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  • Dr. Peter Wong

How To Get To Sleep And Stay Asleep in 4 Proven Steps

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Most adults need around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly, but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it. In this article, we're going to talk about four easy steps to get you to fall asleep fast.

Woman Sleeping

Step #1: Turn Off Electronics

Do you fall asleep with the TV on, or maybe you browse social media just before bed? Whether you're looking at your phone, your computer or a TV screen, your technology might be keeping you up. A 2014 study looked at the sleep patterns of over seven hundred teenagers and each one used some form of technology at night. The researchers concluded that using technology before going to bed made it harder to fall asleep. This find was confirmed by another study from 2015 which found the same results, stressing the fact that turning off devices an hour earlier would significantly increase the length and depth of sleep.

So why is technology so damaging? Well, the first and most obvious problem is the screen itself. Computers, phones, and TVs emit what's called blue lights which restrict the production of a hormone called melatonin in our bodies. When you're using technology, nothing tells your body when to relax. Activities like playing video games force your mind to stay hyper-alert, so when you try to sleep your brain gets confused since it can't jump from excitement to relaxation in the blink of an eye. Your brain needs time to switch gears, so turning devices off at least an hour before bed will give your brain the chance to unwind.

Step #2: Eat Right

After decades of research, nutritionists still don't agree on whether or not eating at night is good for your sleep. However, it is commonly accepted that eating certain foods before bed will stand in the way of your sleep. When people think about eating at night they focus primarily on when they're eating. However, the truth is that when you eat is far less important than what food you eat. For example, food containing sugar, caffeine, and cheese will make it much harder for you to fall asleep. Similar to blue light they keep your brain feeling alerts which is exactly what you don't want before bed. Foods that are either spicy or high in fat can cause restlessness due to slow digestion or heartburn. Even healthy foods containing lots of water can create issues because you may wake up with a full bladder.

So, instead of worrying about when you eat, focus on choosing the right foods. For example, bananas will help you unwind by supplying your body with muscle relaxers like potassium and magnesium. Foods like almonds and turkey are great sources of tryptophan. Tryptophan stimulates the production of serotonin which directly influences your sleep cycle, so when you eat naturally relaxing foods you'll find yourself falling asleep in no time.

Step #3: Stay Out of Bed

You can also fall asleep faster by reserving your bed exclusively for sleep. Do you eat, watch TV or play games in bed or do you ever use your bed as a workspace? Now, while it's certainly comfier, these habits may be interfering with your sleep. For example, when you go to work your brain recognizes where you are and what that means, so you don't feel like watching a movie because that's not what you do in this environment. But if you start binging Netflix at work, your brain would eventually start to associate the two together. So, the same thing applies to your bed. When you work in bed you're creating new associations that your bed isn't just for sleep anymore, so your brain doesn't know whether it should be alert and productive like you are at work or should it be relaxed like you are at night. You usually end up with an unhelpful blend, making you feel not that motivated to work but also hard to unwind as well. You can avoid this behavioral confusion by making your bed a sanctuary of sleep.

Step #4: Don't Force Sleep

No matter how much you want to, you can't force yourself to fall asleep when you have a test or interview in the morning. Few things are more frustrating than lying awake watching the minutes go by. It's dark, it's quiet and it's comfortable, yet your mind is racing. You know you need to be well-rested but you just can't stop tossing and turning. You imagine how tired you're going to be in the morning and it starts to feel like your whole future depends on falling asleep right at this second. That is why you get a sudden bout of insomnia every time something important happens. Stress and sleep just don't mix. Whether it's physical or mental, stress makes you feel stimulated and alert. It floods your body with hormones like cortisol which supply you with an unwanted boost of energy. Now, this is especially common before bed because you're out of distractions. Your goal should be to take the pressure off yourself and to try to accept that you'll only sleep when your body's ready and not a second earlier. So, instead of just lying there, just relax by reading, meditating, or taking a bath when you're ready. These soothing distractions will ease you into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Having trouble getting and staying asleep is not only frustrating, but it can also affect your mental and physical health. Using the four steps above can help you fall asleep quickly while sleeping much better and having more energy the next day.

Dr. Peter Wong affectionately known as Dr. Peter by his staff and patients has helped hundreds of patients achieve their dreams of the ultimate smile. He is happily married and has two wonderful children, Isabella and Christian. Dr. Peter enjoys blogging and spending as much time as possible with his family.

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