Can't Sleep? Try, Lobster, Orgasms, and These Other Under-the-Radar Sleep Aids
You're aware that getting enough sleep is important because of, you know, work and functioning and stuff. But the quality and length of your sleep also affect things like your sex life, your mood, and your weight, so if you weren’t convinced that sleeping well mattered before, the stakes just got raised.
If sleep's a problem these days because of job stress or maybe a certain recent political happening, though, try out one of these strategies for heading to dreamland faster, and waking up more energized.
Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
"It’s a good idea to train your body to wake up around the same time every day -- unfortunately, this means weekends as well," Amwell psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Gentile says. "Sadly, our bodies weren't built for weekends: we're routine beings, animals at heart, and we need to respect that."
That said, she acknowledges that you have to do what you can while realistically considering your lifestyle. "Make the best environment to help you sleep that you can," Dr. Gentile notes. "Like with flossing, you're supposed to do it every day, but your dentist will tell you that three times a week is better than not at all."
Eat lettuce and lobster
"Lettuce contains lactucarium, which has sedative properties that affect the brain in a way that’s actually similar to opium," Dr. Gentile says. Not too many salads have been known to knock people out, but hey, it sounds kind of great.
Foods containing tryptophan may also help us get to sleep easily, says Dr. Gentile, because this chemical also helps us produce melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep cycles. We tend to hear about tryptophan around the holidays; turkey is often blamed for causing people to pass out. But it turns out that turkey isn’t even an especially amazing source of the stuff.
"Elk actually has twice as much tryptophan as turkey breast," Dr. Gentile says. Other good sources, in case you don't have easy access to elk meat, for some strange reason: shrimp, lobster, tuna, yogurt, milk, oats, bananas, eggs, peanuts, and walnuts. Whatever you do, don't combine all of these together into some hideous sleep-pie.
If you don't fall asleep right away, stay awake
"If you're trying to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, it's really better to get up and do an activity in low light and a quiet environment," Dr. Gentile says. So instead of just lying there wishing you were asleep, she recommends reading a book or listening to soothing music.
Set up a 30-minute "cool-down" period
Don’t try to go to bed when you’re super keyed up, Dr. Gentile says. "If you just had a big phone conversation, or finished a big work project, that's not a great time to go to sleep." Try to give yourself a 20- to 30-minute cool-down period: in that time, you may want to take a hot bath (which raises your body temperature), and you’ll definitely want to dim the lights, and avoid electronics and physical exertion, says Dr. Gentile. But that doesn’t mean all before-bed activities are bad for you. For instance...
Get some action
"Touch yourself -- or a partner -- before bed," Dr. Jess, Astroglide's resident sexologist, advises. You got it, Doc! "Sexual arousal and pleasure are the perfect pathways to a good night's sleep. The chemical changes that accompany an orgasm are a spike in oxytocin levels and a drop in cortisol, which induce a state of deep relaxation, which in turn facilitates sleep."
Dr. Gentile agrees. "Chemically, an orgasm readies your body for sleep. The cliché of a man falling asleep after sex is around for a reason -- your body is telling you to."
Count your muscles instead of sheep
"Progressive muscle relaxation can be helpfully distracting," Dr. Gentile says. "From your head to your toe, contract and relax individual muscle groups for three seconds apiece. You don't have to learn a bunch of muscle groups for this, just go with the ones you know: forehead, cheeks, shoulders, etc. This helps both the mind and body be engaged in an activity. By a third or half the way down, you've fallen asleep."
Try a white-noise machine
Sometimes you need to break out the big guns, especially if you tend to be one of those problem-solver types. "It can be helpful to distract yourself mentally," notes Dr. Gentile. "For some people, the distraction can be mildly goal directed, like coming up with a grocery list. For other people who try to fix problems as they're falling asleep, goal-directed things aren't ideal. For them, something like a white-noise machine can be pleasantly distracting." White-noise machines may also help if you live on a busy street, or otherwise need to tune out your surrounding environment.
Keep a sleep diary
Hang on, it's not as bad as it sounds, and if you're always tired, this may be the key to getting the rest you need. "If you're having particular trouble with sleeping, you may want to use a sleep diary. The report you write down is often different from what you think about your sleep habits," explains Dr. Gentile. "This can help illuminate the correlations between stress, caffeine use, sleeping in, and your sense of tiredness."
She recommends against using the diary for more than a week at a time, though, because you don't want the diary to be a substitute for good habits -- like having sex and eating elk.
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Jess Novak can only sleep in a coffin, and refuses to be seen during the day. While her image can't be captured on camera, you can follow her misdeeds on Twitter at @jesstothenovak and Instagram at @jtothenovak.