Not getting enough sleep? You're not alone
Sleep deprivation has been called a public health epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and though you may think you’re perfectly fine, there’s a very good chance that you’re a part of the problem. Though you may envision people who are suffering from sleep deprivation as haggard-looking people who are staying up until 2:00 a.m. every day, the truth is that if you’re regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep per night then you may be sleep deprived too. And no, you may not realize that your body is suffering because the brain has an amazing propensity for fooling us into thinking that we’re functioning at a normal level, even when we aren’t.
For many of us, getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night is a matter of making better choices about how we spend our time. It may involve choosing to put down the tablet or turn off the
television a little bit earlier, or it may mean leaving our social engagements half an hour before we really want to. For others the problem isn’t about being in bed on time but what happens once we’re there under the covers. Lots of people have a very hard time falling asleep at night, and unfortunately, time spent in bed is not the same as time spent asleep. If you are doing everything right in terms of prioritizing sleep but then you end up laying there and staring at the ceiling, then maybe you need some hints about how to fall asleep faster.
Studies have shown that you can fall asleep much more easily by spending just ten minutes focusing on reducing your level of stress, and the most recent research points to using deep breathing exercises and imagery as one of the most effective ways to accomplish that. According to research published in the journal Chest, following these techniques provided study participants with a 65 percent reduction in their levels of stress, and that’s a big drop – probably big enough to stop your brain from working on negative thoughts and to let you drop off to sleep faster and more easily.
Easy Techniques to Fall Asleep Faster
Want to try it out for yourself? There are several easy exercises that you can do that will help you relax, and each of them can be done in ten minutes or less. Whether you choose one of these or find another for yourself, we hope you find them helpful.
• Give yourself some love. It may sound funny, but when you wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a hug, it actually sets off a complex series of interactions within your brain. Deep in the amygdala, signals get sent out that release several different biochemicals, including oxytocin, that offset stress reactions such as elevated blood pressure, increased levels of adrenaline, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
• Go slack jawed. That sounds just awful, and like a stressor in and of itself, but there’s science
behind it. According to neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, PhD., “Relaxing your tongue and jaw sends a message to your brain stem and limbic system to turn off the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.” Though it might feel awkward and strange, Lucas says that if you allow your tongue to roll around limply in your mouth and then open your mouth, your jaw automatically loosens. “These exercises help bring our parasympathetic nervous system online, which tells our bodies to rest and restore.” Just try to replicate the way that you look when you’re most deeply asleep, drooling all over your pillow, and you’ll have the movement down cold.
• Breathing exercises are some of the most effective and easy ways to evoke deep relaxation within your body, and that’s why it is so integral to meditation and yoga. According to Rick Hanson, PhD and the author of Buddha’s Brain, “When you elongate your exhalations, you spark your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart rate.” Though there are a number of different breathing exercises that people recommend to help get you to sleep more easily, probably the most popular is the 4-7-8 technique recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil, who calls it the “perfect, portable stress antidote.” Though the exercise can be performed in any position, he recommends that you start while sitting with your back straight until you’ve completely mastered it. Start by putting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right where it meets your upper front teeth – your tongue will stay in this spot throughout the entire exercise. Though this may feel strange at first because you will be exhaling through your mouth and around your tongue, you should get used to it pretty quickly. When you are ready, let your breath out completely through your mouth, trying to make an audible whooshing sound as you let it go. Once you’ve exhaled, close your eyes and inhale through your nose (quietly) to a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven and exhale completely through the mouth, making the whooshing sound again and making the exhale last for a count of eight. This entire cycle counts as a single breath. Once you’ve done a total of four, you should be completely relaxed. This exercise is helpful for getting to sleep quickly, but can also calm you down if you find yourself in an upsetting situation.
• Use what soothes you. Everybody has an experience that makes them feel relaxed, calm, or at ease. For some it’s as simple as the smell of fresh baked bread or vanilla, or putting on a pair of fuzzy socks. For others it is a warm shower or fresh sheets on the bed. If you are too stressed to relax, turn to one of these tactile solutions, as it helps the brain to release endorphins and recover from unpleasant emotions.