Sleep induction, the deliberate effort to bring on sleep by various techniques or medicinal means, is practiced to lengthen periods of sleep, increase the effectiveness of sleep, and to reduce or prevent insomnia.
An alcoholic drink or nightcap is a long-standing folk method which will induce sleep, as alcohol is a sedative. However, when the alcohol blood level subsides, there is a rebound effect: the person becomes more alert and so tends to wake up too soon. Also, if they continue to sleep, REM sleep is promoted, and this may cause vivid nightmares which can reduce the quality of the sleep.
In most depictions of the activity, the person envisions an endless series of identical white sheep jumping over a fence, while counting the number that do so. The idea, presumably, is to induce boredom while occupying the mind with something simple, repetitive, and rhythmic, all of which are known to help humans sleep. It may also simulate REM sleep, tiring people's eyes.
According to a BBC experiment conducted by researchers at Oxford University, counting sheep is actually an inferior means of inducing sleep. Subjects who instead imagined "a beach or a waterfall" were forced to expend more mental energy, and fell asleep faster than those asked to simply count sheep. Sleep, by the same token, could be achieved by any number of complex activities that expend mental energy.
Darkness and quiet
Dim or dark surroundings with a peaceful, quiet sound level are conducive to sleep. Retiring to a bedroom, drawing the curtains to block out daylight and closing the door are common methods of achieving this. When this is not possible, such as on an airplane, other methods may be used, such as masks and earplugs which airlines commonly issue to passengers for this purpose.
The daily sleep/wake cycle is linked to the daily body temperature cycle. For this reason, a hot bath which raises the core body temperature has been found to improve the duration and quality of sleep. A 30-minute soak in a bath of 40 degrees C which raises the core body temperature by one degree is suitable for this purpose.
Sex, and specifically orgasm, may have an effect on the ability to fall asleep for some people. The period after orgasm (known as a refractory period) is often a time of increased relaxation, attributed to the release of the neurohormones oxytocin and prolactin.
Hypnotics, sometimes referred to as sleeping pills, may be prescribed by a physician, but their long-term efficacy is poor and they have numerous adverse effects including daytime drowsiness, accidents, memory disorders and withdrawal symptoms. If they are to be taken, the preferred choices are benzodiazepines with short-lasting effects such as temazepam or the newer Z-medicines such as zopiclone. Alternatively, in isolated cases sedatives such as barbiturates may be prescribed.
A number of nonprescription medications have shown to be effective in promoting sleep. The amino acid tryptophan and its related compounds 5-HTP and Melatonin, have common use, with the prescription medication Rozerem (Ramelteon) operating on the same biochemical pathway. An urban legend states that certain foods, such as turkey and bananas, are rich in tryptophan and thus assist sleep. This has not been confirmed by research. The herb Valerian, can also be effective in gently inducing a relaxed state which is conducive to sleep.
A cup of warm milk or a milk-based drink is traditionally used for sleep induction. Hot chocolate is traditionally a bedtime drink but this contains high levels of xanthines (caffeine and theobromine), which are stimulants and so may be counter-productive.
Yawning is commonly associated with imminent sleep, but it seems to be a measure to maintain arousal when sleepy and so prevents sleep rather than inducing it. Yawning may be a cue that the body is tired and ready for sleep, but deliberate attempts to yawn may have the opposite effect of sleep induction.
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