Having trouble falling asleep? Here are Neuroscientist Allison Brager’s top tips on how you can quickly fall asleep.
Sleepless nights are a bane to the human existence. Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, and many other notable figures had plenty to say about it. Thankfully, there are some easy fixes. Some fixes are nutritional, some fixes are therapeutic, and some fixes require DIY home decorating.
There are two key components for falling asleep naturally:
1. Establish A Routine To Help You Fall Asleep
…..and make it as militant as possible. As a neuroscientist, I have studied the human body clock for the past ten years. Our bodies and brains have sets of self-sufficient, self-operating, and self-sustaining biological clocks.
These biological clocks tell us when to eat, when to wake up, when to sleep, and when we perform our best. These body clocks are sensitive and adapt to their environments.
Light is the most potent environmental cue for our body clocks, but other basic needs work just as well in cueing and re-setting our body clocks: food, exercise, sex, and even stress.
So, if you can, plan your meals, plan your workouts, and plan your stress (if it’s inevitable) around certain hours of the day, your body will adjust its physiological demands accordingly.
A great way to start a more consistent schedule is to create a morning ritual.
2. Avoid Light (and Noise) To Fall Asleep Faster
.....start this process an hour before bed. Bright light disrupts melatonin release. Melatonin is the “hormone of darkness.” Melatonin release is triggered by darkness and dim light.
Ever feel extra sleepy in a swanky restaurant or bar, even in the absence of libations? That’s the dark lighting telling your body that it’s time to wind down and time to get deep, restorative sleep.
Melatonin is released to help us fall asleep and stay asleep.
I’ll say it again: put away those smart technologies, turn the TV off, and dive into a classic novel an hour before bed. The less light you see before bed, the better.
Bedtime Rituals That Help You To Fall Asleep Faster
Here are a few bedtime rituals you can integrate to help your body naturally fall ssleep more quickly:
1. Eat Tryptophan and Vitamin B Before Bed
The amino acid tryptophan produces serotonin: a neurochemical driver of sleep. Tryptophan is found in high abundance in our bodies. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with having some extra tryptophan in the tank.
A healthy protein snack high in tryptophan (turkey) before bed prevents blood sugar levels from spiking during the night - this is partly due to its slow digestion. Spikes in blood sugar levels can wake you up.
In addiiton to tryptophan, Vitamin B is another great option. While Vitamin B is well-known for promoting energy and alertness, did you know that it can also promote sleep?
Vitamin B aids in the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Increased serotonin means a sleepy body.
2. Supplement with Magnesium
Magnesium directs many biochemical actions of the body (you can read more about it here). It also helps to promote sleep. Foods rich in magnesium include almonds, cashews, Spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
You can also supplement with a high quality Magnesium supplement.
3. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Minimize light, minimize noise, sleep on a firm and cooling mattress (check our friends at PerformaSleep who make mattresses for the high-performer), and design your room layout to your liking.
No one wants to sleep and wake up to neon green painted walls (which I actually did for a long time until I realized how unfriendly the color was for sleeping).
4. Alter your Thermoregulation, Slightly
For years, doctors have recommended heat before bed to induce sleepy-like blood flow. Nowadays, scientists are finding that brief exposure to cold has anti-stressful, pro-sleep effects. Regardless of hot or cold, a slight change in your core body temperature can be beneficial.
5. Blast Yourself with Sunlight in the Morning.
Nothing jolts your body clocks awake and keeps them ticking (entrained) throughout the day like 15-30 min of sunlight in the morning.
Sleep scientists from the University of Colorado took students camping for a few weeks and discovered that our body clocks are more sensitive and stabilized by natural light compared to artificial light. So consider adding sunlight to your morning routine!
Enjoy these sleep tips. I hope they help you to have a more rested, productive lifestyle.
Dr. Allison Brager is a neuroscientist specializing in the physiology and genetics of sleep and performance. She is author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain which debunks the myth of the "dumb jock" and serves as a manual for optimizing athletic performance through neuroscience. Outside of the laboratory, she is a former D1 varsity athlete, Crossfit Games team athlete and still competes in track and field: pole vault and hurdles.
Other resources for optimizing sleep:
1. My book, “Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain” describes some describes several "neurohackers" for bettering athletic performance through science.
2. Podcast related to Meathead: http://brutestrengthtraining.com/podcast/10x-your-recovery-with-the-science-of-perfect-sleep-w-dr-allison-brager.