The United States is a nation of the sleep deprived. One in three adults don’t regularly get enough hours of uninterrupted sleep to protect their health, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Thankfully, there are some research-backed methods to help ease the transition into dreamland. Some of these strategies are explained in the first season of the “Try This” podcast from the Washington Post, which offers short audio “courses” to tackle everyday problems.
“At the end of every episode, you'll walk away with feeling like you've got … this little toolkit. You've got these easily actionable things to do,” “Try This” host and producer Cristina Quinn told Boston Public Radio on Wednesday.
Episodes are between eight and 13 minutes long, providing what Quinn calls “snackable” lessons for listeners. This season, lessons focused on improving sleep. Quinn shared her newfound sleep expertise with GBH News.
The first thing to understand is that sleep is a bodily function. “It means it's out of your control,” said Quinn. In fact, one sleep therapist interviewed for the podcast treats insomnia as performance anxiety.
Tackling this pre-sleep anxiety starts early in the day. Quinn recommends “scheduling” anxiety by making a list of things that keep you up at night. Then, think about whether these worries can be solved in the next two weeks. If they can, write down how. If it can’t be solved soon, write that down, too. “This is basically an exercise to help you stop sweating over stuff that you really can't control,” Quinn said.
Another pre-sleep activity starts closer to bedtime: reducing exposure to artificial light in lamps and device screens. Light exposure after sunset keeps the brain thinking it’s daytime and time to be active, Quinn said. She wears orange safety goggles while she reads her book in bed. The goggles block blue light and signal to the brain that it’s time to make melatonin, an important hormone for sleep.
“My kids have stopped making fun of me [for wearing goggles] because now they're just used to it,” she said.
For falling back to sleep, try “soothing distractions.” This could be a podcast or book that’s “just interesting enough to keep you away from your … free fall of thoughts … but not so compelling that you're going to want to stay up late listening,” said Quinn. Her current choice is Eleanore Roosevelt’s autobiography.
“It is so good, and it's written in her voice,” said Quinn. But the pacing is too slow. “I'm not anywhere near finishing this book, and it's perfect. That's like, to me, the sweet spot.” Other soothing distractions include muscle relaxation and breathing techniques, prayer and counting.
Quinn is busy producing the next season of “Try This,” which will focus on getting the most out of friendships.