Noise. Stress. Anxiety. Substance use. Light. Pain. Depression. Insomnia. Sleep Disorders. Room temperature. Body temperature. These are just a few reasons why you might not be able to fall asleep at night.
Laying awake unable to sleep for hours is boring and frustrating. It’s a vicious cycle; the longer we can’t fall asleep, the more we think about not being able to, and the more difficult it becomes.
Luckily, there are a few things that we can do to encourage the body into a sleepy state! But first things first, we need to make sure the environment you’re sleeping in is encouraging your body into rest & digest mode…
Best Sleeping Practices
There are ways that we can set up our sleeping space to help encourage sleep, starting with temperature!
Keep it Cool
Our core body temperature gradually decreases in the hours before bedtime, as we actually need to drop our core temperature by about 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fall asleep.
During our sleeping state, our body temperature changes as we move through the different stages of the 24-hour sleep and wakefulness cycle known as the circadian rhythm. According to our body’s natural temperature changes, the ideal room temperature to sleep in is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit/15.6-19.4 degrees Celsius, with 65 degrees Fahrenheit/18.3 degrees Celsius being considered ideal.
Because our body temperature regulates itself while we sleep, it’s actually best to sleep in your birthday suit! Well, birthday suit + gloves and socks…
I know that sounds pretty strange, but according to professor Matt Walker, Founder & Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, the best way to sleep is naked, wearing gloves and socks! Warming the hands and feet charms the blood away from your core out to the surface, keeping the body cool while we sleep.
Turn off the Lights
Light stops the production of our sleepy hormone, melatonin. Try dimming the lights in the house or turning off as many lights as possible at least one hour before bed. If we need to fall asleep and it’s light outside, getting blackout curtains will help the body naturally feel sleepy. The darker your environment, the quicker the production of melatonin, and the sleepier you’ll feel.
The same goes for smartphones and device screens! They emit a blue-light that inhibits the production of melatonin, so it’s best to avoid using screens at least one hour before bed.
If we can’t pull ourselves away from the screens before bed, an alternative to consider would be to use a blue-light filter on your devices. Some devices have settings options where you can change the blue-light settings. You can also use blue-light filtering screen protectors.
When we can’t sleep, a nightcap might be tempting. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol actually decreases our sleep quality and interferes with our natural circadian sleep cycle. Moderate-high alcohol consumption has been proven to decrease sleep’s restorative qualities by 24% – 39.2%.
If you enjoy a drink before bed, consider allocating one night per week where you sleep sober and keep track of any improvements that you notice in your sleep. If you consume 3 glasses of wine in an evening, try to decrease this to 2. Small changes to your drinking habits over time can really help to improve sleep quality and quantity.
The same goes for substances like marijuana. While marijuana can make us drowsy, tired or sleepy, just like alcohol, it negatively impacts our sleep quality and natural circadian rhythm. If you’re a regular pot smoker, consider reducing your intake and allocating one day per week where you don’t smoke, building on improvements over time.
But what about those nights you’re in bed simply unable to sleep?
When we can’t sleep, we can practice relaxation exercises that encourage the body into a sleepy state. We need to encourage our parasympathetic nervous system to activate (rest & digest).
Legs Up and BREATHE!
Let’s think about our breath for a moment. What happens to your breath when you’re panicking? What happens to your breath when you’re relaxing watching a movie?
The way we experience things impacts our breathing. Just as our breathing is influenced by our experiences, we can influence our experiences by leveraging our breath.
When we’re panicked, people might help us to calm down by encouraging us to slow down our breathing. This is because slow, mindful breaths indicate to the body that we’re safe and can relax. Deep breathing literally is a signal for our central nervous system to start relaxing.
Legs Up The Wall
Similarly to the way the breath impacts our central nervous system, there are postures that we can come into that help to calm the central nervous system.
Lay on your bed with your bum against the wall and legs up the wall. Keep a little bend into the knees and relax the feet and ankles. Bring the left hand onto your tummy and the right hand onto your chest. Relax each part of the body. Part the teeth to relax the jaw.
Now, practising some mindful breathing, close the lips, and start inhaling and exhaling from the nose. Keeping as much ease in the breath as possible, inhale for the count of 1, 2, 3, and exhale for the count of 1, 2, 3.
Continue taking slow, mindful breaths, going at your own pace at your own count. With each breath you take, try to lengthen the breath, making each exhale slightly longer than the inhale.
Keeping the body relaxed, continue with this deep breathing. Really focus all of your attention on your breath. How is it moving the body? Is your chest or belly moving up and down as you breathe? Maybe you notice the breath as it enters through the nostrils. Wherever you notice the breath in the body, bring your attention to that place.
Continue this deep breathing with the legs up the wall for between 2-5 minutes to encourage the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) to engage. When you’re ready, you can gently come out of the posture by hugging the knees in towards the chest and rolling over to one side.
When we can’t sleep, it’s time to look at our sleeping environment and make sure that it is optimized for an easy passing out sesh! When you’re laying in bed awake unable to sleep, try coming into our ‘legs up the wall’ posture and practice some deep, mindful breathing.
If you’re concerned about your sleeping habits, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider.