It should not be That difficult to fall asleep in the first minutes after closing your eyes. However, it is: 1 in 3 Americans have trouble falling asleep at night, according to the National Institutes of Health. People may have difficulty catching those or staying asleep due to issues with chronic pain, nicotine use, hormonal changes, pregnancy and menopause, medications, sleep apnea or mental health, according to Dr. Keisha Sullivan, an osteopathic and family medicine physician and a sleep medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Maryland.
People are turning to the internet for sleep advice, and while some of it is vetted, many of those too-good-to-be-true tricks you find in your social media feed aren’t going to solve your sleep dilemmas.
There are plenty of tips online on how to get a better night’s sleep, go to sleep faster, and sleep longer. This does not mean that none of this is correct or scientifically supported.
I rounded up some of the internet’s common sleep hacks and recommendations, and asked Sullivan to endorse or debunk the conventional sleep wisdom we see online. From the best sleeping position to breathing techniques that work, here’s what I’ve learned.
For more sleep advice, here’s a look at CBD as a natural sleep aid, and here’s how to stop allergies from ruining your sleep.
10 Common, Approved, and Debunked Sleeping Tips
Keep your room temperature between 62-68 degrees Fahrenheit
Sullivan recommends keeping your bedroom even cooler, at 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping your room between these temperatures will lower your body temperature and help you fall asleep, he explains.
To know more: Create the perfect sleeping environment in 7 simple steps
Red lights help produce melatonin
One tip I found online encouraged turning on red wavelength lights at night because this light supposedly produces melatonin, the natural hormone that helps us fall asleep.
A 2012 study of 20 female athletes found that when the group was exposed to 30 minutes of red light therapy, the group showed improved sleep, melatonin levels, and endurance performance. CNET sister site Healthline explained that while the research behind red light and sleep is promising, more research is needed to fully examine its implications.
This suggestion of having red wavelength lights on at night, according to Sullivan, doesn’t have much scientific backing. However, she has noted that exposure to blue light, such as smartphones, tablets and other screens, before bed can disrupt sleep and suppress melatonin production.
To know more: The best blue light blocking glasses
Stay out of bed and out of the bedroom until you’re ready to fall asleep
This suggestion is true. Our brains, however evolved and complex they may be, are limited to associating different spaces with a selected number of actions: you eat in the kitchen, you relax in the living room, you work at your desk and you sleep in the bedroom. Safe, You know that you can do more than one thing in the same space, but our brains don’t.
A good night’s sleep depends on a good sleep routine, explains Sullivan. Part of that routine includes training your body to recognize cues for falling asleep. When you spend your day working in your bed or doing other things besides sleeping in your bedroom, you’re confusing your body as to what it should do in that position.
Stop eating three hours before bed, working two hours before bed, and using the phone one hour before bed
You don’t have to follow it all the way, but it’s important to keep some distance between eating and sleeping and using technology and sleeping. Sullivan tells patients to have their last meal of the day three to four hours before bedtime and recommends putting away all electronic devices an hour or two before bedtime.
Take warm baths or showers before bed
Taking a warm shower or bath before bed may help you fall asleep more easily. This can cause distal vasodilation, Sullivan explains, which is an “increased blood flow to the extremities that lowers core body temperature more rapidly.”
Military method to fall asleep
The military method of sleeping well originates from “Relax and Win: League Performance“, written by Lloyd Bud Winter. Winter found that Navy Pre-Flight School pilots could fall asleep in just two minutes through the military method in which progressive muscle relaxation is practiced. This, according to Sullivan, prepares the body for sleep and it lets you focus by tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups. Studies suggest this technique can help you fall asleep, Sullivan said.
Drink tart cherry juice
Sullivan endorsed this suggestion, citing the fact that tart cherry juice naturally contains melatonin, which may promote sleep.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach and instead sleep on your side
TikToker Jayde Carroll garnered over 350,000 views on her TikTok encouraging viewers to stop sleeping on their stomachs because “studies have shown that this is, for example, the worst position to sleep.” What studies? Carroll didn’t elaborate. She on the other hand encouraged her to sleep on your side.
Sullivan partially agrees, saying he encourages his patients to sleep on their side, and if they can’t, the second-best option is to sleep on their stomachs. “Sleeping on your back is actually the worst position to sleep in. I think patients are surprised to hear that,” Sullivan said. When you sleep on your back, your tongue and jaw can drop back, crowding your airways and making it difficult to breathe while you sleep, which is especially dangerous for sleep apnea sufferers, Sullivan explained.
Breathing technique 4-7-8
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is rooted in pranayama, a breathing regulation practice used in yoga. To practice this technique, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. It should help you fall asleep faster and focus attention.
As for whether Sullivan approves or disapproves of this technique, he believes that any type of breathing technique can benefit someone trying to fall asleep.
To know more: Under stress? These 5 breathing exercises can help relieve symptoms
Despite melatonin’s popularity as a sleep remedy, people who take the supplement regularly report feeling groggy and hungover the following morning. There is some debate as to whether it is the right supplement you should be taking as a sleep aid.
More and more people are ditching their melatonin supplements and opting for magnesium instead. Taking a magnesium supplement or consuming magnesium-rich foods like seeds, legumes, nuts and avocados before bed is a way to naturally signal your brain that it’s time to relax. “Preliminary studies show that magnesium can improve sleep quality, but more research is needed,” Sullivan said.
Try these other suggested tips for a good night’s sleep
Eat protein-rich foods
“Foods like nuts, fish and eggs are high in magnesium, which can help regulate the neurotransmitters that help you fall asleep,” Sullivan said. She also suggested drinking warm milk or tart cherry juice or eating goji berries before bed.
Wear socks to bed
Not only does wearing socks to bed keep your feet warm throughout the night; it also helps regulate core body temperature, explains Sullivan. “As our body increases melatonin production towards the end of the day, our core body temperature begins to drop to help us fall asleep,” Sullivan said. “Wearing socks can help with distal vasodilation, or an increase in blood to the hands and feet which lowers core body temperature more quickly, which helps you fall asleep faster.”
Create a sleeping environment
Keeping your room cool, turning on a relaxing podcast or white or brown noise, and making your bedroom as dark as possible will all help create an ideal sleeping environment.
To know more: The best white noise machine
Diary before bed
To quell those racing thoughts before bedtime, jot them down in a journal, suggests Sullivan. It’s also another great habit to integrate into your nightly routine and set you up for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Correction, May 22,: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the type of medicine Dr. Keisha Sullivan specializes in.
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