Sleep Like You're On Vacation

No more tossing and turning: Our insomniac writer shares the unexpected strategies that got her snoozing like a baby.

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I should have been excited for my upcoming trip to Fiji—and I was—but as a chronic insomniac, I was worried about not getting any shut-eye while I was there. I was especially nervous about the long flight, so I packed some sleeping pills. When the pilot dimmed the cabin lights, I reached into my backpack for one of my little helpers—but I couldn't find the pill vial. Without my crutch, I fretted and sweat for the entire 10-hour flight, anxious that my insomnia would ruin my vacation. There was no corner Rite Aid in the South Pacific. Much to my shock and relief, though, I slept well while away. The first night was touch and go. But by the third, I floated off to dreamland on a coconut cloud and woke up as refreshed as the smiling, white-camisole-clad ladies in the mattress ads on TV.

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I credited the healthy Fijian diet of fish and fruit with my new talent for nodding off. But a friend told me she'd experienced a similar phenomenon while in Paris eating foie gras and cheese. "Apart from caffeine and alcohol, diet doesn't strongly influence sleep," says Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Northwestern University. I hadn't given up coffee, so how to explain my miracle transformation? According to experts I quizzed afterward, several things I did on my trip likely improved my sleep—and they're habits you can steal to snooze more soundly in your own room.

Change up your surroundings
Unfamiliar beds can give good sleepers a bad night, but for insomniacs, they can blunt the worry that contributes to sleeplessness. "The mattress and sheets are different from what you're used to, so you don't associate them with staying awake like you might at home," says Robert Oexman, a chiropractor and director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Mo. In Fiji, I also enjoyed silence—a pleasure lacking amid the sirens in my Brooklyn neighborhood. (Another thing I didn't hear? My snoring husband, who stayed in New York.)

Pitch-black darkness is just as foreign to me. A study in the Journal of Environmental Management found that people who lived in areas with a lot of artificial light outside—from lampposts, bright signs—reported a decreased quality of sleep compared with those in less-lit areas. The reason: Light lowers our body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle and makes us drowsy. On the island, the only evening light in view was the moon.

Try this at home: Change your sheets a little more often. "New" bedding, even if it's your own, can defuse the fear of another sleepless night. And invest in a white-noise machine (or download the SimplyNoise app for a buck) and hotel-style blackout shades.

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Valerie Frankel
Last Updated: April 04, 2014

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