I worked the graveyard shift for 13 years. I don’t recommend it. Your whole life begins to revolve around the desperate pursuit of sleep, and you turn into one of those people who curse your neighbors for mowing the lawn. It’s not a good look.
When I think about how I used to cry as a child when I was told it was bedtime, it makes me laugh. Now I’m more apt to cry when I can’t sleep. I’d rather sleep than just about anything else these days. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you feel great afterwards. There are very few things in life that you can say those things about.
That being said, I’ve picked up quite a few sleeping tricks over the years. Some of them involve taking supplements or the like. Please know that I’m not a doctor, and I strongly urge you to consult one before adopting any of these methods. Everyone’s physiology is slightly different, and as the saying goes, your results may vary.
So, in no particular order, here are 21 tricks to help you sleep.
Exercise. Often I can’t sleep because I’m full of nervous energy. But I have noticed that I always sleep better on days when I’ve exercised. Even if all you do is take a 20 minute walk, you’ll reap many benefits, including a better night’s sleep.
Yoga. I’ve discovered that a simple gentle yoga routine makes me sleep like a baby.
Raise your legs. I have a friend who swears by this. She says it has something to do with the fact that your blood is pooling in the area around your stomach. Worth a try.
Meditation. Quiet your mind and your body will soon follow. At least that’s been my experience.
Relaxing sounds. You can find all sorts of free recordings on Youtube that are 8 to 12 hours long, and designed specifically to help you relax and/or sleep. Here’s my favorite at the moment: Tibetan Healing Sounds #1.
Sex. This seems to work wonders for men in particular. (Ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) But as a woman, I’ve also found that I have a much easier time falling to sleep if I’m smiling and feeling loved. Something to think about.
Get a Chillow. Sometimes I can’t sleep because it’s just too darned hot. After hearing me grumbling about this, a friend recommended that I get a Chillow, and since I trust her implicitly, I did. And these things work wonders! If your head is cool, the rest of you feels cool as well. They also are great for people who suffer from hot flashes. My friend recommends the Mini-Chillow, and urges you to get the name brand, not the cheap knock-offs, because they last longer, and you don’t really need a large one.
Breathe through your left nostril. This is a yoga trick. If you lie on your left side and hold your right nostril closed, it is amazingly relaxing. You have to try it to believe it.
The 4-7-8 breathing trick. While researching this blog entry, I kept coming across this trick. It seems that a lot of people swear by it. It’s a little too complicated to go into here, but click on the link. I’m going to try this next time I have trouble sleeping. I’m all for a non-medicinal method!
First sleep, second sleep. I’m lucky enough to have a relatively flexible sleep schedule, so of all the methods I mention, this one works best for me. I also happen to find it fascinating. A few years ago I came across several articles such as this one. It seems that historians kept encountering mentions of first sleep and second sleep as recently as the 1700’s. They came to realize that cramming all your sleep into a single 8 hour period is an artificial construct that came about with electric lighting. Once we were able to illuminate more of the day, we started stuffing more activities into it, and giving ourselves ever-shortening windows of opportunity to sleep. Before that, people naturally slept for a period of time, say 4 to six hours, then got up when their bodies told them to, and talked or made love or did light activities for an hour or so. Then they went back to sleep for a couple hours. Ever since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt a lot more rested in the morning. It’s tragic that the lives most of us currently live do not allow for this adjustment.
Lavender. I don’t know what it is about this smell, but it knocks me out. You can get it in many forms. You can have it in a pillow, or shampoo your hair with it, use it as a lotion or a body spray… whatever works best for you.
Hot Bath. If I’m feeling agitated, a hot bath often calms me down. Sending the message to your body that you deserve pampering never hurts. And if you get some Epsom salts that are infused with lavender, well, that is like a one-two punch.
Warm Milk. Oddly, this has never worked well for me, but I know people who have had great success with it.
Audio Books. When I told a friend of mine that I was writing this blog entry, she told me a trick that she uses. She often can’t sleep because she can’t stop thinking, so recently she decided she needed to distract herself. She began listening to audio books at bedtime. She says it also works when she wakes in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Currently she recommends Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hihuelos.
Stare at a fixed point. Keep staring at it. Don’t let yourself look at anything else. This is a form of self-hypnosis. If you can do this for any length of time and NOT fall asleep, you are a robot.
Write stuff down. Often, I can’t sleep because my brain keeps going over things I’m upset about, or things I’m afraid I’ll forget. When that happens I’ve found that if I write those things down and then tell myself I’ll revisit them in the morning, I sort of give myself permission to “clock out” for the night.
Tryptophan. It’s not just in turkey, and not just for Thanksgiving. Your body requires it, and it’s found in a wide variety of food, including many nuts (and peanut butter), poultry, cheese, red meats, and on and on. And you can also get it in pill form, although I’ve never tried it.
Melatonin. You can get this in the vitamin section of your pharmacy. I use it as a last resort because while it does put me to sleep, it also gives me really strange dreams, and I wake up feeling kind of groggy.
Vitamin D. Now that I’m in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, my doctor discovered that I was not getting sufficient Vitamin D, so she had me start taking a supplement. She recommended that I take it at bedtime, though, because it can make you sleepy. I’m all for killing two birds with one stone.
Marijuana. Okay, first of all, I’m only recommending this in places where it’s legal. Second, it should only be done in moderation, because it can impact your life and your job prospects and your brain chemistry in unpredictable ways. Personally, pot practically sends me into a coma. But it also throws me into a deep dark depression, so it’s not something I want in my life. But if I could get to sleep no other way, I might resort to this now and again.
Yarrow Root. Again, I’ve never tried this, but I have a friend who swears by it.
So there you have it, the results of my years of pursuing the elusive Sandman. May you have sweet dreams and restful nights. And if you have any other tricks, please share them in the comment section!