A good night’s sleep is just as important to your overall health as regular exercise and a wholesome diet. Research has shown that quality sleep has a positive impact on brain function, exercise performance, and weight control.
But there are times when no matter how committed you are to clocking in an eight-hour slumber, you just can’t catch those z’s.
So, what do you do when a good night’s shuteye starts to elude you?
Well, actually — according to science — there are several things that could help. And if you’re someone who’s still counting sheep at 3 a.m., then try one of these five brain hacks to get you back on a good sleep track.
Hack #1: Dim the Lights
Light levels and light wavelengths can wreak havoc on your ability to fall asleep. Both higher light levels and shorter wavelengths (blue in color) are known to suppress melatonin production, a hormone that’s central to the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Electronic devices are well-known blue-light culprits. But LED lighting (while more energy-efficient) also produces blue light.
So crack down on blue light usage, dim your evening lights, and avoid bright-light exposure before you hit the hay. This will help you fall asleep more quickly and deeply.
Hack #2: Wear Socks in Bed
Wearing socks in bed might not be the sexiest way to gain a good night’s sleep, but — believe it or not — it's one of the most effective tricks.
Warming the feet causes vasodilation — or the widening of blood vessels — which signals to the brain that it’s time to slumber down.
When vasodilation occurs, blood flow and oxygen are increased, redistributing heat throughout the body and basically tuning the body into chill mode.
Hack #3: Drink Banana Peel Tea
There are several teas on the market that are known to aid sleep. But a lesser-known one that many poor sleepers SWEAR by is banana peel tea.
Making it simply involves boiling the peel from a single ripe banana in a cup of water, and then swigging back the liquid.
The reason it’s an effective sleep supplement has to do with the peel’s high concentrations of potassium and magnesium, and — most of all — the amino acid tryptophan.
The body uses tryptophan to produce both melatonin and serotonin, a chemical precursor to melatonin. Both of these hormones help create a sweet night of slumber.
Health Note: Use organic banana peels to avoid ingesting any residual pesticides or herbicides.
Hack #4: The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is based on the yogic practice of breath control known as Pranayama. It helps to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation, which is a pretty good state to be in if you’re desperately seeking sleep.
The technique focuses the mind on controlling the breath, which makes it particularly suitable for those whose nighttime thoughts tend to be a racing replay of every worry and woe they had that day.
The technique involves inhaling slowly through your nose for a count of four, holding your breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth with a heavy “whooshing” noise for a count of eight.
Do this for a full four breaths and you should be set.
Hack #5: Sprinkle Your Sleep With Lavender
Lavender essential oil has a reputation for helping the body to relax and unwind.
Traditionally, researchers thought this was due to linalool — a sweet-smelling alcohol that is present in the plant's oil — being absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs.
But recent research shows that smelling lavender actually stimulates the nose to send a direct signal to the brain, which loosens the reins on any stress and anxiety you may be feeling. As a result, it’s proven to be effective at inducing sleep.
One study at Wesleyan University in Connecticut revealed that participants who fell asleep after sniffing lavender essential oil showed increased slow-wave sleep in brain scans. This is the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, wherein the heartbeat slows and muscles relax. It’s also believed that during this phase, memories are consolidated and the brain recovers from its daily activities.
In other words, lavender not only helps the quality of your sleep, but it also sets you up to be refreshed and rejuvenated when you wake up the following day.