Sleep can be the key to a much more productive day. Whether that’s a nap in the middle of the day or getting your solid 7-9 hours in, resting is the one thing that allows us to conserve enough energy so that we can change the world tomorrow.
As a college student, sleeping is something that I take for granted. Sleep is really beneficial for me so that I can feel energized and less tired during the day–but sometimes it’s hard for me to fall asleep. And although counting sheep would make for a nice way to fall asleep, it hasn’t worked for me yet!
Using scientific research from various academic sources, I’ve compiled five effective ways to fall asleep at night:
Read these words: COZY, CALM, REST, RELAX
Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that simply reading words such as “cozy,” “calm,” “rest,” and “relax” will not only make your eyes more tired (thus, falling asleep), but will lead you on the road to a more solid sleep. In fact, volunteers in the study, which was conducted with colleagues at Southern Illinois University and St. Mary’s College, slept 47% longer.
You can put the words on index cards or write them down on a sheet of paper–but probably shouldn’t type them out on your smartphone because the screen is too bright, researchers at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute say, which suppresses the body’s sleep chemicals.
Listen to comforting music
When people are tended to by a type of monologue of sorts that is comforting to them, they feel safe. That’s according to the research of Joseph Kockelmans, a former professor from Pennsylvania State University. Feeling safe is important to falling asleep, Kockelmans says, because in order to fall asleep, your body must know that you are protected.
This explains why mothers sing lullabies to their child in order for the baby to fall asleep. When the infant hears their mother or father’s voice, they know there is someone who is protecting them.
Listening to music that you feel is comforting is basically the same thing; it puts you in a safe state of mind which relaxes the body. So, simply choose music that soothes you and put it on a low volume as you fall asleep.
— State U of New York (@SUNY) May 3, 2014
Exercise during the day–maybe
Experts are mixed on whether exercise leads to a better night’s sleep.
Side A: Some studies show that people who exercise on a daily basis are likely to fall asleep more quickly. It makes sense if you think about it: if you’re tired, you sleep better.
More specifically, Dr. Gina Lundberg, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, recommends exercising moderately for 150 minutes or intensely for 75 minutes every week.
Side B: In a study by Northwestern University, researchers found that exercise does not necessarily lead to a longer or “better” sleep. In fact, the results showed the opposite effect–a better night’s sleep leads to more exercising the next day.
For example, if I were to sleep for eight hours Monday night, then run for two miles on Tuesday, and then sleep for six hours on Tuesday night, it’s likely that I will run less on Wednesday. And so the amount that I sleep will directly impact the perceived input otherwise: exercise–and it’s a cycle after that.
Avoid caffeine before bed
This might be common sense for some of the 80% of adults who consume caffeine daily: don’t drink coffee or tea before you go to bed, especially if caffeine affects you for a long time.
That long time, according to a study conducted by Brown University, could last as long as 4 to 6 hours.
Darthmouth University researchers found that caffeine creates a chemical adrenaline rush through the body, making a person more alert and active. If you’re alert and active, you’re not sleeping.
So, while it’s a classic go-to beverage for college students during finals week, drinking coffee or tea shouldn’t become a habit because it can cause sleeping problems!
Eat foods high in carbohydrates
You may finally have an excuse to pig out before bed: foods that are high in carbohydrates may help you fall asleep better.
Researchers at the University of Sydney found that, by eating food, certain chemicals in your body are released that cause different chemicals to be pumped out, which make you fall asleep.
Scientifically speaking, consuming carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, thus turn, making it easier for tryptophan (a sleep-inducing amino acid) to enter the brain. Science!
Top photo: It’s Time to Sleep via Rachel Calamusa on Flickr
Steven was a student assistant in the Office of Communications of the State University of New York in summer 2014. He is an undergraduate political science student at Binghamton University.