’s ability to respond to disease, which may cause you to get sick more often.
Insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder. Insomnia is defined as a persistent inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, waking up during the night, and waking up feeling tired. Approximately 30 percent of adults report experiencing either mild or severe insomnia.
The another common sleep disorder is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep. This stops airflow, causing the brain to send a signal to the sleeping person to wake up and a take a breath. It is in large part caused by being overweight or obese. Prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea is high, with estimates ranging from 9 to 21 percent in women and 24 to 31 percent in men.
Finally, a group of circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders are the third most common sleep disorders. These disorders are characterized by a disturbance or disruption of the normal circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock, which should be synced up with the day and night cycles of nature. Your brain determines when it is time to wake up or go to sleep based on the light. The light that your body should be following is from the sun: as the daylight and night come and go, so should your sleep cycle. When you go against that natural rhythm, it can cause issues with your ability to sleep.
This can be as a result of things such as jet lag, shift-work which forces you to stay up at night, or exposure to blue light during the later parts of the evening. When you expose your body to artificial or natural light during hours during which it should be resting, your body’s ability to create melatonin is reduced. Your body is especially sensitive to blue light, which is emitted from many electronic devices, including computer, phone and television screens, and fluorescent lighting.
Sleep disorders are medical issues which often need treatment from trained health professionals. For very severe cases of insomnia, for example, prescription sleep medications may be required. Sleep apnea may need you to wear a head mask, which forces air down your trachea, opening up obstructions.
However, doctors will always recommend lifestyle changes in addition to these interventions, or as a first step treatment. Lifestyle changes are even more important if you do not have a formal sleep disorder and are simply having trouble getting shut-eye. Read on to learn how you can optimize your lifestyle to get better sleep.
Cultivate a Pro-Sleep Lifestyle
We live in a 24/7 society complete with round-the-clock activities and increasing night time use of TV, internet, and cell phones. Work is bleeding into off time which increasingly threatens or compromises sleep. Over the past 30 years, there has been a decline in sleep duration of up to 18 minutes per night. In the United States, complaints of sleeping problems have increased substantially. Since shift work is required to service 24/7 societies, the number of workers exposed to circadian rhythm disorders has increased.
The biggest culprit behind poor sleep is lifestyle. We are staying up way too late working, browsing social media, and watching Netflix. We are eating too much and exercising too little, which leads to being overweight and undertired. We bring our phones and laptops into bed, transforming this place of rest into one of work.
What’s more, we are very stressed. A Gallup poll reports that 80 percent of Americans feel stressed. This means that we are unable to achieve a level of relaxation which would allow our minds to drift off into a deep sleep.
Our society is geared towards a lifestyle which is antithesis of rest. Imagine 300 years ago before the advent of electricity. When the sun went down, you could no longer work and there wasn’t really much to do except relax and sleep early. Now, there are more things to do at night than any person could complete in a sleepless lifestyle.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it means that you may need to do some hard re-prioritizing in your life. Although there are so many great shows to watch and tweets to retweet, you need to put a hard stop on these during certain parts of the day and prioritize relaxation.
This means getting sufficient exercise during the day to tire your body out. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it’s as simple as going for a walk around the block.
Prioritizing sleep also means keeping stress levels at bay during the day so that anxiety doesn’t follow you into bed. If you want a fast and easy way to do this, consider Spire. Spire tracks your breathing rate and sends you a message when you are falling into a state of stress. By taking a pause at these moments — through a few breathing exercises or a quick meditation — you can ensure that you make your way through your day and to bed carrying a minimum amount of tension.
The Best Bedtime Routine
Making sleep important is easy if you create a routine around sleeping well. Here is the best bedtime routine for those struggling to fall asleep.
Step 0: Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
The first thing you need to do to create an optimal sleep environment is to remove as much light from your bedroom as possible. This includes clocks with fluorescent displays, phones, laptops, and light coming through the window. If you cannot bear to remove your cell phone from your room when you sleep, make sure it is turned face-down and on silent mode. Turn your alarm clock away from your face so that the light does not shine towards you.
Do you ever wonder why you sleep so well in hotel rooms? It’s because most hotel rooms install these thick curtains which block all light. These block light coming from the moon, sun, and street lamps so that you are completely encased in darkness. Light-blocking curtains are inexpensive and easy to install on your own windows. If you can’t install these, consider using an eye mask.
If possible, make sure that your bedroom is turned down a few degrees when it comes time to sleep. A cooler bedroom temperature helps create sleepiness.
Step 1: Banish All Electronics One Hour Before Going to Bed
Banish electronics to your kitchen countertop or lock them in a drawer if you need to. This will not only protect you from the sleep-destroying blue light emitted by electronics, it will also prevent you from staying awake lost on the internet. Instead of winding down with electronics, consider picking up a book, writing in a journal, or snuggling with a partner.
Step 2: Do a Relaxing Activity
Step 3: Have a Warm Cuppa
While you read your book or chat with your partner, consider sipping on a caffeine-free, non-alcoholic, sugar-free beverage such as hot milk or herbal tea. Eating something before bed can wake your body up, so try to have your final piece of food at least three hours prior to your desired sleep time. Drinking something warm will keep hunger at bay and help you hydrate so that you are not waking up thirsty.
As you get sleepy, turn off the lights and try to fall asleep. If you cannot fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, get back up and continue doing the relaxing activity you were engaged in until you start feeling sleepy again.
Get Ready to Say Good Night
A person’s first thought when they aren’t able to sleep is that they need sleeping pills. But often, the best sleep medicine is a bit of patience, some lifestyle changes, and a bedtime routine that you stick to. We hope that this article helps put those poor nights of sleep far behind you.