Tossing and turning? You’re in good company…or at least restless company. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 27 percent of people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
Sixty-eight percent struggle with sleep at least one night a week. And though we’re spending more and more on sleep aids every year ($41 billion in 2015 and expected to grow to $52 billion by 2020), they don’t seem to be helping any more than staring at the ceiling for hours does.
So what does work? According to researchers, these things do:
Count sheep (seriously).
Stressful thoughts—like “If I fall asleep NOW, I’ll get five hours” and “If I fall asleep NOW, I’ll get four hours”—won’t help you drift off to dreamland. But repetitive, boring imagery might, researchers say.
If you’re worrying, you’re producing the stress hormone cortisol, sleep psychologist Dianne Richards tells ABC Health & Wellbeing. “Once that happens, you’re ‘wired’ and you’re opportunity to sleep takes a nose dive.” And if jumping sheep are too stimulating, Richards says, try something more relaxing, like imagining them standing still as you pet them.
Move your alarm clock.
A major contributor to those anxious “if I fall asleep now…” thoughts that keep you up? Watching the clock, of course. Avoid triggering your body’s stress response—get your clock, wristwatch and phone out of sight, out of mind.
What, doing squats at 2am while wearing pajamas sounds strange to you? Some research shows that diverting blood flow away from the brain and to the legs may actually help you calm the mind and get to sleep easier. Worst-case scenario, you lose a few more minutes of sleep and gain buns of steel.
Turn off your phone.
Yes, logging into Facebook and catching up on what your high school lab partner has been up to the past two decades does sound like a great idea in the middle of the night. But it won’t help you get shut-eye any faster. Not only does it keep your eyes on the time, staying on your phone means you’re getting exposure to blue light. And blue light—which is also emitted by your television, laptop and tablet, just FYI—will keep your brain and body wired, disturbing your sleep and messing with your alertness the next day.
Deprive your senses.
Light tells your body it’s time to wake up—and sometimes it’s not enough to just draw the shades to turn off that wakefulness response. Do whatever you can to get your bedroom even darker: use blackout curtains, put a sleep mask over your eyes and check the room for sneaky sources of light—like a closet light or a power strip with light-up indicators. If you’re prone to being distracted by street noise, consider adding some white noise—there’s an app for that.
Imagine falling asleep.
Picturing yourself falling asleep can help you actually do it—but we mean really committing to it, not just indulging an anxious thought spiral about how much you want to go to sleep. Researchers call it muscle relaxation training—just breathe deep as you picture each part of your body relaxing, from head to toe. In one study of the technique, 82 percent of insomniacs reported a positive impact on falling asleep and staying asleep.
Take a warm shower.
Turn on the air conditioner in your bedroom and take a warm shower while the room cools down. The drop in body temperature as you go from warm water to cool air slows down heart rate, breathing and digestions, signaling to your body that it’s time for sleep.
Put on socks.
If your toes are feeling a little too cool after your warm shower, put on socks. Heating cold feet dilates your blood vessels, which tells your brain that it’s bedtime.