But what can you do when your brain just doesn’t want to sleep at bedtime?
Actually there are a lot of things you can do.
Stop telling your brain it’s daytime all evening
Firstly, go ahead and install some apps that block blue light from your devices in the evenings. It sounds like witch doctor stuff, I know. I dismissed this until it was recommended to me by an actual sleep psychologist.
Here’s the deal: our brains use sunlight to know when it’s daytime and when it’s nighttime. But those back-lit screens you hold really close to your face at night? Your brain thinks that’s sunlight. Sunlight means daytime, which means it’s not time to sleep. So if you’re using your devices at night, you’re sending continual messages to your brain that it shouldn’t get sleepy.
The fix is easy: install an app that puts an orange filter over your screen at nighttime. (Yes, you can pause the filter if you need to.) Check out Twilight for Android devices, and enable Night Shift on your iOS device. For PCs and Macs, there’s f.lux.
Everything and the kitchen sink:
To go the whole hog on circadian-rhythm lighting, purchase a lighting system such as Phillips Hue. This will allow you to use dim, orange-y lighting in the evenings throughout your whole house. It will also allow you to use bright, blue-ish lighting in the daytime on those miserable grey days when all you want to do is take a nap.
My Hue lights are hands down the best purchase I made in the last year. The difference they have made to my sleep – and to how I feel all day, every day – is enormous. (Fair disclaimer though: I did have a sleep disorder. Your results may be less spectacular if you only suffer from garden-variety sleeplessness.)
Distract yourself just the right amount
If you, like me, are one of those people with a tendency to lie in bed at night thinking many thoughts instead of falling asleep, then you may need some tools to distract yourself just enough to get sleepy.
(I’ll say this one more time though: Seriously, try the blue-blocking apps. I thought my problem was a busy mind until I made some nifty tweaks to my lighting situation and discovered what being actually sleepy feels like. My thoughts don’t keep me up at night now that I actually get tired in the evenings.)
Recently I’ve been enjoying A Soft Murmur, which creates ambient sounds (such as the sound of rain, wind, or the buzz of a full café). What sets this app aside from other ambient sound generators I’ve used is that you can make your own mixes of different sounds and save your favourites. Current fave: the sound of a crackling fire with muffled rain in the background.
I also really love Calm‘s “sleep stories”, which are like bedtime stories for grown-ups. I challenge you to stay awake for a full 24 minutes of Stephen Fry talking about walking through a field of lavender (I never have).
Logic and math puzzle apps can also help occupy your thoughts. You want something that keeps your thoughts occupied (so you can’t focus on everything you need to do tomorrow), but is slightly on the easy side for you (so that you can get sleepy while doing it).
I’ve used apps for sudoku, solitaire, logic puzzles, and spatial puzzles for this purpose. There are thousands out there – pick your favourite kind of brain challenge and do a google search for apps!
What about you?
What apps or other tools do you use to aide your sleep? Let me know in the comments!