Everybody needs to sleep, but in today’s world of devices and screens, anxiety and stress often eat away at our ability to get some much-needed rest.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re hardly alone. Research over the years has shown that it’s a global health problem with many adverse effects on individual well-being and performance.
However, if your lack of sleep hasn’t yet progressed into a chronic or serious condition, there may be workarounds you can use to get back on track.
Helping establish sleep habits
It might sound counter-intuitive, but the right kinds of sensory stimulation can actually help you settle into better sleep patterns.
Anyone who’s had experience caring for a newborn will know that they need some help falling asleep. Their sleep habits don’t get established until several months later. For the time being, rocking motions and soothing sounds from caregivers are necessary.
As we mature, we no longer need such interventions to fall asleep. But we may be exposed to any number of issues that disrupt sleep. These range from physical or mental health problems or excessive stress related to work, school, relationships, or major life events.
Thus, sensory stimuli can prove useful once again for adults with sleep issues.
The vestibular sense gives us our ability to control and detect motion and maintain balance and body posture.
The power of this sense to soothe ourselves can be seen in how babies fall asleep easily in a moving car. Even adults can feel the same way on a smooth commute. The right sense of motion is conducive to sleep.
It can be difficult to work this sensory aspect when you’re alone, though. A massage chair might do the trick. So can dipping in a Bullfrog spa. You want a gentle sense of motion, but you shouldn’t be the one exerting an effort.
The use of fragrances to induce certain responses in our bodies is as old as history itself. For as long as we have written records, we know that people have drawn upon natural sources to create perfumes and cosmetics.
But scents aren’t only to increase attraction or mask unpleasant odors. Traditional medicine uses essential oils and extracts to help treat disorders.
We now not only have the distilled wisdom of these ancient practices to tell us which fragrances are soothing, but scientists have studied them as well. Note that while many essential oils in aromatherapy can relieve stress or facilitate recovery, some are actually stimulating, which won’t help you fall asleep.
Lavender emerges as the winner here: it’s the most-studied stimulant with proven efficacy for inducing sleep. Its effects can be enhanced even further with the addition of bergamot oil.
The somesthetic sense is the scientific term for what we commonly recognize as the perception of touch, pressure, pain, and temperature.
Sometimes, stimulation of this sense can go hand-in-hand with the vestibular system. But research has shown that temperature is the most important factor in facilitating sleep.
Our core body temperature cycles along with our 24-hour circadian rhythms. It has peaks and troughs each day, and sleep is correlated with a temperature decrease.
The loss of heat through our peripheral areas is associated with the onset of sleep. After onset, regulating temperature helps to further maintain sleep.
Studies indicate that 29°C is the ideal temperature for semi-nude subjects. Your preferences may vary, depending on bed covers or clothing. But once you find that sweet spot, keep it constant. And warm your extremities before going to bed to facilitate heat loss and sleep onset.
Many people swear by listening to a specific playlist, genre of music, or even white noise to help fall asleep. And we all know how a lullaby can soothe babies. It’s no secret that auditory stimulus can help you sleep, but what works best?
An aggregate review of sleep studies indicates that frequency of music exposure, rather than the genre or other characteristics, may determine its efficacy.
Test subjects demonstrated significant improvements to sleep quality after 1-2 weeks of exposure. Those improvements continued over a 3-month period. It may be that a process of habit formation makes us less likely to be aroused as we listen to the same sounds.
Try to stimulate your auditory centers with any music you find soothing, or maybe a podcast or audiobook. Maybe at first, you’ll find yourself paying too much attention to the melody or words, but after a while, you stop processing that information and start feeling drowsy instead.
Experiment with these stimuli to lull your senses to sleep. Just don’t forget to avoid stimulating that one sense you want to shut down when you close your eyes and put away those screens well before bedtime.