Arianna Huffington’s bestselling book, The Sleep Revolution, makes a convincing argument that sleep is as important to our health as factors like what we eat or the exercise we get. Bottomline: You really, really need more sleep if you own, run or work at a small business. But you don’t have to take Arianna Huffington’s word on it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that, “Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety.” And according to Harvard Medical School research, sleep deprivation can also critically impair job performance, sometimes with disastrous long-term effects.
Unfortunately, getting the right amount of sleep every night is much easier said than done.* For some people, just falling asleep is a challenge. Here are suggestions for improving your ability to fall asleep fast.
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There are many studies that suggest breathing plays a role in signaling to your brain that it’s time to relax. Symptoms of stress like increased heart rate, high blood pressure all decrease from practicing deep breathing. In an article for Psychology Today, Vikki Stark explains how to deep breathe effectively. (Hint: It’s a good idea to start slowly, focusing on each inhale and exhale.)
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Catherine Darley, director of the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, recommends preparing your body for sleep with a simple technique. Try curling your toes tightly for about ten seconds then relaxing them. Repeat this exercise so that you tighten and relax each muscle group working your way up from your toes to your neck.
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We all know how important exercise is to our health, but the National Sleep Foundation recently published an article on how regular exercise prevents drowsiness throughout the day and lets us fall asleep quicker at bedtime. Another study found that people who considered themselves “vigorous exercisers” admitted to getting much better sleep than the people who considered themselves “couch potatoes.”
Reset your body’s clock
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Your body’s inner clock (or, as it is called by the experts, your “circadian rhythm“) plays an important role in how and when you fall asleep. You can actually program your body to know when to sleep. You can do this by establishing a nightly bedtime routine. Select a particular activity to be the final thing you do before going to bed. This habit should be conducive to sleeping such as reading, journaling or listening to soothing music.
Turn off all the lights
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The role of light and health is getting lots of attention these days. We’ll let other battle out the science and go with common sense on this advice: Turning out the light and going to sleep have a magical connection.
Monitor the room temperature
Temperature is an often overlooked but crucial variable to falling asleep. Although everyone’s preference is different, temperatures below 54 and above 75 are considered to be disruptive to sleep. Studies suggest a temperature somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit works for most people.
Stop thinking and write it down
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Many people have difficulty falling asleep because their head is full of thoughts, often about stressful things. Thinking about the day, your life and work is important. But thinking shouldn’t be the enemy of sleeping. An hour before bed, try writing your thoughts on paper or in a journal in an attempt to offload those thoughts before getting in the bed.
*For some people, the inability to sleep can be related to serious, underlying physical or mental health issues, so it is important that you seek advice from your personal physician. A list of sleep-related disorders can be found on Wikipedia.