Until I worked out the before bed sleep rituals I’ll explain in this article I’d often have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Maybe you know the feeling of being really tired, really wanting to go to get some rest, but lying there awake in the dark unable to switch off your mind and drift off.
This page will explain the best ways to fall asleep I’ve found. If, after trying these suggestions for improving sleep, you are still having trouble getting the rest you need then it’s probably worth getting in contact with a sleep specialist, preferably one who is open to natural methods. Insomnia is a serious problem and sleep is simply too important to your physical and mental health to be regularly missing out on adequate amounts.
5 Sleep Rituals to Help with Insomnia
I’ve been through periods of insomnia in my life where I felt like I was lying awake for hours on end. Looking back, this usually involved trying to plan out future events or solve certain issues. The problem is, even if you come up with a solution, your mind usually wants to take it further once you get it started. And good ideas don’t add up to much if you’re too tired to execute them properly the next day.
Eventually, after a lot of trial and error, I came up with 5 things – a herbal tea, a supplement, an essential oil and two relaxation techniques that, combined with improving my sleeping environment, help me to beat insomnia and consistently get a good night’s rest.
I’ve told friends about these ways to fall asleep and had positive feedback from them as well. Let’s have a look at each and see if they would work for you.
1. Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a gentle sedative herb that calms the nerves and drinking a warm cup of chamomile tea can be a helpful way to fall asleep. It contains, amongst many other beneficial compounds, the substance apigenin which causes a mild and safe sedation in the brain by acting upon its benzodiazepine receptors.
It also relaxes the smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal tract and can help to improve your digestion (poor digestive function can have a negative effect on your sleep as well).
The herb has a long history as a sleep aid and sipping chamomile tea before bed can become one of your sleep rituals that tells your mind it’s time to get some rest. There are some great tasting tea bags available that are easy to use, but I’ve found adding just boiled water to two teaspoons of dried chamomile flowers in a French press to be more cost effective for regular use.
If you can make the decision to get to bed early enough, melatonin may be a useful supplement for occasional insomnia.
The hormone melatonin is produced in your body’s pineal gland after dark and is directly involved in making you feel tired. Unfortunately having too much light in your eyes from the television or computer screens inhibits melatonin production and keeps you awake.
It’s suggested to take time release melatonin one hour before you intend to go to bed and it’s best taken before it gets too late as you want to work with your body’s natural rhythms and not against them. Generally you produce the most melatonin up to 10pm in the evening and ideally you want to be in bed by this time to take advantage of the way it helps to get you into the deeper levels of sleep.
As an example, as long as it is dark outside, you could take melatonin at around 8:30pm and let it help you to start feeling sleepy by 9:30pm. Getting to bed earlier can lead to a better quality of sleep and much more time in the morning to start your day off well.
It’s generally not recommended to take melatonin later in the night, especially not after midnight when body levels are naturally decreasing. Additionally it should never be taken when it is still light outside and is best used occasionally, perhaps just for a week or so at a time to help bring in a new earlier sleeping pattern.
3. Eye Fixation Point
If you find it difficult to slow down and calm your mind before bed, here is a simple technique that I’ve found really helps. If you’re sleeping alone you can do it in the bedroom, if not another empty room like the lounge, once everything is switched off, works just as well.
To start, turn off the lights and focus on an eye fixation point on the wall on the other side of the room. Simply pick some one small spot to gaze steadily at in the low light for a few minutes.
As any thoughts come up, simply acknowledge and accept them and gently make them smaller, turn them down softer or just let them ‘feel’ less important or relevant in your mind, depending on what seems most appropriate to you. Most of us have a stronger tendency towards seeing, hearing or feeling internally and will generally gravitate to one of these.
Let your eyes relax and keep gently focusing on the eye fixation point until you start to feel tired. It will usually only take a minute or two. Once you do, simply walk over slowly, get into bed and take some long, deep breaths that you hold for a short while before calmly letting them out.
This type of breathing will also help you to fall asleep more easily. Focusing on doing it rather than any stray thoughts can be very helpful in getting your mind to switch off.
If you find you are lying awake thinking about something or analyzing a situation it’s actually better to get up out of bed and go back to standing in the darkened room with the eye fixation point again.
This method may seem unusual – getting out of bed to go to sleep – but once your mind makes the association with doing this before going to bed it will be a lot more effective at slowing down your mind than lying there waiting to fall asleep.
4. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender has a very relaxing smell and using its essential oil can be one of the simplest ways to fall asleep.
If you use lavender oil regularly you actually anchor the smell of it to the process of falling asleep in your mind. After a week or two of using it, just the smell of lavender in the evening will probably start to make you feel drowsy.
You can use a drop or two of lavender essential oil on your pillow or just the smallest brush of the moist dropper under your nostrils (be careful to not use too much on your skin as essential oils are potent).
Having tested both types of lavender oil, I personally think the essential oil made from French lavender is slightly better for sleep than the English variety. Whichever you choose, make sure you get essential oil only. Fragrant oils are cheaper but synthetic and not effective.
5. Binaural Sleep Recordings
Most people with occasional sleeplessness will be fine with the previous four suggestions, but for more regular insomnia, where your mind just isn’t going into the state it should for sleep, there are some special recordings that can help you to get the rest you need.
When you’re lying in bed wide-awake, your brain waves are usually in beta frequency, characterized by random and frequent oscillations. Certain specifically designed recordings can lead your brain waves down from beta into the more regular and relaxed alpha frequency and ultimately into the delta brain waves of deep sleep.
There are various different types of these recordings to help you get to sleep. Some people have good results with hypnotic inductions, where you are guided into full body and mind relaxation. Others use gentle rainforest or water sounds to help the mind switch off. Personally, what’s worked best for me are binaural sleep recordings.
Binaural recordings use two different frequencies of subtle pulses, one in each ear. Your brain tunes into the difference between these two frequencies and well designed binaural sleep recordings will gently lead your brainwaves down to those most conducive to deep relaxation and sleepiness. They are often blended into ocean or rain sounds but are more powerful than regular nature recordings due to the brain entrainment effect.
You do need to wear headphones or earphones for these to work properly, but they are often so effective that you can just put them on for 10 minutes and then turn off the MP3 player, slip off the headphones and put them on a bedside table as you roll over to sleep.
I once mentioned binaural recordings to a workmate on a night shift. He ridiculed the idea of them and was sure they wouldn’t work on him but asked to give it a try with his headphones. I gave him one specifically designed to promote sleep and within a couple of minutes he was nodding off in his chair. Once I woke him he handed the MP3 player back and told me he’d now have to have a coffee to stay awake.
We rush around a lot these days, trying to multitask and get through never-ending to do lists. But there’s little evidence that all of this manic activity is making us any more productive and it is definitely having a negative effect on our health and happiness.
A good night’s sleep is a cornerstone of effective day-to-day living. Going without it negatively impacts both your physical and mental health.
On the other hand, making it important, starting of your day properly and arranging your evening around it can make a dramatic difference in so many areas of your life.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping I hope you’ll try some of the suggestions on this page to help with insomnia. You may find seemingly unrelated areas start to get better once this vital part of your life is enhancing rather than dragging down your daily experiences.
Have you ever tried some of these suggestions for better sleep or do you have some other natural ways to fall asleep that have worked well for you? I’d really appreciate any thoughts, questions or feedback in the comments here or in my two other sleep articles – Why is Sleep so Important to Your Physical and Mental Health? and What Helps You Sleep?