I love learning about the brain. I also love sleeping. That's why the more I learn about the brain, the more dedicated I become to figuring out how to optimize my sleep routine.
A recent study concluded that even one night of bad sleep can increase your chances of dementia and Alzheimer's. This is due to your body's production of tau, a protein seen in the brains of individuals afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, or most common forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S so if there's a way to help prevent it, sign me up.
In addition to my health, I take sleep seriously because I'm a completely different person after a poor night of sleep. My productivity and motivation levels drop, creativity disappears and I'm less fun to be around (especially if I'm hungry and sleep deprived). That's why I invested a lot of time figuring out my ideal sleep routine.
Most advice online will tell you to go to bed at the same time, reduce screen time, listen to the same sound, take melatonin, drop the temperature or even buy a new mattress. All of those do help, but there are two tips that I don't see as often.
It's easy to fall into a mental spiral in bed if it's hard to fall asleep. It's also easy to dwell on the bad things that happened during the day or become overwhelmed by tomorrow's tasks. When I lay in bed, I like to breathe a little deeper while thinking about things I'm grateful for. Gratefulness plays a big role in all aspects of my life so it made sense to include it during my sleep routine.
In one study, participants reported getting longer, more refreshing sleep after three weeks of listing things they were grateful for before bed.
Another study asked 400 adults to complete questionnaires that asked about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones, at bedtime. This resulted in falling asleep faster and sleeping longer and better.
2. Use a unique scent
30 minutes before bed I brush my teeth and put on an essential oil blend (not Theo). Every scent I use has its own purpose, which is why I've been working on a sleep scent for six months now.
After a couple weeks of applying the same scent before bed, a new scent trigger is created and your brain will associate that specific scent with sleep. This is why I highly recommend experimenting with scents to help you sleep.
The trick is to come up with something you've never smelled before.
Your brain is extremely effective at creating scent associations so the mix you come up with should only be used before bed. It should also be unique and not remind you of anything else.
If you search online for "scents that will help me sleep," you're going to run across lavender. It is true that lavender promotes a more relaxed state of mind, which is why people apply it before bed, but I don't think it's unique enough. I've smelled lavender in soap, lattes and fragrances in many other products. My brain has already made lavender associations so my sleeping scent trigger needs to be more complex than a single essential oil.
Creating your own scent triggers is a process. Like anything, it takes practice to perfect. I spend a decent amount of my time researching the science behind scents and how they impact our lives, but I still feel like there's so much more to learn. I'll share my experiences as they come, but remember two things when starting off:
Is the scent you're creating unique enough and do you find the scent pleasant? If you answer yes to both, you're on your way of creating your first scent trigger. From there, it's all about trial and error. If you have any specific questions, feel free to reach out!
If you really want to nerd out on the science behind specific scents, read this article and make sure to check out Table 3 for some aroma recommendations. If you're new to scent triggers, read this post.