Sleep well, live well: 5 science-backed ways to fall back asleep

Published: November 30, 2016
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Nothing feels worse than waking up at 4 am and not being able to go back to sleep. Middle-of-the-night wake-ups calls can happen for many reasons, making it hard and frustrating to get through the next day.

How about we break the cycle tonight? Compiled from The Huffington Post, here are six scientifically proven tips and tricks that will have you back to sleep in no time.

1. Acupressure

This is an ancient therapy that involves finger placement and pressure over specific points on your body, which follow channels called meridians. Putting pressure (or needles) on these points is believed to promote blood flow and unlock tension, amongst other benefits like alleviating lower-back pain and headaches.

Leigh Gilkey and Siri Michel, licensed acupuncturists and founders of Essential Acupuncture in Chicago, say that self-administered acupressure before bed can help with a night of uninterrupted sleep and, in the event of an unwanted nighttime awakening, can help get you back to sleep. A couple points to treat insomnia include:

  • Anmian: Located behind the ear, there is a bone called the mastoid process. Place your finger on the mastoid process and slide back off the bone and slightly upwards. Look for a little depression and press in a downward motion.
  • Liver 3: This is located on the top of the foot. Place a finger between the first toe and the second toe and push toward your ankle. There is a depression before the junction of the first and second metatarsal bones. Simply pressing on it or pulling in a downward motion is great for activating this point.

2. Dunk your head in ice-cold water

Yes, you read that right! Submerge your face into a bowl of ice water, making sure the area below your eyes and above your cheekbones is wet. Hold your breath for 30 seconds before coming back up for air. This will trigger your mammalian diving reflex, an involuntary human response that will automatically slow down your heart rate and encourage your body to calm itself by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. You will be left feeling relaxed and ready for sleep.

3. Grab a snack

That anxious awakening you get in the middle of the night could be the result of low blood sugar, studies suggest. The adrenal glands, two walnut-shaped organs that sit atop the kidneys, play a key role in regulating blood sugar, especially as you sleep. When your blood sugar drops significantly through at night, these glands release stress hormones that trigger the body to raise blood sugar levels and stress hormones are no friend to beauty sleep.

While midnight snacks might not be great for your waistline, there are healthy food options to help you fall back asleep, says Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist. He suggests eating a 250-calorie snack, made up of 75% carbs and 25% protein. Things like an apple with nut butter, a small bowl of non-sugar cereal or frozen Greek yogurt are good options.

4. Dim the lights

The next time you wake in the middle of the night and head to the loo or kitchen for a midnight snack or a glass of water, try keeping the lights as dim as possible. It’s the same science that proves blue light exposure from cell phones has a bigger impact on decreasing melatonin levels than other light wavelengths. “Nighttime light exposure suppresses melatonin, which plays an important role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythms,” Breus explains.

Though unscientific anecdotes such as living by candlelight can purportedly be better for quality sleep and mindful living, there are safer options. Instead of turning on a light, try using a dimmer or another softer light source instead.

5. Keep It Cool

Falling back asleep may be as simple as lowering the thermostat. Your core body temperature drops at the onset of sleep, which means that a too-warm (or too-cool) room may wake you up. Therefore, keep the bedroom temp moderate to get you back to sleep.

If you start to feel slightly overheated during the night, try  to stick one or both feet out from under the covers. Because we’re mammals, the palms of our hands and feet help regulate our core body temperature. Think of them as nature’s thermostats.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2016.

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