Falling asleep is a frustratingly inexact science. For some people, nodding off is as simple as laying their head on the pillow, while for others, it’s the biggest challenge they face every day, leaving them to spend the night tossing and turning. And while the growing body of research into the “perfect night’s sleep” might point to our phones, tablets and laptops as the source of our sleepless nights, switching off our devices (while great) doesn’t always make the process of falling asleep any easier.
Instead, if you’re looking for a tangible way to make falling asleep a faster (and easier) process, it might be time to consider taking a hot bath before you go to bed.
Research has shown that having a warm bath one to two hours before you plan to go to bed can make the process of falling asleep easier. Not only does the warm water help to calm you down and make you more relaxed by helping to loosen up your muscles, but it helps your body to raise its core temperature. This is important because the relationship between sleep and temperature is a key one: the drop in your core temperature triggered after you get out of a warm bath signals our pineal gland to begin the production of melatonin, a hormone which plays an essential role in our daily cycles of rest and activity.
And don’t be mistaken into thinking that having a shower is a worthy equivalent: baths are, of course, more relaxing, especially because they give you the ability to lay back and practise some other healthy sleep habits such as mindfulness or some breathing exercises.
This pre-sleep ritual isn’t the only way temperature plays an important role in the promotion of sleep: falling body temperatures can also help us sleep more soundly.This is also why it’s so important to keep our bedroom cool during the night-time, as a rising body temperature promotes a state of wakefulness and is likely to increase the rate of middle-of-the-night arousals and early morning waking.
“Ideally your brain temperature needs to be a fraction of a degree cooler than the rest of the body,” sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan previously explained to Yahoo UK. “When this is the case, the ‘circadian timer’ in the brain, which controls the sleep cycle, can function optimally.”
So next time you’re struggling to fall asleep at bedtime, keep in mind the big role temperature plays in the sleeping process. The art of falling asleep is messy, inexact and difficult: but there are ways we can try to make that process just a little bit easier.