Get the deep, rejuvenating rest you crave with study-backed strategies that help you drift off to dreamland fast.
1. Fall asleep faster with a scalp massage.
Stressful day? An uptick in your body’s cortisol levels can make it difficult to drift off. Luckily, a five-minute scalp massage can dial down the production of the sleep-sapping stress hormone. Research shows that moving your fingertips in a circular motion across your head stimulates nerve endings that activate the body’s “rest and digest” system. It’s so effective that University of Miami researchers report this soothing ritual helps you doze off 50 percent quicker.
Or play brain games: Unwind at bedtime with a crossword puzzle or game of sudoku, and you’ll fall asleep in half the time. Cornell University scientists found that 10 minutes of a low-stress mental task slows cortisol release, making it easier to relax.
2. Sleep longer with a citrus snack.
Are you not sleeping enough? Here's a surprising fix: Snacking on an orange — or any citrus fruit — a half hour before bed delivers potent nutrients that activate melatonin-producing genes, report British researchers. The happy result? You snooze 25 minutes longer and have 60 percent more energy the next day!
And revisit a favorite: Instead of reaching for the latest bestseller, reread a novel you’ve already enjoyed to sleep 32 percent more deeply. University at Buffalo researchers say that catching up with a familiar tale relaxes the mind and triggers the release of melatonin for a better night’s rest.
3. Prevent tossing and turning by picturing puppies.
Restless sleeper? Not anymore! All you have to do is picture something soft and fluffy — like a cuddly puppy or kitten — while lying in bed, and Australian researchers report you’ll improve your sleep quality by 61 percent. Imagining something tactile and pleasant encourages your brain to release sleep-inducing theta waves, which promote a more peaceful and recuperative slumber.
And unwind with lavender: University of Minnesota scientists found the scent boosts the production of calming brain waves. To get the benefit, combine 4 oz. of water with 10 drops of lavender essential oil, then spritz your sheets before bed.
5. Outsmart night sweats with a brisk walk.
The trick to keeping cool while you snooze is breaking a sweat before bed. Swedish researchers found that logging 20 minutes of brisk exercise — like walking Fido or trying out a new indoor walking DVD — after dinner reduces your risk of hot flashes by 67 percent. Credit goes to the release of brain chemicals (serotonin and norepinephrine) that occurs when you exercise, which allows the body to better control your core temperature.
And sip sage tea: Enjoy four cups of sage tea daily, and you’ll have 50 percent fewer hot flashes within eight weeks, Swiss researchers say. The brew’s antioxidants have an estrogen-like effect that helps curb temperature spikes.
6. Avoid wake-ups with this sip.
The National Sleep Foundation found that 65 percent of people over 55 use the bathroom overnight. That means lots of folks are waking up instead of sleeping deep. If you’re one of them, try sipping a glass of water with 1/2 tsp. of baking soda stirred in. A Turkish study found this trick curbs overnight bathroom trips by 37 percent and reduces all-day urgency by 47 percent.
And with a few key stretches: A University of California study found practicing yoga daily strengthens pelvic floor muscles to improve bladder control by 70 percent in six weeks.
7. Discover the miracle of a few minutes of white noise.
Before turning in for the night, press play on a free white noise app (like Simply Noise for iPhone and Android), and you’ll fall asleep 38 percent faster. A Harvard University study revealed that white noise not only lulls you to sleep but also helps you spend more time in the deep sleep your body needs to rejuvenate.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.