Five Ways to Sleep Better
We sleep 8.8 hours a night, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means either we’re getting the 7 to 9 hours experts recommend, or we’re so tired we give pollsters wildly inaccurate data. Regardless of how much shut-eye we actually get, we sure like to talk about how tired we are. “When it comes to sleep, we’re in desperate need of intervention,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Good thing there are more apps, accessories, snacks, drugs, and gurus than ever to help us out in 2017.
Don’t Go to Bed Alone
Three apps that slip under the covers and say good morning.
The Eight sleep tracker
The Eight sleep tracker is a smart mattress cover that syncs with a phone app (via a disk called the “hub”) to track sleep metrics, such as how much deep sleep you’re getting, your heart rate, the room temperature, room noise, etc. Like the apps below, it’s got an alarm that will wake you when you’re in your lightest sleep cycle; unlike them, it also warms the bed. The sensation is similar to what you get with seat warmers in cars, which is nice, but not worth $349. The alarm also woke me up with 15 minutes left in my half-hour wake-up window, which felt more like I was being cheated than a triumph of technology.
Sleep Cycle (iOS)
Sleep Cycle, which you put “near the bed or on the floor,” according to the app store, uses an iPhone’s mic or accelerometer to measure movements, waking you up within that 30-minute window. It also tracks quality of rest, including the time you spent in deep sleep.
Sleep As Android
Free, up to $3.99 with in-app purchases, sleep.urbandroid.org
The same smart-alarm and sleep-logging features that Sleep Cycle promotes, plus natural-sound wake-up noises (a babbling brook, chirping birds) and Captcha-style tests to complete before the alarm turns off to make sure you’re fully awake.
Find a Drug-Free Alternative to Insomnia
Can’t sleep? Watch some “ASMR” videos.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is a fancy way of saying that listening to people whisper can trigger your inner Rip Van Winkle. It’s “autonomous” because listeners aren’t necessarily trying to fall asleep; they just do. Practitioners aren’t always trying to lull listeners asleep, either: Bob Ross, the super-mellow TV painter, is considered one of the original—if unwitting—ASMR-tists. If you’re looking for a little offbeat insomnia relief, go to YouTube, where a search for ASMR will bring up nearly 6 million results. Maria of GentleWhispering has more than 820,000 subscribers to her channel, which she launched in 2011. She explained how ASMR works (not in hushed tones). Edited excerpts:
What’s the effect of the whispering?
It makes you want to forget everything. It just stops you. Your negative thoughts or worries are blocked by the whisper.
Do you have to hear whispering to experience ASMR?
For a lot of people, it could be just a visual. For example, massage videos or petting animals.
What’s your most popular video?
One that has 17 million views is me brushing my hair and caressing my face with a peacock feather. It’s not my most creative work.
Is this your full-time job?
It is now. The first two years, I didn’t have enough subscribers to do this as a profession.
Why do people watch your videos instead of listening to white noise?
This is white noise with a human attached to it. You feel cared for, and people overlook that they need that in life. It’s similar to if your parent is calming you down to make you fall asleep.
Know an Agonist From an Antagonist
Want to trick your brain into thinking you have narcolepsy? Read on! The various classes of sleep aids, from melatonin to … to … zzz
Class: Melatonin agonists
What: Supplements such as melatonin, Ramelteon, and Tasimelteon. Taken mostly by travelers to fight jet lag, they mimic the hormone that’s released naturally in the early evening, convincing your body it’s nighttime.
Risk: Reversing your sleep-wake cycle
What: ZzzQuil, Tylenol PM. Antihistamines, the active ingredients in over-the-counter sleep aids (and in allergy medicine), block the brain receptors that keep you alert.
What: Ambien, Lunesta. These prescription pills slow down the brain by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA. This lessens the anxiety associated with insomnia.
Risk: Sleep-driving, sleep-eating
Class: Orexin antagonists
What: Belsomra. This prescription drug decreases the neurotransmitter Orexin, which promotes wakefulness. This has led some doctors to make narcolepsy comparisons.
Risk: Hallucinations, vivid dreams, extreme drowsiness
Look Good, Sleep Good
It’s time to invest in a nice pair of PJs, such as these from fashion favorite Sleepy Jones.
For men: Henry pajama shirt ($158) and Marcel pajama pant ($138), in university stripe.
For women: Bettina cardigan ($198) and Bettina pant ($178), in silk charmeuse cream.
Enjoy an Evening Smoothie
Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety, suggests one with tart cherries. They contain melatonin to help you fall asleep and proanthocyanidins to help keep you that way.
Ingredients (makes two servings)
1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (soy milk or skim milk can be substituted)
10 to 12 raw almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 frozen banana
3/4 cup frozen tart cherries
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Lasts 24 hours in the refrigerator.