I haven't always had trouble sleeping—in fact, I was known all my life for my somewhat magical ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. I could nap with abandon, get a full eight hours, and then wake up and do it all over again. I'd fall asleep after drinking espresso post-dinner, the works. That said, as I've gotten older, the ease with which I'd drift off at a moment's notice has, well, ceased to exist. Now, I have to plan to get a good night's sleep, and, even then, it doesn't always work out that way. I've had to get serious about my sleeping habits, and even spend time researching various rituals that can help.
With that in mind, I reached out to Karen Lord, a pilates instructor who knows her salt in wellness as much as she does fitness. She offered up comprehensive, actionable tips that have helped endlessly since I first began practicing them. Below, find her five most effective ways to fall asleep.
Stretch your body
Since sleep doesn't come easily to her, Lord created a restorative Pilates stretch routine as a pre-bed ritual, but you can do it anywhere, anytime to calm your mind and soothe your body. "It helps to stretch your muscles before bed," she says. She instructs, "One classic move that's helpful for pretty much everyone to lie in bed with your legs up on the wall (or headboard)." However, she laments, you can do it on the floor too. "Take five minutes to some deep breathing, as it helps to calm your nervous system, stretch your hamstrings, and open up your lower back." Afterwards, according to Lord, you'll feel a palpable calm move through your body—often, you'll feel it during the stretch too—and it'll help prepare your body for sleep.
Freewrite before bed
"Writing in a journal helps clear your mind and can even become a calming creative writing session," Lord says. She starts by writing a stream of consciousness before bed, allowing it to turn into anything as she goes. "It can become poetry, music, or nothing at all," she says. If you're often anxious before bed, with your mind buzzing about, putting pen to paper can be really helpful to release those thoughts (and tension). Though, Lord warns, try not to make lists. Those will keep you up.
Meditate to relax
"I listen to a guided meditation on my phone," Lord suggests. You can pick a favorite app, we love Headspace, or follow a few easy steps from an expert. Corinna Bloom, program director at Meditation Mount in Ojai, California, says the best way to use meditation for sleep is to tense up and relax different parts of your body. "Start with your face and work down to your feet, tensing your muscles to your breathing. First, breathe deeply into your nose. Then tense on the exhale, counting the length of your breath. Immediately relax your muscles as you breathe back into your nose. By purposely tensing your muscles, you'll begin sending signals to your body to relax."
Quiet the noise
"I fall asleep to white noise if I’m in a loud place and soothing soundscapes if I’m in a quiet place," Lord says. Michael Gelb, DDS, MS, who specializes in early intervention for sleep disordered breathing, explains: "White noise machines help shut out environmental noise, which reduces sleep fragmentation or disturbed sleep. So when a thud in the night wakes you from your slumber, it isn't the sound itself that startles you per se, but the change in sound consistency of your environment. When a white noise machine is playing sounds of every frequency, thuds, creaks, and voices are less audible to the ear, meaning you're more likely to sleep through the disturbance."
"Magnesium is so soothing," Lord says, "and, there are a few ways to get it." "Magnesium aids in alleviating anxiety and improving sleep quality. Magnesium works as a natural muscle relaxant, which is why many people swear by it to help with sleep issues," explains Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified and nationally acclaimed dermatologic surgeon. Lord cites various ways to make it work—taking a bath, adding it to a drink, and using an oil spray—all of which are easy to incorporate into your routine. "I mix Epsom salts with raw apple cider vinegar in water as hot as I can handle, then sweat it out while taking in the magnesium. The ACV is a great detoxifier. Not just for sleep, I have my private clients do this after a tough Pilates session together too," she says. She mixes powdered magnesium (it's called Calm) into a drink to really knock her out, and applies a few spritzes of magnesium oil on her feet, hands, stomach, and the back of her neck before bed. "The spray is less intense than the drink, but still helpful," she shares.