Sleeping used to be one of my superpowers. I used to be able to nod off – sitting up, mind you – during the 15-minute, union-mandated breaks we all got when I was an assembly line worker. And this was at a factory where the decibel level was usually over a 100 (by way of comparison, the decibel level of a leaf blower is about 110).
I no longer have that superpower. Kryptonite in my pillow stuffing or something.
Anyhow, unless I take something/do something to assist me, it now takes me a long time to go to sleep and I nearly always wake up early. Sometimes I fall back asleep, and sometimes I don’t.
This “sleep resistance” forced me to go pro-active, but not by adopting some common-sense bromides, stuff like: Don’t mainline espressos before bed, don’t heat the room to a temperature that will roast pork, and don’t mistake heavy metal tunes like “Ziploc Bodybag” by Exhumed for lullabies.
Instead, I experimented with a variety of supplements, drugs, and technologies. Here’s a list of things I’ve used, followed by an A, B, or C grade of how well it worked:
Large quantities of alcohol will indeed induce sleep, but you will almost always awake to find out someone has painted a penis and balls on your face with a Sharpie. It’s true. Additionally, that type of sleep is fitful and largely non-restorative.
Small amounts may, however, calm you down a bit if you’re wrestling with any minor anxieties, so it’s situationally useful, as long as you use the proper “dosage.”
Oddly enough, a number of studies involving Ambien have shown that it offers no significant improvement in sleep quality. One National Institute of Health study showed that the pills only make people fall asleep 12 minutes faster than placebo, along with only extending sleep an average of 11 minutes.
Then there are all the stories about people taking Ambien and then doing weird things like downloading K-Pop music or ordering take-out from Hooters.
Personally, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with the drug, placebo or not. I don’t take it regularly, though, because of its addictive qualities.
This anti-histamine works quite well, but it often leaves me with a headache and hung-over feeling in general.
4. Black-Out Shades
I used to poo-pooh the idea that you had to make your bedroom as dark as a subterranean cave in order to sleep well, but ever since the neighbors installed strings of party lights that make their backyard look like the façade of the Mandalay Bay Casino in Vegas, I’ve grown to appreciate the role of complete darkness in both falling asleep and getting a restful night’s sleep.
5. Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
I haven’t entirely bought into the whole, don’t read computer screens at night, blue light thing yet. I begrudgingly accept that blue light might cause eyestrain and that it likely affects the production of melatonin, the body’s “sleep hormone,” but I’m not entirely sure it’s keeping me up at night.
Besides, some researchers are now saying we should wear red glasses instead of blue glasses because it’s really the green light wavelengths that are disrupting our sleep. When you find the right color, get back to me.
Anyhow, after trying them, the glasses seemed to prevent computer screen eyestrain during the day, but I didn’t notice that they helped me get to sleep any faster if I wore them while reading my i-Pad in bed.
Small doses (less than 150 mg) actually perk me up a little, but larger doses seem to relieve anxiety, thus allowing me to fall asleep. It’s very subtle, though.
7. Chamomile Tea
This tea definitely has a calming effect, but drinking it makes me feel like an English wanker. Of course, drinking too much of it may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night to visit the loo, which kind of defeats the purpose.
8. Ear Plugs
I have the misfortune of living next to a VRBO short-term rental where guests treat every night like it’s Saturday night on the isle of Ibiza. Some day, I swear, I’ll pack an old RV with electronics and park it outside that house like that guy in Tennessee. Oh, it won’t blow up or anything, but it’ll wake them up really early by playing some Petula Clark songs really fucking loud.
Anyhow, this unfortunate situation has caused me to become an expert in earplugs. I’ve shoved most anything in my ears you can imagine, including small canned hams. So far, the best solution I’ve found is Mack’s “Pillow Soft Silicone Putty Earplugs.” They’re designed for swimmers, but they work great for blocking out sound, as well as preventing Captain Kirk’s nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from placing Ceti eels in your ears.
9. Eye Masks
If you can’t afford blackout shades or if they’re too much of a hassle, you can buy eye masks like the kind we assume movie stars and divas are wearing when their servants wake them up at noon.
You can even buy one that has Kim Kardashian’s eyes imprinted on it, but be careful lest an adult male with two fully-functioning testicles walks into the room, mistakes you for Kim, and bludgeons you with the base of a floor lamp.
Eye masks block out most light but they can be slightly uncomfortable and take getting used to.
I guess it would make me sleepy, or more accurately, exhausted, if I did a pre-bedtime workout involving a lot of deadlifts or squats, but that’s kind of impractical. Other than that, exercising during the day probably won’t help you get to sleep at night.
Floor fans, but not ceiling fans (because they’re usually silent), can serve a dual purpose: They obviously cool the room, but the right kind can serve as a white noise generator, which I’ve found to be a huge help in general.
12. Fish Oil
It works to improve sleep quality, but the effects manifest themselves over weeks.
This melatonin precursor helps you sleep, but almost like fish oil, it takes a couple of weeks of taking it every night for it to kick in. The thing is, I want to sleep tonight, dammit.
It might also make you perpetually groggy.
Taking 3 grams of this amino acid can calm your brain and help you fall asleep faster, improve sleep quality, and even lessen the effects of insufficient sleep in general. It works for me….sometimes.
15. Meat Lockers, as in Sleeping in One
Sleep is generally much easier to achieve and maintain in a cool or coolish room. Personally, I know the room temp is ideal when I wake up in the morning and find that the glass of ice water I’d placed by my bedside the night before still has some ice in it. Unfortunately, this severely limits my bed partners to Inuit women or reindeer-herding Laplanders.
My temperature preferences notwithstanding, most research on the topic suggests that people sleep best at a room temperature of between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
This mineral combo, sold as ZMA®, is a sleep tag team: Magnesium works with the nervous system to activate mechanisms that calm you and allow you to fall asleep while zinc works to keep you from waking up in the middle of the night.
17. Making a List
I often can’t sleep because I’m anxious about the next day, thinking about all the things I have to do and worried that I’ll forget to do some of them. That’s when making a simple reminder list can be really helpful. Once done, the anxiety that was keeping me awake dissipates.
While known as the “sleep hormone,” melatonin doesn’t really put you to sleep; it just relaxes you a bit so that you can fall asleep. Think of it this way: Something like Xanax will forcefully push you off the wakefulness cliff, but melatonin gently coaxes you into stepping off the cliff, whispering for you to lean back so Instagram models can carry you away on clouds of slumber.
This is one of my mainstays. When we’re stressed, our brain is subjected to an uninterrupted flow of stimulatory neurotransmitters that cause restlessness and irritability. This compound, an analog of GABA, puts the kibosh on these neurotransmitters, thereby allowing the body to relax and drift off to sleep.
Doses of 125 to 500 mg. produce profound relaxation that usually leads to sleep. And, unlike most sleep aids, the morning hangover from Phenibut is mild or non-existent. You can get it as part of the Z-12™ formula.
Reading sometimes works, but I have to avoid page-turners or erotica. Reading an actual paper book instead of something on an iPad might help, too, in case that blue-light thing is legit.
I’ve never liked the idea of using another human as a fleshy Sominex (a product, by the way, that I haven’t tried). It seems degrading. Besides, sex has never really made me sleepy. Still, I understand that sex produces oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with lowering stress and anxiety, and that can certainly help most people fall asleep.
Almost any type of serious stretching makes me feel like Braveheart at the end of the movie. It does not prepare me for sleep. Still, I understand how someone with the tendon and ligament laxity of overcooked porridge can find it relaxing, and anything that relaxes you before sleep is good.
One gram of this amino acid, taken about 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime, can lessen the time it takes me to fall asleep. Plus, there’s absolutely no hangover the next day.
It definitely gives a gentle nudge, but it’s no guarantee.
24. White Noise Machine
I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t sleep without some sort of constant-level noise being generated, be it from a floor fan, an air purifier, or a white noise app on my phone.
It drowns out the creaks from the house settling, which my semi-awake mind always interprets as intruders. It drowns out car alarms, a partner’s snoring, the dog’s mewling – everything that might distract me from the business of sleep.
Marijuana gummies or candies manufactured to induce sleep (heavily laced with an indica strain) put me into a coma where I have erotic dreams of dry humping Joan Baez while Grateful Dead music is playing in the background, but they take too long to take effect. (About an hour or two, if you’ve got an empty stomach.) They also cause me to wake up with a bit of a headache.
Smoking the stuff is an alternative, but there’s that whole smoke-in-the-lungs thing that’s unappealing to most fitness people.
This anti-anxiety drug puts you to sleep quite effectively, but you might wake up with a slight headache. Besides, it’s addictive.
There are obviously plenty of other drugs, supplements, behavioral modifications, and even room modifications that might work to induce sleep, but the ones listed are just the ones I’ve tried. If you know of anything that I’ve missed, let me know.
As an Amazon Associate, T Nation earns from qualifying purchases. When you buy something, using the retail links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. T Nation does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our policy.