Help me sleep better at night.
January 20, 2008 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Help me to sleep better at night.

It's pretty loud outside my window, and I don't sleep well to begin with. It usually takes me a good 20-30 minutes to fall asleep, even if I'm pretty tired. I want to learn how to sleep quickly and deeply. I've tried Counting sheep and it doesn't work very well for me (I've got up to 3000 before ¬_¬).

You must have witnessed people who can fall asleep with 5 standing up on a moving train, so it can be done. So how do I train myself to fall asleep quickly and efficiently? Got any good methods or advice you could share?
posted by dragontail to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ear Plugs. I always wear them when I sleep. Get the kind that look kind of like big orange bullets made of foam. They're comfortable, easy to put in, and reduce environmental sound almost to nothing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:15 AM on January 20, 2008

Seconding the ear plugs. If you have distracting lights, find a way to block them, whether curtains, shades, or just one of those sleep masks. If it's dark and quiet, and you are tired, you should have no trouble falling asleep. If you do have trouble, even when you've made a dark, quiet space and you're tired when you lie down, then you probably need to see a doctor to see if you have trouble breathing or some other difficulty.
posted by cgc373 at 10:19 AM on January 20, 2008

Here's a previous thread that started out about napping, but ultimately it contains ways to fall asleep faster.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:25 AM on January 20, 2008

If you search "sleep hygiene" on Google, you will get some great results.
It is just the basics to ensure your body understands that when you get into bed, you will sleep.
posted by nursegracer at 10:27 AM on January 20, 2008

It's weird how this works. I could fall asleep in a brightly lit class, but when I had a snoring roommate it took me half an hour. Eventually I got noise-canceling headphones, piped in some forest bubbling brook nature sounds, and that worked pretty well. Ditching caffeine completely and getting sunlight every day also can help stabilize your ability to sleep.
posted by melissam at 10:29 AM on January 20, 2008

Ages ago I was given an audio tape of progressive muscle relaxation techniques. I've lost the tape, but I still remember and use the technique. Here is a comparable series I just found online: link. It takes time to do the exercises. Eventually, my body "learned" that it was chill-out-and-sleep time without the audio and I would fall asleep while doing the early stages.

Recently I had a relapse of insomnia that my nightly meditation routine and the muscle tense/release exercises didn't resolve. I finally realized that I now need a winding-down habit of lowering the light levels in my apartment and not using the computer for awhile before bedtime. On the worst nights of sleeplessness, a Benadryl or Dramamine tablet (combined with the above tricks) works without making me groggy the next morning. I do not want to become dependent upon meds for sleeping, so I limit the practice.

Exercise before bedtime, a common suggestion, gets me too wound up to go to sleep quickly. I think, in my case, it's because I did my exercise (running, cycling) in the early A.M. for years and associate that exertion with starting the day.
posted by bonobo at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2008

You might check out the National Sleep Foundation. Also, melatonin (a supplement) might help or Simplers essential oil called Sleep Aid.
posted by healthyliving at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2008

Years ago I found that putting lavender oil into a diffuser put me right to sleep. And believe it or not, this thing kicks ass. If I put that eye pillow over my eyes, something about the weight of it just relaxes me instantly.

I just realized that I haven't been using either of these things lately so I haven't been sleeping. I think I need to take my own advice.

posted by miss lynnster at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I could never sleep with headphones or earplugs, but a white noise machine that sits on the nightstand was a huge help when I lived in a noisy area. They can be pretty inexpensive, so it's worth a try. I think I only paid $15 for mine.
posted by The Deej at 10:36 AM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forget the earplug or headphones - that might be uncomfortable. White noise is key though. Just put a fan near your bed or set your clock radio to a static station.
posted by delladlux at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2008

Heavy curtains to block out any light, and white noise, definitely. We have a fan going in the bedroom year-round, and it helps dampen any sounds from outside. After a while, you get so used to sleeping to the fan noise that it will put you to sleep all by itself after listening to it for a bit. Which is a problem during work meetings in a room with a fan, but otherwise helps tremendously.
posted by gemmy at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2008

Seconding fan. I had terrible insomnia growing up and I don't think I would have slept at all without a ceiling fan.

Somehow in my late teens I became one of those could-sleep-standing-up people and have been ever since (it's a problems sometimes, actually). Make sure you're really worn out before bed.
My personal tip for falling asleep easily- have something really important that you need to be working on and fall asleep while in the middle of it. Wake up frantic. That worked a lot for me in college. Oh wait, that's not a tip at all. ;-)
posted by fructose at 11:19 AM on January 20, 2008

a spot of your favorite liqueur, optionally accompanied by one or two squares of really good chocolate.
posted by bruce at 11:23 AM on January 20, 2008

I've fought with the whole getting to sleep thing for years. If I trundled off to bed before I was well and truly sleepy then I'd stare at the ceiling for hours. For years my only solution was to keep myself awake -- reading, working, writing -- until I was fighting to stay awake... and then to dash to bed.

In the last six weeks that's all changed. I started a new exercise regimen. Actually, I started my *first* exercise regimen in about 20 years. I've been working out on a rowing machine 3 days a week -- in sessions from 20 to 50 minutes at a time -- last item of the day, before I go to bed. Within a day or two of starting this regimen, falling asleep was no longer a problem -- at all -- even on those days that I'm not actually working out.

Mind you I started on this program with the singular purpose of getting fit... the whole sleep thing has been an unanticipated, and very welcome side-effect.

(P.S. Next week I step up the exercise to 6 days a week. And in the six weeks I've been at this, my resting heart rate has dropped from 73 bpm to 65 bpm. I'm stunned and thrilled with the results so far, on all counts.)
posted by deCadmus at 11:34 AM on January 20, 2008

Thanks for the advice guys and girls. There's some very interesting ideas coming in... some say exercise, some don't, same for earphones. I'll investigate the fan idea too. Anyways, keep 'em coming, I read all the comments :)
posted by dragontail at 12:01 PM on January 20, 2008

I don't fall asleep as easily as my wife or several of my friends - heads hit pillows, snoring ensues and they will otherwise be out like lights until morning - although I don't consider myself an insomniac by any means, just a light sleeper.

One thing that I think has helped me lately is turning the computer off earlier in the evening. Until I come up with a better story, dicking around on the computer until late seems to leave a rattle in my brain that is not conducive to sleep.

Btw, I tried earplugs at one time to combat the snoring of the lovely Mrs. Asparagus_Berlin, but they didn't really help as I seemed to FEEL them so much and the thought that I was TRYING to block something out just made sleeping more difficult. I gave up on the plugs and just learned to live with the sound - I still am awakened every now and then, but have become less aware of the snoring.
posted by asparagus_berlin at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2008

More exercise, but not right before you go to bed; maybe when you wake up in the morning.
Don't go to bed until you're sleepy.
Don't nap during the day.
Don't drink caffeine past noon.
Don't read anything too exciting before you go to sleep.
Don't watch TV or use the computer for a while before going to sleep.
Establish a going-to-sleep routine and always do it in the same order (put on pjs, brush teeth, wash face, etc.)
Don't lay in bed awake. If you don't fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, get up and go do something until you're sleepy, then try again.
Try to go to bed around the same time every night.
Pick a favorite CD of music that's calm and quiet and play that every night when you go to bed. I fell asleep for years listening to the Cure. Instrumental or ambient is good.
A ceiling fan on all the time helps for white noise - I did that when I was a teenager and had trouble falling asleep.
posted by Melinika at 12:30 PM on January 20, 2008

- Knock one out just before.
- Listen to podcasts / Radio 4 shows / whatever on a single in-ear headphone you can sleep with.
- Watch a semi-dull TV show / movie, put TV on sleep timer, and drift off at some point (always works for me).
- Read a book.
posted by wackybrit at 12:49 PM on January 20, 2008

I suppose the wrong answer would be this one: take an antihistamine and wait an hour. Oops. Drug abuse is bad.
posted by Hildegarde at 1:26 PM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Question about ear plugs:

The only way I wake up at a reasonable hour is if I have an alarm set. Does anyone here who uses (or has used) ear plugs have this problem, and if so, does the alarm still wake you, or do you do something else?
posted by Flunkie at 1:57 PM on January 20, 2008

The sound machine only worked for me to an extent. I slept, but it kept my dog awake. Who in turn kept me awake. Which leads me to my other suggestion... curl up with a warm puppy. They're like furry Ambien substitutes.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:05 PM on January 20, 2008

The very idea of "sleeping efficiently" is all backwards. The more driven and efficient and motivated you are about getting to sleep, the more you try to sleep, the longer it's going to take you. Just relax, quit worrying, and trust your body to drift off at its own pace.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:35 PM on January 20, 2008

Flunkie, you can buy a vibrating pad that goes under your pillow. I've never used one, but a deaf relative had one.
posted by Rabulah at 2:49 PM on January 20, 2008

Nthing the exercise - it balances the body and improves circulation (can't sleep with cold feet for instance!) and helps reduce stress hormones in your system which may keep you awake.

Generally speaking just make sure you are physically tired - depending on how demanding your job is just going to work can do that. I work long hours and when I am off work I find that I don't fall asleep as readily - the only difference is that I am not as exhausted at the end of the day as I am normally.

What I mean by readily is that normally my head hits pillow and I am out cold until the alarm goes - you could fly a plane through my bedroom and I would wake up refreshed and blissfully unaware. But when I am off work and have caught up with my sleep deficit it may take 20 minutes before I fall asleep. Best thing to fix that is exercise...

And don't sleep too much - you may not need as much sleep as people you compare yourself to. I function just fine on 6 hrs/night and less if I have to - if I regularly get 7-8 I no longer sleep well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2008

Isn't 20-30 minutes to fall asleep normal? I can't find the source I'm thinking of, but I remember hearing that falling asleep immediately after getting in bed is a sign of sleep deprivation. Aside from that, is it possible for you to sound proof your windows? That could help a lot.
posted by fermezporte at 3:56 PM on January 20, 2008

I sleep a lot better when I take magnesium at night. It makes me sleepy as well as helps me stay asleep longer (otherwise I often wake up for awhile at 2 or 3AM). It also helps with relaxing twitchy muscles - I do not get the full-on restless leg but have heard of people using it for that too with good results. I use Natural Calm, which is a powder that you mix in hot water, and drink that when I'm winding down for the evening.
posted by FuzzyVerde at 4:12 PM on January 20, 2008

Sleep Secrets: a Mindfold mask, which I have used for many years. Available at Amazon and other sites. The perfect sleep mask. Also, listening to books on tape while going to sleep if you are interested in that. Melatonin or Benadryl also can help for OTC meds.
posted by madstop1 at 5:06 PM on January 20, 2008

I sometimes find it hard to get to sleep when I'm in a new place, like a hotel. One thing that works pretty much every time for me (your mileage may vary) is to have a long, hot bath, dry off and immediately get into bed. I find I'm usually asleep before I get cool.
posted by Drexen at 6:36 PM on January 20, 2008

There seems to be something about being a passenger in a moving vehicle that makes it harder to stay awake if you're groggy to begin with. There've been times I've almost fallen asleep on the way home, looked forward to a restful nap upon getting home, and then found myself wide awake upon setting foot inside.

Even more frustrating is feeling nodding off while watching TV, going to the bathroom to wash up, and then getting into bed, feeling nice and comfortable... and struggling to fall back asleep.

I've heard of one suggestion, basically involving deep breaths, and consciously relaxing one area of the body at a time, from head to toes. I'm not sure if there's anything more to it, but I can't say it's worked for me.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:27 PM on January 20, 2008

I use the orange foam earplugs to block out the 5 children living above our apt - they work pretty well, and even though I'm a deep sleeper the alarm clock still wakes me up. Mostly it's because your brain is conditioned to awake to that noise, so even if it's quiet it works just fine. (I had that same concern about using them, but now I don't worry about it.)

A good pillow helps, also; making sure you're in bed and ready to go to bed when that first wave of melatonin kicks in in the evening, rather than fighting it. Less caffeine. A good mattress helps too - we picked up a sleep number bed on sale and it's been a huge change for the positive.

Really, though, some people drift right off and others take longer; some of that isn't possible to change. The sleep hygiene habits mentioned above are all very good ideas. No TV or distractions like that are also important.

And, of course, if none of that works, I've found Ambien/zolpidem to work pretty effectively for me, at least in *staying* asleep and not waking up at 3:30 AM every night. Drugs aren't a replacement for good sleep habits but they do help in getting there, sometimes.
posted by EricGjerde at 12:28 AM on January 22, 2008

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