If you’re looking for ways to get to sleep and stay asleep, you have many options to try before you reach for sleeping pills. After all, it’s tough to be a decent person when you haven’t slept well—and you know I’m a big fan of finding simple ways to be a better person!
I mean, listen, there’s a time and a place for everything. But sleep meds have side effects and can be habit-forming over time. And there are so many easy, good-feeling, and effective ways to help yourself fall asleep that you don’t have to expose yourself to the risks of sleeping pills.
Add these tools to your arsenal and save your sleeping pills for a time and a place when they make sense—like when you’re traveling, or when you absolutely must get good rest.
Before you get in bed
- Drink a cup of chamomile tea. Peter Rabbit’s mom gave him a cup of this when he came home flustered after being chased by the farmer. It’s a known mild sedative.
- Unwind—literally—on the floor. Spend ten minutes in constructive rest before getting in bed—lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and a pillow in between your knees. Let your knees fall into one another so that you don’t exert any energy on keeping them upright. Place a book under the back of your head so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin. This pose from the Alexander Technique restores the natural curves of your spine and helps any muscles that have been over-working release their tension. I love to do it before getting in to bed, it’s like an off ramp from the day and into la-la land.
Once you get in bed
- Give yourself a foot massage. Rubbing your feet is supremely relaxing. Amp up the relaxation by using a couple drops of lavender essential oil.
- Settle yourself with simple acupressure. Lying in bed on your back, rest your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your solar plexus (what I’m doing in the photo above). After a minute or two, move the top hand down to your low belly. According to traditional Chinese medicine and acupressure (the DIY, needle-less version of acupuncture), this helps quiet your most primal energy that runs along the front of your torso and helps you release into sleep.
- Inhale for 3, exhale for 6. Lengthening your exhales requires you to engage your diaphragm. Engaging your diaphragm sends the “all clear” signal to your nervous system, switching off flight or fight and cueing the rest and digest functions of the body. It also gives you just enough of a mental focus to not think stressful thoughts. Aim to take 10-15 breaths this way.
- Remember the good. Name everything that happened during the day that you’re grateful for.
- Savor the feeling of being at rest. Enjoy the sensation of being horizontal and not needing to be anywhere or do anything.
In the middle of the night
If you just can’t get to sleep, cognitive behavioral therapists will tell you to get out of bed and go somewhere else to do something relaxing (meaning, not stimulating)—read, listen to music, journal. I find this very, very difficult to do. Turning on the light feels like admitting defeat to me (am I the only one?). But when we used to live in an apartment where we had a guest room and I could go crawl into another bed, it didn’t seem so bad—all the reading time I could want with no fear of waking my husband up with the light!
I definitely believe, however, that if you are lying there with thoughts swirling, having a dark night of the soul, definitely, get up and turn the light on. Probably there’s some message trying to come through that needs the quiet of the wee hours to start coming in to focus. You can catch up on your rest later. (Thinking that you’re racking up a sleep debt that you’ll never pay off certainly won’t help you get back to sleep!)
Got a favorite trick or tip that’s not on the list? I’d love to hear it! Leave a comment on my Facebook page or below.