the science behind the three ultimate tools to fall asleep fast

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The question is simpler than it seems: How did you fall asleep last night? I mean exactly the moment you went from wakefulness to sleep or, if you prefer, the moments before, what happened? how did you get it? what did you feel at that moment? It is still curious that despite the fact that we sleep every day, “falling asleep” is such an unknown process.

And not only by ordinary citizens, but by the scientists themselves. In the last decade, the technological leap in neuroimaging tools has brought us much closer to what happens in that enigmatic moment when we plunge into the realm of Morpheus.

And yet, the web is still full of “fixes” for “quick sleep” that are closer to magical rituals and superstitions than anything resembling a scientifically consistent, behavioral technique. What does science tell us about all this?


A crash course in the neurobiology of sleep

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Robina Weermejer

There are a good handful of brain structures directly involved in sleep processes: the hypothalamus (which acts as a control center in terms of arousal and contains key neural structures in circadian rhythms), the brain stem (where the transition between wakefulness and sleep is undertaken), the thalamus (which, in a way , is the structure that passes sensory information to the central nervous system and that, during sleep, enters “do not disturb” mode), the pineal gland (which secretes a hormone, melatonin, which helps induce sleep by adjusting to the cycle day-night) or the amygdala (which “processes” emotions and plays a very important role in the REM phase of sleep).

However, the most interesting of all this anatomical analysis is to realize that we do not have structures dedicated specifically to sleep. Although there are groups of neurons whose function is focused on it, but the difference between wakefulness and sleep is more in the way the nervous system works than in the structures that are involved. The core issue of “falling asleep” is how to change modes without compromising system performance.

Thus, within the famous REM and non-REM phases of sleep, there is one (phase 1) that, although it lasts a few minutes, is tremendously important. It is a light sleep during which the body (heartbeat, breathing, movements) relaxes and slows down and in which brain wave patterns begin to show that the transition from one state to another is running.

This gives us a first clue of what the body needs to start the process that will put us to sleep. However, it is not enough to have a period of calm. Normally, there two internal biological mechanisms that help regulate sleep and allow synchronization those moments of rest with our physiological needs: circadian rhythms (a kind of “biological clock” that regulates numerous functions: from body temperature to hormone release) and wake-sleep homeostasis (that is, the need for sleep) .

The three key tips for falling asleep

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Megan Te Boekhorst

Those three levers are the fundamental instruments that we have to facilitate sleep not only be deep and restorative, but also that we are able to reconcile quickly. In general, all the techniques that we can find to help us fall asleep fast play with them in one way or another.

Relax your mind and body

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Ben Blenner Hassett

Unless the need to sleep is imperative, the nervous system will not initiate the sleep process if we need not sleep. Moreover, he will resist it. Therefore, the first phase of sleep involves neurological, physical and environmental relaxation: it is the ‘trick’ that our body uses to check that we can sleep.

What happens is that, normally, we are not able to compartmentalize our life enough to go to bed with everything figured out. Sometimes it is our mind that does not stop thinking about pending issues or problems that we cannot solve; other times it is the rest of the body that, due to the activities that we have been doing previously, has not picked up the signals that tell it to relax.

A clear example is exercising. There is no doubt that physical activity and good sleep are related (Loprinzi and Cardinal, 2011) and everything seems to indicate that 30 minutes of physical activity most days is a good thing (Reed, 2010). However, it is recommended to do it 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. Otherwise, “physiological inertia” can play against us.

It is also not a good idea to consume caffeine because It is not only related to lack of sleep, but also to poor quality of sleep (Kerpershoek, Antypa, and Van den Berg, 2018; Snell and Lorist, 2011). Something similar happens with alcohol (Singleton and Wolfson, 2009) or nicotine (Jahne, 2009). However, there are people for whom all of this (especially the last two) help them fall asleep.

The reason is simpler than it seems: we often use alcohol or tobacco as forms of emotional management and, for that reason, they can help us reconcile. The problem is that they do so at the cost of dissolving our long-term ability to sleep. If we need to manage our emotions, it is better to do relaxing tasks before going to bed (Blanaru and others, 2012; Nicassio and Bootzin, 1974). Things like reading, listening to music or, directly, using the famous relaxation techniques.

In fact, most of the techniques we see on the internet to help sleep are disguised relaxation techniques. So much the 4-7-8 technique (repeat the sequence of “inhaling air through the nose for four seconds, holding it for seven, and exhaling it for eight” until sleeping) or the sharon ackerman method to sleep in two minutes they are. Our colleagues from Vit√≥nica have a good compilation to find the one that best suits us. You just have to have one idea in mind: mastering them takes practice.

order our life

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Waldemar Brandt

If an important part is the psychophysiological disposition at the time of sleep, another part is the vital rhythm: making our life and our (circadian) rhythms fit together. Let’s face it, as we get older, our sleep gets worse and worse: more than half of older adults suffer from symptoms of insomnia (Ohayon, 2002). However, studies tell us that a consistent and organized lifestyle can help us sleep better and faster (Zisberg, Gur-Yaish, and Shochat, 2010; Monks, 2010).

The Circadian Rhythm Problem: What It's Like to Have a Body That Asks You to Sleep During the Day and Keeps You Up All Night

By the way, this lifestyle has to be daily, the week does not serve as a unit of compensation. Or, what is the same, it is no use sleeping late on weekends. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is the best option to regulate sleep let’s be kids (Mindell and others, 2015), elite athletes (Bird, 2013) or normal people.

save sleep

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Fabian Blank

As we said above, wake-sleep homeostasis is very important. It’s hard to sleep if, well, we’re not sleepy. Therefore, it is interesting to manage well the hours we spend asleep throughout the day. Naps, without going any further, are one of the most amazing things in the world (Rosekind, 1995): sleep an average of 25 minutes improves between 16% and 34% our cognitive functions (Mednick and others, 2008; Naska, 2007; Saunders and Chaput, 2012).

However, they must be used correctly or they can make it very difficult for us to fall asleep at night (Dhand and Sohal, 2006). Definitely: the best way to fall asleep quickly is to get to bed tired, relaxed and at the right time. It’s not a magic sleep trick (especially if you’ve been looking for this topic because of a sleepless night), but it’s something you can start doing tomorrow.

Image | jamie street

The question is simpler than it seems: How did you fall asleep last night? I mean exactly the moment you…

The question is simpler than it seems: How did you fall asleep last night? I mean exactly the moment you…

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