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Seven Tricks to Help You Fall Asleep Faster

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Blissful sleep is that rejuvenating, recharging repose in which about one-third of our lives is (hopefully) spent. When sleep is elusive, try one of these tactics to help drift into dreamland faster.

1. Get active during the day. Exercise a few hours before sleep if you want to avoid that all-jazzed-up feeling. Yoga postures that promote relaxation include Corpse, Cobra, Shoulder Stand, and Mountain. Tai Chi, meditation, breathing exercises, biofeedback, and guided visualizations can all be effective, non-invasive methods to aid sleep. Take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV. Keep your feet warm at night.

2. Set the mood in your sleeping quarters. Keep your bedroom between sixty and sixty-five degrees, and allow a bit of fresh air into the bedroom at night, though not directly by your head. Make sure your bed is comfortable and that your sheets are natural fabrics that allow your skin to breathe. If you’re not allergic, you may find that a feather bed is a comfortable addition to the top of your mattress.

Having electromagnetic pollution too close to your body (closer than six feet) can stimulate the nervous system. So avoid digital clocks, stereos, cell phone chargers, etc. as close nighttime companions. Light is a stimulant, and if much is shining brightly through your windows at night, get heavier curtains. Set your alarm clock, preferably to a gradual awakening rather than a shrill piercing sound. I love the Zen alarm clock, which awakens you to the sound of Tibetan bells. It's best if the bedroom is painted a calm color, like blue. Keep your bedroom space sacred and avoid using it as a place to do homework, business, or carry out arguments.

3. Try not to let routine thoughts distract you. Do problem solving in the daytime. Download errands and mental baggage onto a piece of paper or, better yet, an engagement book before bed. Then slumber to dreamland, knowing that the errands of tomorrow will not be forgotten. Lay out necessities for the next morning to avoid worrying about things at night. (Where is that other glove?) Prepare clothes, books, and papers, and even pack a healthful lunch.

4. Keep your evenings mellow and relaxing. If you consume stimulating foods, eat or drink them early in the day. Keep in mind that caffeinated food and drinks, such as chocolate, coffee, black tea, and sodas, may interfere with sleep even when consumed early in the day. Melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep, is a secretion produced by the pineal gland that's made from the neurotransmitter serotonin. (Children, pregnant or nursing moms, as well as people with hormonal imbalances, depression, those on steroids or autoimmune disorders, should not use it.) Getting out in the sun for a bit during the day and turning off the lights earlier at night can help trigger our natural production of it. Food sources that stimulate melatonin include bananas, barley, and rice. The pineal gland converts tryptophan into melatonin, and foods containing tryptophan, which include bananas, dates, figs, tofu, turkey, and yogurt, can boost melatonin levels. 

Avoid late night eating, as food stimulates the adrenal glands and elevates blood pressure. The few foods that can aid sleep include lettuce, oatmeal, and yogurt, which are all high in calming calcium. A traditional folk remedy is to drink a cup of warm milk flavored with a teaspoon of honey and a grating of nutmeg. Sleep doesn’t interfere with digestion, but digestion interferes with sleep, so should you wake in the middle of the night, avoid snacking as this can promote bad habits. Return to bed after urinating (without turning a bright light on, which will disrupt melatonin), and breathe deep, thinking of nothing but the in and out of your breath.

5. Run a warm bath an hour before bedtime. Adding a pound of baking soda makes the water alkalinizing and sedative. Put seven to ten drops of essential oils in the tub, such as chamomile, lavender, or ylang-ylang. Light a candle and soak in the soothing waters, deeply inhaling their calming aromas. Let the water out, and visualize your tensions going down the drain while staying in the tub. A sauna before bed can also help produce a state of calmness. Sex can be a pleasurable prelude to sleep.

6. Utilize earplugs, eye masks, or other herbal remedies to help shut the world out for a while. Make a sleep pillow, which is simply a sachet about five by five inches filled with the calming aroma of dried hops, then insert it into your pillowcase. Other herbs used for sleep sachets include lavender, chamomile woodruff, and lemon balm. Replace every six months. Another folk remedy is to cut a piece of yellow onion and place it in a jar. Cover and place on your nightstand. If you wake up, or can’t fall asleep, open the jar and take several deep onion inhalations. Recover the jar and lie back down, and you should fall back to sleep within fifteen minutes.

Also consider homeopathic remedies such as Rescue Remedy Sleep, Quietude, or Calms Forte.

These other herbs have traditionally been consumed in tea, tincture, or capsule to aid sleep and have been used for thousands of years by millions of people.

  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is high in nerve and muscle relaxing calcium, magnesium, potassium, and some B vitamins. Chamomile can help a tense person unwind.
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus) helps induce sleep and provides a pleasant numbing sensation. Hops contains lupulin, a strong, but safe, reliable sedative. Hops, a traditional ingredient in beer, is the only other relative of marijuana on the planet. They are both members of the Canabaceae family.
  • Kava kava (Piper methyisticum) is an ancient Polynesian remedy for insomnia and nervousness.

  • Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) helps relax the mind and calms worried insomniacs. It slows down the breakdown of serotonin and norepinephrine, allowing one to maintain a more peaceful state of consciousness.
  • Skullcap (Scutelaria lateriflora) has long been used for insomnia, restlessness, and to calm emotional upsets. It is rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and it is best when used over an extended period of time.
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) helps sleep disorders that are the result of anxiety. It is a smooth muscle relaxant. Most will dislike the taste of valerian and prefer using it in capsule or tincture form rather than tea. Valerian is best used when needed, rather than on a daily basis.

7. Establish a regular bed and awakening time and do your best to stick with it. Sleeping with one’s head to the magnetic north is said to improve sleep and dream quality. Sleeping on the back is said to give internal organs the most room for optimum function. Sleeping on one’s left side can put excess pressure on the heart. When wanting to sleep, allow no thoughts to enter your mind except the inhale and exhale of your breath. Visualize—with one breath relaxing your toes, with the next breath the feet, then the ankles, etc.—moving slowly up the body into slumber.

Another sleep technique is to get comfortable in bed and take eight breaths while lying flat on your back. Then take sixteen deep breaths while lying on your right side; lastly, take thirty-two breaths while lying on your left side. Most people are asleep before completing the exercise. As we get older, requirements for sleep decrease. If you lie awake for more than one half hour, get up and write a letter, or read something not too action packed. Give thanks for the good things in your day. Bless those you love!

By brigitte.mars for

Updated on January 2, 2011

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