It’s late. You need to be up early for a busy day, but you’re staring at the ceiling during another sleepless night. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Recent studies show that more people are reporting insomnia and searching for solutions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the search term “insomnia” increased nearly 60 percent in the year 2020, according to Google.
That trend played out in a recent survey of Life Time members, in which 68 percent indicated they often or sometimes struggle to fall asleep, while only 20 percent responded that they fall asleep easily most of the time.
So, what’s keeping you up at night?
We spoke with a few experts to answer this question and receive their guidance on getting more quality sleep.
“Feeling ‘tired and wired’ can be a sign of excess stress and out-of-balance cortisol levels,” says Samantha McKinney, RD, CPT, master trainer and nutritionist for Life Time. “Cortisol is a stress hormone, and when it’s not at an optimal level, it can wreak havoc on your ability to rest and relax. Examining the cumulative stress in your life and finding ways to reduce or better manage it is key to the ability to wind down.”
Your Bedtime Habits
Are you drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime? Are you looking at your phone, computer, or watching TV right before drifting off? Do you have an inconsistent bedtime? All these factors can hinder your sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. Establishing a regular routine of healthy pre-slumber habits will help you get the shuteye you need.
“Naps are not always the solution for catching up on missed sleep — it’s better to sleep in one large block at night,” McKinney says. “However, if you are struggling with chronic sleep deprivation that you have little-to-no control over, short naps earlier in the day can be helpful. Just be mindful you’re not sleeping too much too late in the day, as it can affect your ability to sleep at night.”
5 Tips for More Restful Nights
1. Focus on nutrition and supplements.
Increasing your intake of certain foods and correcting nutrient deficiencies is a natural approach to getting better sleep. For example, magnesium and calcium are critical minerals for sleep health, as deficiency in them can be linked to insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
“Magnesium is one of the cheapest and safest supplements to try for relaxation, and generally 200 to 400 mg of either magnesium malate or magnesium glycinate is very effective for helping you wind down,” says Paul Kriegler, RD, CPT, director of nutritional product development at Life Time.
2. Optimize your sleep environment.
“Try your best not to use electronics in your bedroom, including TV, computers, and your phone,” McKinney advises. “Keep your room dark, as even the tiniest amount of light can make a difference. Blackout curtains can help with this.”
“If possible, keep your bedroom cool. A temperature below 68 degrees works best for most people,” says Kriegler. “You may want to try some light background noise, such as a fan or sound machine. However, some people do better with silence and find it helpful to wear silicone earplugs to bed.”
Your mattress is also a pivotal part of your sleep environment — and the right one can help you sleep better. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to replace your mattress at least every 8 to 10 years, or sooner if you’re suffering from aches and pains when you wake. Do some research to find the right mattress for you, looking for one with features that benefit your body’s needs.
3. Wind down with relaxation techniques.
“I have clients who keep a notepad near their bed to jot down thoughts or to-dos that pop into their minds as they’re trying to wind down,” says McKinney. “They’ve reported that this helps them mentally ‘put away’ these thoughts or worries for the night.”
A nightly warm Epsom salt bath can also help relax tight and sore muscles, as well as help signal your body it’s time to rest. (Learn how to make your own customized bath salts here.)
4. Adopt a meditation practice.
Meditation can be used to train your attention and awareness in order to achieve a clear, calm headspace. There are many different types, such as mindfulness meditation, movement meditation, and focused meditation. Some meditations are guided while you can do others on your own (see below for one to try).
“You might assume that the best way to use meditation for sleep is to meditate before bed, but the most powerful sleep aid comes when you establish a regular meditation practice in the morning or throughout the day,” says Eric Jeffers, master yoga and meditation teacher at Life Time in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
“When you find yourself with a mind that won’t turn off and try to force yourself to relax, you’re only adding stress to an already stressful situation,” Jeffers adds. “Having a daily meditation practice allows you to train your mind to be calmer and less reactive all the time, which often leads to better sleep. It also helps reduce activity in the parts of the brain that are keeping us awake in the first place.”
(For more short, guided meditations, check out these on-demand videos or the Meditation section in the Life Time Digital app.)
5. Accept your situation.
“Part of learning to meditate is learning to accept your present moment as it is,” says Jeffers. “Perhaps you can’t sleep — that’s all. You aren’t failing. You’re not ‘broken’ in some way. You’re a human being having a common experience. When you’re able to accept the moment as it is, you are less likely to add more stress with feelings of self-judgement or reprimand.”
Try This 5- to 20-Minute Meditation
Jeffers offers this simple meditation to try in the morning or afternoon. Do your best to practice it at the same time and in the same place every day. Practice anywhere from five to 20 minutes. Work up to longer periods of practice slowly; there’s no rush.
- Find a comfortable place to sit on the floor or in a chair. Be upright, but comfortable. Close your eyes if it’s comfortable, or gaze softly in front of you.
- Start by noticing how your body feels without judging any of the sensations as good or bad. Just notice them.
- Now move your attention to your breathing. Wherever in the body you feel the breath, pay attention there. It could be the air itself just under the nose, or the movements of the chest or belly. If your attention wanders, remember that this wandering is perfectly natural. Calmly guide your awareness back to your breathing.
- After a few minutes of breathing, move your attention to the sensations of your body. Notice the feeling of the chair underneath you, the air against your skin, and the sounds you hear.
- When you feel ready, open your eyes and return to the activities of your day.
Once you have practiced a bit and become familiar with the process of bringing your mind to rest, you can use this same meditation before bed or even lying down just before you sleep.