Falling asleep is a common problem for some people. There can be numerous sources that may interfere with getting a good night’s sleep, such a snoring partner or crying baby, stress, or conditions such as chronic insomnia. Cleveland Clinic states that seven or more hours of quality sleep each night recharges the body physically and helps to flush toxins from the brain to allow minds to fully rest. Per sleep expert Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer, “…a lack of sleep can affect your judgment and emotional response to otherwise normal daily activities.” Thus, getting a good night’s sleep is essential to wellbeing. Some people practice rituals to fall asleep. But do they really work? Here are five to consider:
1) Counting sheep – Verywell Health explains that this mental exercise, whereby people envision a continuous stream of sheep jumping over a fence and count each one, didn’t work very well in a small 2001 Oxford study. Results demonstrated that it took the group counting sheep longer to fall asleep than others who were simply imagining tranquil scenes. While no medical conclusion was reached as to why, researchers share some thoughts that counting sheep is very boring and doesn’t use enough mental energy to make one tired.
2) Drinking warm milk – Some people swear that drinking a glass of warm milk helps them to sleep better. Truth be told, warm milk is comforting and the act of drinking the warm beverage at bedtime may have a positive mental effect on some individuals. Additionally, it may make people feel full, thus more satisfied, and relaxed. WebMD explains that “…the jury is still out on whether or not milk can encourage sleep.” Some suggest that tryptophan in milk makes people tired, but WebMD explains that studies of tryptophan’s impact on sleep only affects phase one of sleep, when one is first falling asleep, but may harm deep sleep phases. They also point out the tryptophan must cross the blood-brain barrier to influence sleep and that can be difficult in the presence of other amino acids.
3) Listening to music – Music is often associated with dancing, exercising, and entertainment. But some people enjoy listening to music to help them fall asleep. Per Sleep Foundation, “…it also offers a simple way to improve sleep hygiene, improving your ability to fall asleep quickly and feel more rested.” Soft forms of music are known to help people relax, hence the reason for singing lullabies to babies. Interestingly, a study in adults who listened to 45 minutes of music before going to sleep reported having better quality sleep from the very first night and by incorporating music into a nightly routine, they slept better overall. It is believed that music can affect the regulation of hormones by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Music is also believed to trigger the release of dopamine to boost good feelings and reduce pains that may keep people awake.
4) Taking a warm shower before bed – Per Discover Magazine, a warm bath or shower one to two hours before bedtime facilitates the body’s natural flow into sleep by lowering body temperature. “Immersing yourself in warm water shunts blood flow in our palms and the soles of our feet and helps heat dissipate from the body.” Medical News Today Reports a study that analyzes bathing time and sleep quality which concludes that the temperature circadian rhythm helps people fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality overall.
5) Limiting food and drinks before bedtime – Per Health.com, a large meal or a spicy snack too close to bedtime can make your digestive system work overtime while the rest of your body lies awake. And drinking beverages at bedtime can interrupt sleep as most middle-aged adults will need to get up to use the restroom. Alcohol, and even a glass of wine two, can make you feel drowsy at first, but has the potential to interrupt your deep sleep and prevent you from achieving REM.
Everyone is different, so the bottom line is if counting sheep or listening to music works for you, it is likely worth continuing. People need to listen to their bodies and follow healthful routines that work best. If you tend to toss and turn at night, and suffer from insomnia, it’s wise to visit a medical doctor who may order a sleep study to rule out sleep disorders. Or the doctor may recommend a gentle dietary supplement to help control the sleep-wake cycle or offer techniques to help you relax and wind down so that you get the good night’s sleep you deserve.