Can’t go to sleep? Want to be in bed earlier, but it’s impossible? I know what it’s like. I can usually stay asleep, but initiating sleep at the right times is a hassle sometimes. Whether for school or work or peace of mind, we all need rest that is compatible with our schedules. It’s common to break out of a sleep cycle even if it’s not jet lag. We are not equipped with a body that strictly follows the earth’s rotation that makes day and night. We can be in better tune with appropriate sleep habits with a handful of potential aids.

Dietary Tips

Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in sleep with increase brain levels of serotonin and/or melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that manages your circadian rhythm. Turkey is the most common suggestion for tryptophan, but other meats contain it as well. Even milk contains small traces of it, as well as calcium, which supposedly helps the brain use the tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Melatonin also comes in a supplement. If you are to take it for the first time, use a small quantity (Even split the pill if you can).

Another thing to think about is Thanksgiving Dinner. Wikipedia argues that turkey alone will not make you drowsy, but the feast of carbohydrates in addition to turkey is what makes the difference.

Avoid large amounts of sugar and caffeine, especially during the hours before your planned bedtime. This is common sense to stay away from uppers or stimulating ingredients late at night, although there are some who can go to sleep right after a double-shot of espresso.

Proactive Methods

Adjust your bedtime forward or backwards. If you are going to bed at 4 in the morning and are in a hurry to be an early bird, you could pull an all nighter (stay up past 4a.m.) and crash as late as you can. If you are good at staying up, then you should be able to stay up until early evening. I have a ridiculously hard time getting to sleep earlier than the previous day so I like going forward. While I don’t consider myself diseased, I probably qualify for having a delayed sleep-phase because I could strive on a 26-30 hour day.

Prepare for downtime. This may mean you have to leave the party early to give yourself a block of time to cool off. Try to feel relaxed, think of stress-free things, and do whatever winds you down. Some ideas include yoga/stretching, praying, and meditation.

Turn off bright lights (dim your computer if you must be on it). If this is not possible (maybe the sun is already up), cover your eyes with a bandanna or get an eye mask (it’s in the travel section of the store) that blocks out light.

Turn off sounds, unless they are low and soft. Get earplugs if there is uncontrollable noise, or drown out loud roommates with soothing post rock.

Sync your brain waves into sleep. Hypnotize yourself into relaxation. If you don’t fall for that stuff, just condition yourself to to be calm by relaxing all your muscles (mentally go down your whole body) and “think” tiredness, but don’t think too hard. Quietly drift with binaural beats that induce sleep waves. I recommend mind-numbing freeware SBaGen (requires headphones for stereo effect).

Try to maintain consistent sleep habits. Waking up at the same time each day is beneficial for continuity. Repetition reinforces your schedule. While this is the only thing that Steve Pavlina suggests, it is the end result and not a tool to reach it. It’s like asking “How do I become an early riser?” and get an answer “Rise early!” I for one cannot get over a bad sleep schedule by this alone. In many cases, it is not plausible. Here’s an example of a troubled sleeper:

Dave Brubeck wants to start waking up at 6 a.m. daily. He just played a concert and gets Jack in the Box at 2 in the morning. He has a television interview at 6am. He should wake up at 5am. He manages to make the interview but he feels groggy. He wants to take a nap afterwards but the bumpy tour bus is not conducive to sleep. He is hungry and grabs a salad from a truck stop. Although not feeling refreshed, he has a second wind of energy as time goes by and it is 8pm. He has no concert today. Despite this he stays up late again, going to bed at 3am. He still wants to wake up at 6am. This time he wakes up at 6 a.m., but falls asleep while eating his egg and hash browns around 7:30. His manager wakes him at 10 a.m. and takes him to the studio to rehearse. He goes to sleep at 4am. This time, he sleeps through his alarm, his band blasting the radio, and a California tremor. He finally wakes up at 12 noon. He gets a restful eight hours of sleep recommended by doctors, discouraged by Mr. Pavlina. He has had a nice day and the night is passing. He is still up at 6am and figures he might as well stay up. There is no way for him to function the whole day. He passes out at 1pm and rises at 8 p.m.. He is nosediving through Steve Pavlina’s advice. He is already up when his alarm chimes. It is rendered useless. It does not help him be an early bird. There are 2 main problems here. Getting less sleep to follow the alarm does not necessarily make you tired enough to go to bed earlier. Conversely, setting up an alarm for an hour does not mean you’ll stay up for long enough to have a late enough bedtime. His commenters are also heavy with criticism.

Exercise can go both ways hindering and inducing sleep. I end up staying up later and become restless even after strenuous activity. In order for exercise to benefit me, I have to be active early- at least 8 hours before I want to go to sleep. Others will crash if they go on a night run.