Last week we talked about sleep – the importance of it and how we all need to put it on our to-do list. But what if you feel like you just can’t fall asleep when you want to?
I personally have struggled with this myself and so has my firefighter husband. For me, it’s been so bad that I’ve done a lot of reading on sleep and tried tons of techniques that are suggested by experts to help one fall asleep.
Since sleep deprivation severely affects both firefighters’ health and work performance, it is crucial that you’re able to get rested on your days off and even to fall back asleep after late night calls. So here are my tried-and-true top 2 most effective techniques for falling asleep any time of day:
1. Avoid Light. Light is very important to your body’s circadian rhythm so it plays a big role in your ability to sleep. Avoid bright lights, especially a computer screen, before bedtime or naptime. Your body’s natural clock will try to stay awake in response to light, no matter how tired you are. So dim overhead lights in the evening or just before you plan to nap, to prepare your body to fall asleep.
It is crucial to avoid looking at a computer, tablet or phone screen before you try to go to sleep (preferably for several hours before sleep). These screens emit a special kind of light (“blue light”) that reduces your melatonin – the hormone that produces sleep – and keeps your brain active. It’s best to do a very relaxing activity, such as reading, or a mundane activity, such as leisurely putting laundry away, before trying to fall asleep.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night it will help to make sure you expose yourself to bright lights in the morning and throughout the day.
Most importantly, do not let any light in your room when trying to sleep. It should be pitch black. If you try wearing a sleep mask or something over your eyes to fall asleep, you’d be surprised at how effective that is (especially if you’re napping during the day or wanting to sleep more in the morning when it’s light outside).
2. Focus on the facial muscles. If any thoughts are running through your head, preventing you from falling asleep (which can happen even when you don’t have anything important on your mind), your facial muscles are likely contracted. Focus on your forehead and eyes and make sure they’re relaxed. Then think about your cheeks and relax them. Then think about your mouth and chin and relax them. Try not to let your mind stray and keep repeating this. If you can master this technique it will send you off to dreamland in just a few minutes.
Keeping the room cold is an honorable mention. Your will fall asleep easier and stay in a deep sleep for longer in a cold room.
Have you found any super effective techniques for getting some z’s? Let us know in the comments.
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Excellent info. As a professional firefighter working 2 days on 4 days off, I find naps very necessary to preform 110%. I can’t sleep/nap in a bright room with noise, light, tv or other distractions. A dark quiet room, away from all that. I find a mask really helps me during the day as well. No noise is best for me. I find tv or even white noise distracting.
Me too Keith! My husband is a firefighter and when he’s exhausted laying in front of the TV I encourage him to go get in bed, because it’s more difficult to fall asleep (and sleep well) in front of the TV. It’s definitely made a difference for him. Thanks for sharing!