(CNN) — You’ll catch a 5 am flight tomorrow. Your boss, a real early bird, has set a weekly meeting at an unbearably early hour. School is starting, and you have to rise and shine to cheer on the family. The schedule has changed and suddenly you get out of bed in the middle of the dark.
Those are the nights you go to bed early and beg to be put to sleep, all too often to no avail.
“Unfortunately, this has happened to me many times,” said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “If you can’t fall asleep, don’t worry. That won’t help you.”
Sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta has a similar orientation.
“My general advice is ‘don’t force it’ because the worry of having those ‘zzz’s’ will start to ruminate in your mind, making things worse,” said Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at Southern University. Of California.
“The reality is that often the more we try to relax and transition to sleep, the more we worry that we’re wasting precious sleep time, making the elusive ‘good night’s sleep’ more difficult to obtain.” “, he said by email.
If your sleep chronotype (the time your body is naturally programmed to want to sleep) is that of a night owl (stay up late, wake up late), those nights (and the days that follow) can be especially difficult, say experts. experts.
Here are some tried and tested tips from experts on how to ease those “please let me sleep” moments.
1. Don’t try the impossible
First, unless you’re a morning lark, don’t try to fall asleep at 9 pm, which may be too early for your biological clock. That only predisposes you to worry.
Instead, “start dimming the lights from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.,” Zee advised, and aim to go to bed by 10:00 p.m.
You should also avoid blue light, which tricks your brain into “thinking it’s still daytime. This prevents the release of key hormones like melatonin, which help you sleep,” Dasgupta said.
“Blue light is emitted by electronic devices, like smartphones and computers,” he said, so make sure you avoid them, as well as bright lights, for two hours before bed.
2. Meditation, mindfulness and breathing
Being stressed about sleeping is “a huge barrier to restful sleep,” Dasgupta said, and can “make existing sleep problems like insomnia worse.”
Fight back with mindfulness and meditation to promote calm, he suggested. “(These practices) can help calm the mind and body, making the transition to sleep easier and hopefully pleasant,” she said.
One of the best ways to help you fall asleep is to focus on your breathing, experts say.
“One technique is the ‘4-7-8 breathing method,’ which has been shown to reduce stress,” Dasgupta said. “Take a deep breath for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds, then slowly release your breath and exhale while counting from one to eight. Repeat these steps several times, then pause and see if you feel more relaxed.”
3. Run into daylight
When that early alarm goes off, immediately turn on the bright lights, Zee said. That tells your brain it’s daytime and helps stop melatonin production.
So get out in the sunlight as soon as you can, experts suggest.
“Natural sunlight during the day helps maintain a healthy circadian rhythm,” Dasgupta said. “This improves daytime energy and nighttime sleep quality.”
4. Plan a restful nap
You may want to plan a 20- to 30-minute power nap for the early afternoon that day, and then do your best to go to bed earlier that night, too, Zee said. Your “sleep drive” will be high, she said, because you “didn’t sleep the night before.”
It will be “easier to fall asleep between 10 pm and 10:30 pm and catch up,” Zee said.
5. Avoid alcohol and sweets
Avoid caffeine after lunch and avoid alcohol close to bedtime, “as both can disrupt sleep,” Dasgupta said. “If you’re hungry after dinner, try small, sugar-free, easy-to-digest snacks so you don’t interrupt your sleep.”
That call in the middle of the dream
What if you’ve done all this and fell asleep happily, but you live in a different time zone than your family and your confused relatives call you at a time that they still think is early?
Here are the rules for that scenario, according to Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, professor of medicine and director of sleep research in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
– Don’t turn on the light.
– Try to calm down, end the conversation quickly and go back to bed.
– If you can’t go back to sleep in less than 10 minutes, go to another room, turn on a dim light and try to read a boring book. (Electronic devices are not allowed, Polotsky said. They emit a blue light that will wake you up.)
– Do not check your email or text messages. In fact, don’t use your phone, computer, e-reader, or TV (again, due to blue light stimulation).
– Do not wash the dishes, go out or exercise.
– Meditate or relax and think of something pleasant.
So relax, don’t worry and sweet dreams!