For me, it's always the same old story. I fall asleep on the couch watching reality television, wake up, wash my face, and head to bed. I assume I'll fall right back to sleep (I certainly feel tired), but once I climb into bed, my mind starts racing. Did I finish everything I had to do for work? Is my friend mad at me? Do I call my mom enough? You know, the usual. It takes about an hour and upward of 10 tosses and turns to finally succumb to the sleep my body has been craving.
Luckily, similar to our old favorite, the "4-7-8" breathing trick, there's way to lull yourself to sleep that helps to soothe your heart rate and calm your mind. First, research confirms that a cool bedroom makes for the best sleep. Invest in a small fan or air conditioner to make your room temperature constant. According to NYU researcher and Airweave sleep expert Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., the magic number is 65°F, but other experts say there's definitely some wiggle room. I like to keep it around 68°F.
Next, dim the lights (as it signals your brain to stay awake) and make sure your pillows are in top condition (doctors at the National Sleep Foundation recommend replacing them every two years).
Once you're situated in bed, it's time to try this new trick. Luc Beaudoin, an adjunct professor in cognitive science and education, set out to test the effectiveness of "cognitive shuffling," or serial diverse imaging, where you may get groggy by focusing on random words and images, rather than the thoughts that are keeping you up. "A racing mind, worries, and uncontrollable thoughts are common bedtime complaints among poor sleepers," says Beaudoin. The research found cognitive shuffling to be effective in reducing "pre-sleep arousal," something I'm definitely familiar with, but that it's "actually very difficult for people to conjure up random images unaided."
To help, Beaudoin launched an app that cues up random words (each should be at least five letters). Focus on the first letter, then the second, and so on, creating words and pictures from each one. Before you know it, you'll fall blissfully to sleep without having to count sheep again.
Peep our other stories from Sleep Week, wherein you can expect detailed accounts of our own editors' sleep trials and tribulations, the latest products to help you nod off, and all the new relevant research.