When you’re unable to fall asleep, the fear of dealing with fatigue the next day can make you willing to try almost anything to catch Zzzs. And when that trouble sleeping happens again the next night (and the next, and the next) that’s what experts would call insomnia. It’s also when you might grab your phone and search through TikTok for sleep hacks in the search for a solution for getting rest.
“Insomnia by definition is the consistent inability to sleep or stay asleep during the night,” Allana Wass, a certified sleep science coach, tells Bustle. It’s a common sleep disorder: Roughly 30% of adults experience insomnia. It’s frustrating as you’re tossing and turning, but it can add up to serious sleep deprivation, which can really take a toll on your wellbeing. While it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor if you deal with this consistently, plenty of TikTok users have shared the insomnia hacks that have helped them overcome their sleep troubles. (FWIW, the #insomnia hashtag has over 1 billion views on the app.)
Do, however, take TikTok advice with a grain of salt. “The thing to remember when trying any hack from the internet is that they are often not as well-researched as the types of therapy and tips a specialist can provide you,” Wass says. “The internet has, however, given people with insomnia so many more options to try.” And for some, they really do make it easier to fall asleep. Here, experts share the science behind three viral TikTok insomnia hacks and explain whether they actually work.
For this viral TikTok, which has over 2 million likes, user Josh Otusanya (@joshotusanya) shares a simple 4-7-8 breathing trick that helps him to fall asleep faster. To do it, breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, then breath out for eight seconds. Do it a few times while you lie in bed, and you’ll purportedly drift off into dreamland. But does it really work?
Experts say yes. “This breathing method helps promote calmness and relaxation, which is perfect for unwinding before bed and can help with insomnia and other sleep issues,” says licensed clinical psychologist Holly Schiff, Psy.D. Deep, controlled breathing relaxes the nervous system and acts as a natural tranquilizer. “The exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice,” says Schiff. Science backs the power of breath, too: Studies have shown diaphragmatic breathing triggers a sense of calm in both the mind and body and can help with sleep issues.
Drinking Lettuce Water
According to a TikTok posted by user Shapla (@shapla_11), which has been liked 1.5 million times, another way to get sleepy is by drinking tea made of lettuce and hot water. Simply put some romaine lettuce leaves in a mug, pour in hot water, and sip before bed. (Shapla adds non-caffeinated tea for taste.)
While it sounds a little bizarre, researchers have actually looked into the effect romaine lettuce has on sleep. And, as it turns out, it’s legit. “It is because lettuce contains lactucarium, a compound that’s structured similarly to opium,” Wass says. “It’s what gives it sedative properties and makes you drowsy.” The green is known to have analgesic effects, so the, er, different form of green tea can really help with sleep. You can also buy it in capsule form from a health food store, which might be a better bet if lettuce water sounds gross.
Rubbing Behind Your Ear
Almost a million people liked this TikTok posted by user Josh Hanson (@doctorhanson), who describes how to locate a bony notch behind your ear known as the “Anmian point.” He says gently rubbing the area in a small, circular motion 100 to 200 times will help you fall asleep easier.
Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, confirms it’s an effective technique. According to the healing art of acupressure, rubbing this area calms your spirit, or your overall being. Another reason why it might do the trick? Counting up to 100 as you massage behind your ear serves as a great distraction, especially if you tend to lie awake mulling over your anxieties, the news, and other stressors.
“By putting your focus onto something physical and doing something repetitive, you can keep your brain occupied long enough to doze off,” Dr. Michael Wusik, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. It’s a lot like other distracting sleep tricks, like counting sheep, doing a crossword, or listening to calming music, and is worth a shot if you’re dealing with insomnia.
Ways To Deal With Insomnia
These obviously aren’t the only “hacks” that help with insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep, Trattner recommends avoiding stimulants like caffeine late in the day. (That means skipping your usual 5 p.m. coffee run.) You also won’t want to give into the siren song of a late afternoon nap, either.
Napping doesn’t make up for lost sleep Trattner says, but instead delays the onset of sleep later in the night, thus making insomnia worse. If you absolutely need a quick power nap, she suggests aiming for early afternoon and keeping it under 30 minutes so that it won’t interfere with actual sleep.
Establishing a bedtime routine works wonders, too. That often means winding down in the evening by lowering lights, taking a warm shower, and then hitting the hay at a scheduled time. You might even want to put lavender essential oil on your pillow, which Trattner is a well-known way to decrease anxiety and promote sleep. Stick to this new bedtime routine and you should be able to overcome insomnia.
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Allana Wass, certified sleep science coach
Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist
Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner
Dr. Michael Wusik, licensed clinical psychologist