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In a recent interview, Jimmy Fallon talked about his role as host of “The Tonight Show,” summing up his responsibilities: “My job is to make you smile before you go to bed and I’ll do whatever I have to do,” he told NPR.
What a great idea. If you're having a tough time getting to sleep — like the 35 percent of Americans who struggle with insomnia — maybe you should try something that makes you smile before you go to bed. Poor sleep leads to a host of health problems and sleep-deprived people experience muddied thinking and agitated moods.
What causes a smile is individual, of course. But a few sleep medicine experts share what they believe are super easy ways to help you smile before bed.
“I get my kids’ coloring books out and that makes me happy. It really relaxes me and there is no pressure to do something in the right way. [It’s] a very calming activity,” says Michelle Drerup, a psychologist at the Sleep Disorders Center at Cleveland Clinic.
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Read a funny book
“Reading is an excellent way to relax before going to bed,” says W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia. “It is probably best not to read something particularly stressful or heavy … something funny is positive.”
Learning about war, drug abuse, or politics could agitate your mind and keep you up, worrying about the future.
Meditation and guided imagery helps people relax while putting a smile on their faces — and leads to better sleep. Drerup encourages patients to imagine themselves “calm on a beach [or] walking through a forest.”
She also helps patients practice autogenic relaxation, a process that encourages warmth and heaviness in their bodies, mimicking the feeling the body experiences as it falls asleep.
Winter encourages patients to build castles, houses, or cabins in their mind. What kind of features would a dream house have? Marble countertops? Dormers? A dock by the lake? Night by night people can add and subtract features they want in their dream abode.
“It’s Pinterest for your mind,” says Winter. “It is all fun.”
Watch a funny show
“I think that the news at 11 o’clock should be banned. Watching TV shows that make you laugh where you are not stressing out about anything [is great],” says Drerup.
She recommends that people stay away from news channels and sports—even though the excitement of seeing a team win might make people happy, it might also make them too excited to sleep.
Get it on
“I think that intercourse can be sleep promoting. It usually helps with people’s moods and can be naturally relaxing,” says Winter.
“There are certain yoga poses that have much more of a relaxing [effect],” says Drerup. “The corpse pose would be the ultimate relaxation pose, where you are laying flat on the floor on your back.”
She also suggests child’s poses and other poses that involve laying or sitting. She urges people to say away from standing and powerful poses.
“Things that are carb heavy are sleep promoting. Treat yourself or your partner to chocolate candies,” says Winter. “[Chocolate] can be mood elevating—just a tiny little bit.”
He recommends that people put a small piece of chocolate on their pillows when making the bed in the morning. Right before shut-eye, they can enjoy the chocolate, providing a mood boost.
“Try to end the day in a positive frame of mind,” says Drerup. “[Keep] a gratitude journal of the day.”
People should only write about what they’re thankful for and not get bogged down by details of the day. That could actually turn that smile upside down.