People do a lot of moving around in the summer—heading off to summer camp, staying at friends' houses, going away on vacation. And with all those changes of scenery and summer activities, it's natural to have trouble falling asleep in an unfamiliar place. Fortunately, you can take a number of natural steps to help settle down and get your full ration of restful z'
s—both during the crazy days of summer and all year round. back to top
Why is sleep so important anyway?
You've heard the lecture: you need a certain amount of sleep to stay healthy. During the deepest stages of sleep, your body restores its vital organs, bones, and tissue and builds up the cells that help it fight off illness. Your REM sleep
—the stage when you dream—is not only entertaining, it's necessary to keep your brain working properly and your emotions steady. And guess what? Studies show that you need more sleep as a teenager than you did as a kid or you will need when you get older.
But when does it really sink in that sleep is important? When you don't get enough of it. As you probably know, lack of sleep is one of the main causes of serious accidents, stupid screwups, and really bad moods. back to top
How do I know if I'm getting enough sleep?
Do you always need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning? That's a pretty good sign that you didn't get enough sleep the night before. Other clues include dozing off during the day, having trouble concentrating, and feeling like you don't have enough energy.
Note that some of these symptoms can also be linked to mood disorders such as depression
. If you often have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling tired during the day for no apparent reason, it's a good idea to talk about those symptoms with your parents or a health professional. back to top
Natural tips to help you fall asleep
For those occasional can't-fall-asleep situations—or for those nights before a big date when it's crucial to get your beauty sleep—here are some strategies to help you drift into dreamland.
- Cool the caffeine. That includes not only coffee and tea, but also sodas and chocolate. Taking caffeine too close to bedtime is just setting yourself up to stare at the ceiling. Be aware, too, that certain drugs, such as over-the-counter cold remedies and diet pills, can have a stimulating effect that may keep you wired for hours.
- Time your exercise. While physical exercise earlier in the day is a great sleep promoter, exercising within four hours of bedtime may help keep you awake. The ideal time to exercise if you want to sleep like a baby is six hours before your head hits the pillow.
- Take a bath. Taking a hot bath an hour or so before bedtime will give your body the signal that sleep is in order. Studies show that you're more likely to fall asleep when your body temperature is falling—just as it does naturally when you emerge from that bubbly bath.
- Lavish in lavender. For a double-whammy effect, add six to eight drops of lavender essential oil to your bath water and breathe in its relaxing scent. A favorite of aromatherapy, lavender has been shown in studies to be a sleep enhancer. You can also take advantage of its restful aroma by burning a lavender-scented candle while reading or listening to music before bed—but not in bed!
- Calm down with chamomile. Sipping tea made from this gentle herb may be the world's best-known remedy for sleeplessness. Chamomile contains active ingredients that help relieve stress and anxiety and can help lull you into slumber. Look for products that contain 100 percent chamomile flowers and smell like apples (a sign of freshness). For extra sleep-inducing power, you may want to brew a double-strength cup.
- Relax. There are many techniques you can do to promote the relaxation response, a state in which your body processes naturally become slow and calm. One technique involves tensing and relaxing your muscles one by one, starting from your toes and ending with your head. To learn how to do this exercise, see Progressive Relaxation: Calm All Over. Another reliable exercise is the Relaxing Breath, a form of breath control that works better and better the more you practice it. For a step-by-step guide, check out the iEmily articles on breath control.
- De-stress with yoga. Yoga poses can help calm your nervous system and make it easier for your body to relax. You may already know some yoga, but if you don't, now's a great time to learn. For some lessons on destressing, check out the poses known as Downward Dog and Corpse.
- Turn on a fan. Obviously, generating moving air on a warm summer night makes for better sleeping conditions. But another advantage of turning on a fan (at any time of year) is the "white noise" factor. White noise is a term for the kind of steady, soothing noise that drowns out distracting ones. Some people buy "white noise machines" for this purpose (gizmos that make nature sounds, say), but you can get a similar effect from the whirring of an electric fan.
- If necessary, consider taking valerian. It's not a good idea to get in the habit of swallowing something to help you fall asleep. Prescription sleeping pills, in particular, can be extremely habit forming. But there are unusual situations when your sleeping patterns may be really disrupted—like when you fly across time zones—and your body could use a little help.
Valerian root is an herb that has been used for centuries to promote restful sleep. It's gentler than prescription sleep aids and when taken in proper doses shouldn't make you feel groggy in the morning. A typical dose for the tincture form is one dropperful of tincture mixed into a little warm water, taken about an hour before bedtime. (Hold your nose, as this herb has a strong smell.) For the capsule form, follow package instructions.
A few words of caution: Don't take valerian while traveling unless you've already taken it at home and know how it affects you. Valerian root doesn't have the same effect on everyone, and in rare cases it can actually pep people up rather than put them to sleep. There is also the rare possibility of an allergic reaction, which you would definitely not want to experience for the first time while you're away from home. back to top
And by the way—sweet dreams! back to top