Few things are as annoying to those of us prone to tossing and turning before bed than noticing that, after mere minutes, your partner (or airplane seatmate) is snoring away.
Why are some people just so good at falling asleep nearly instantly? Science is on the case and has found answers that can help transform restless sleepers into a hit-your-pillow-and-snooze types.
Are you inadvertently training yourself to be a bad sleeper?
That's the takeaway message of a recent Elemental post by Mark Heid, which takes an in-depth look at the latest research on how people fall asleep and why some people struggle to do so. If you're prone to insomnia, it's well worth a read in full. But for those who just want practical advice, here's the crux of Heid's post.
"If you want to make a turn in a car, you have to slow down first," sleep researcher Michael Grandner tells Heid. The same is true of falling asleep. A little preparation is key. To "tap the brakes" and get your brain ready for sleep, Grandner and other experts suggest you do three things before bed.
Stay off social media (and out of arguments). Strong feelings are an even more effective pick-me-up than strong coffee. So before bed, avoid anything that will rile you up emotionally. That means saving contentious conversations for the morning, but less obviously, it also means staying off social media before bed. "Recent research suggests that social media may be inherently stimulating, and therefore an impediment to falling asleep," reports Heid. "This is of a piece with other recent studies that have found social media may be a potent sleep repellent."
Grab a book. Reading before bed is popular for a reason. "It's a cliche, but reading doesn't involve a lot of visual stimulation, it's not social, and it doesn't require much light," Grandner says. That combination of qualities makes a book an ideal sleep aid.
Schedule empty time into your evening. These days, many of us go full on from the moment our alarm rings until the moment we climb into bed. That might be productive, but it's not how your brain is designed to work. "For most of human history, people had a lot of free time when their brains weren't engaged or distracted," Grandner notes. We need time to process and reflect on our days so our brains can quiet down, even if it's just 10 minutes of folding the laundry or walking the dog. Skip this essential step in the evening and your mind will be racing too fast at bedtime for you to be able to get to sleep.
There are, of course, plenty of other reasons you might struggle to sleep, from your 10 p.m. espresso habit to biological factors, but for many people simply incorporating these three simple elements into their nighttime routine will be enough to transform them from problem sleepers into sound ones.
Not only will that save you from lots of annoying tossing and turning, but, also, a heap of science shows better sleep can help you be a better, more charismatic leader, keep dementia at bay, and even make you effectively a whole lot smarter.
Looking for more hints on how to fall asleep fast? The U.S. Army can help.